There are two kinds of conservatism. The more common kind over here (call it “American Conservatism” is basically classical liberalism. It is pretty much centered around faith, family and freedom – particularly free markets.
The older kind, sometimes known as “paleo-conservatism” is more prevalent in places like Europe. Its adherents revere tradition, tend to be isolationist and generally pessimistic. Pat Buchanan used to be a paleocon, but now is basically insane.
National Review, which I used to subscribe to and whose web site I sometimes visit, has a few paleocons on the payroll, mostly to remind us of why the left was ascendant for so long – with these guys as competition, no wonder the liberals got to own just about anything.
Foremost among the exhibits in the William F. Buckely Odditorium is John Derbyshire, who seems pretty much the archetypal English crusty conservative.
This post over at the Corner encapsulates a lot of that old kind of thinking. By “old,” by the way, I don’t must mean “old-fashioned.” As a Catholic, I think that a lot of the old ways were the best ways. No by old I mean “obsolete.”
You can scroll down the Corner to get the gist of the debate, which drags in such pointless queries as how many armored divisions Al Qaeda has etc., which shows just how irrelevant Derbyshire and his fellow fossils are to the debate.
He reminds me of an admiral who came of age in the Dreadnought era insisting that air power will never amount to anything and that big guns will rule the seas – as his ship is sinking beneath him from dive-bomber hits..
Al Qaeda doesn’t need tanks or bombers or battleships to succeed. It needs only to create enough disorder and despair that its aims are achieved.
The crux of his argument is this:
If, as seems to be the case, Muslim Middle Easterners are addicted to mayhem, it seems to me we should stay out of their countries, except for monitory attacks on them — ferocious but brief — in retaliation for anything they do to us or our interests.
There are two glaring problems with this. The first is that exact same thing could be said about Europe – whose wars of conquest and destruction pretty much set a new world record for devastation – until we stopped them.
But more importantly, what kind of “monitory attacks” is he talking about? We tried “cruise missile” diplomacy in the 1990s. It didn’t work. You’d think a paleocon would have figured that out.
Furthermore, the “ferocious but brief” qualifier is pretty much a repeat of the “If you can simply outlast us you win” school of thought. If Iran conquers the Gulf region, I doubt our weekly pin-prick attacks are going to be much of a deterrent – especially when it’s clear we have no staying power.
Anyhow, back to Derb:
Given the rivalries and hatreds of the ME, I doubt a stable Iranian hegemony is possible. If it is possible, it's something we'll learn to live with, and no direct threat to the U.S.A. that I can see.
A bit of a retouch and you get: “Given the rivalries and hatreds of Europe, I doubt a stable Soviet hegemony is possible. If it is possible, it's something we'll learn to live with, and no direct threat to the U.S.A. that I can see.”
Which is pretty much what the left said about Communism.
I expect a certain amount of cynicism from paleocons – that what we keep them around for, right? But the thing that really has me confused is how basically gutless these people have become.
I thought liberals were squeamish, but at least they have the excuse that they are utterly ignorant of history. What is Derb’s excuse?
The classical “realist” view – which so many paleocons hold – is that statecraft’s only legitimate goal is to maximize one’s national interest. Using that standard, allowing an avowed enemy nation to expand its influence in an economically vital area pretty much requires every effort to be expended to stop it.
One of the tools we can call upon is deterrence. The problem is, it only works if the other side is scared of it. If I threaten to shoot you but I don’t have a gun, there isn’t much deterrence there.
Similarly, if US policy is that we only fight the quick, easy wars with clear-cut rules, our adversaries know that all they have to do is break the rules and prolong the conflict to defeat us.
To put it another way: If the Department of Defense said that our new infrared rifle sights can’t detect purple, what color do you think most of the world’s military uniforms would be?
My point is that the tactics of our adversaries evolve – and usually in ways that we don’t particularly like. Japan was really, really naughty when they used air power and surprise to negate our military advantages in 1941. Germany was downright mean in using tanks and combined arms to outmaneuver the French.
I guess under the Derbyshire Doctrine, the correct response should have been to make pinprick attacks and then seek the best terms possible. “I for one welcome our new Axis masters,” and so on.
Sorry, I don’t buy it. I’m enough of a conservative to understand that tactics are constantly changing. What was revolutionary is 1812 was played out by 1862, and one of the worst mistakes you can make – and one that non-Western powers repeatedly DID make – was to resist change because you didn’t much care for it.
The age of the armored division and the carrier battle group deciding the fate of nations may well be passed. Right now it is terrorism – attacks on the soft underbelly of society – that seems to work best. An Iran bolstered by conquest would be emboldened to send waves of suicide bombers into our malls, airports and town squares. Unlike the Soviets, the mullahs actually believe in the End Times and if they sweep the Gulf under the Islamic banner, there will be no lack of volunteers to earn a shot in paradise.
But the thing is, they may not need to overrun these states – or even the United States – to win. Derb may scoff at the notion of an Iranian amphibious landing in the Chesapeake, but they don’t need to do that. All they have to do is so disrupt world trade and our society that giving into their demands – say new “religious sensitivity” laws and making blasphemy a hate crime – is easier than fighting.
Without a single Iranian ship putting out to sea, they will effectively conquer us.