June 29, 2004


National Review Founder to Leave Stage (David D. Kirkpatrick, NY Times, 6/29/04)

As for conservatism today, Mr. Buckley said there was a growing debate on the right about how the war in Iraq squared with the traditional conservative conviction that American foreign policy should seek only to protect its vital interests.

"With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn't the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago," Mr. Buckley said. "If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war."

Below, OJ offers Mr. Buckley congratulations on a life well-lived, and I whole-heartedly agree. Because, however, his comment on the war is sure to be siezed on by the left, it is worth spending some time on this statement.

I do not take Mr. Buckley to be saying that "Bush lied", or even that the case for war, ex ante, was not convincing. Rather, at least seen through the lens of the New York Times, Mr. Buckley is saying that, because it turned out that there were no stockpiles of MWD's ready for use, and because it turned out that the ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda had not yet reached the level of cooperation to attack United States territory, there was in hindsight no conservative rationale for the war.

The more interesting question is, what difference does this make? Mr. Buckley certainly knows, even if the Times does not, that nothing can be known with certainty and the future least of all. This is a reason for war, not an argument against it. Mr. Buckley, according to the Times, was discussing the war in connection with a conservative idea that the foreign policy of the United States should only be concerned with the nation's vital interests. The Times' characterization is either much too broad or much too narrow. Does the left really want to cede to the right the idea that when we go to war, we should only do so to protect a vital interest? We joke that the left only supports wars, like Kosovo or Somalia (to stretch the term war) where we have no vital interest, but perhaps the left now agrees.

On the other hand, I don't believe that Mr. Buckley is suggesting, ex cathedra, that conservatives reject the idea of using our foreign policy to promote policies that are not vital to us. It is not conservative, in any sensible way, for us only to use jaw-jaw where we would be willing to use war-war. I assume that Mr. Buckley agrees that we should do what we can to discourage abortion in the Third World, but not go to war on Mexican abortionists.

All of which brings us to the real discussion. Given that the minimum requirement for a conservative war is that vital interests have been threatened, in what way does the Iraqi war not qualify. One supposes that Mr. Buckley was bringing up the difference between the paleocons and the neocons. But the true paleocons and the true neocons (read Jacksonians) have not wobbled. Those who supported the war for the right reasons understood that we should not change our behavior because the Islamists demand change, if our behavior is consistent with our values. Those who supported the war for the right reasons understood that terrorism is not caused by poverty, or Britney Spears or even Israel, but by the resentment of stagnant cultures that have lost the great arguments. Those who supported the war for the right reasons understood that our refusal to finish the job we began in 1991, our reliance on sanctions and the way in which we allowed the west to be scorned by the Ba'athists convinced our enemies we are vulnerable. Those who supported the war for the right reasons understood that peace for our children requires middle eastern governments that protect the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and thus the remaking of that region. We still do.

It is not conservative to go on grand crusades to remake the world. But it is conservative to see what has to be done to safeguard America, and then not stop until it is done.

Posted by David Cohen at June 29, 2004 1:36 PM

All true, what you said.

But what jumped out at me, big time, was "Mr. Buckley said. "If I knew then what I know now.."

Well, duh!!!! Maybe the NYT will get back to us and tell us how to know the future.

Posted by: fred at June 29, 2004 2:58 PM

An alternative explanation is much more succinct: WFB is an old, doddering idiot whose intellect has lost its moorings, and from now on, he should STFU.

About every 3 months I consider subscribing to NR, and one of them does/says something like this. The last time, it was Rich Lowry blathering on about his trip to Paris. Imagine. In the middle of the WOT, the Editor of NR goes gallavanting to Paris, spending US dollars in the heart of one of our enemies.

You just can't truck with those NR types. What was it that Ann Coulter called them? Girly-boys? Well-said, if you ask me.

F' WFB and the truck the olo fool road in on.

Posted by: paul a'barge at June 29, 2004 3:16 PM

Geez. I mean gallivanting.

Posted by: paul a'barge at June 29, 2004 3:18 PM

Given the Times' recent history of taking quotes and twisting them into the shape of balloon animals for their own enjoyment, I would withhold judgment pending the possibility that Buckley expanded on the full meaning of his statement during the interview, but that the Times opted to leave the latter part in the tape recorder.

Posted by: John at June 29, 2004 4:38 PM