The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, starts this week. For those who are unfamiliar with CPAC, it is an annual event that takes place in Washington, DC that brings together conservative activists with conservative elected officials, leaders, journalists and celebrities. It is likely the largest and most prominent event of its kind within the conservative universe.
The event is sponsored by the American Conservative Union (ACU), a venerable conservative organization. The ACU, as would be expected for a long established movement conservative institution, generally represents orthodox “three-legs-of-the-stool” type conservatism – fiscally conservative, socially conservative and hawkish on foreign policy.
The crowd at CPAC, however, trends young relative to the average GOP voter and movement conservative leadership. This has sometimes been a source of discord in the past as young conservatives’ priorities often differ from the priorities of the older generation. This has been very evident at the last several CPACs due to the rise of the “liberty” movement that coalesced around the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 and Rand Paul in 2016. Since a straw poll takes place at CPAC during presidential election cycles, candidates sometimes go to great lengths to get their people to CPAC to vote in the straw poll.
Posted in Immigration, Politics, Trade, Political Correctness, Libertarianism, Donald Trump, NeverTrump, Election 2016, Conservatism
Tagged Conservatism, CPAC 2017, Donald Trump
Some commentators allege that Gen. Michael Flynn was a bad fit for the National Security Advisor (NSA) job from the start. One line of thought seems to be that he was temperamentally unsuited because the NSA job needs a manager and not a crusader, but I’m skeptical that people could really make this call beforehand. Generals tend to excel at managing people. That’s how they become generals. Also, Flynn actually has relevant experience as the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He is the kind of pick that if the circumstances were different would likely be praised by the Powers That Be as having the right resume for the job. There seems to be much more going on here than Flynn being a bad fit for the job.
I had mixed feelings about the choice of Gen. Flynn for National Security Advisor from the start. He is a known critic of the intelligence community, which is no small thing given the role the intel community is attempting to play in undermining the Trump administration. That’s a swamp that really needs to be drained. He is also not reflexively hostile to Russia. Contrary to his detractors in the Deep State, he views Islam as the greater threat and sees Russia as a potential ally in the fight against Islam.
So far so good, but the problem is that Flynn views the threat of Islam in a much exaggerated way and his preferred method of dealing with it is increased confrontation which is counterproductive. Islam is indeed a bigger threat to the U.S. and the West than Russia, but that is largely because we are over there and we are letting them come over here. The answer to the problem of Islam for the U.S. and the West in general is not more military confrontations; it’s to fix our insane and self-destructive immigration and refugee policies and disengage from the region. Us over here, them over there, and let them work out their own issues amongst themselves. Problem solved. But that solution is apparently too simple for people like Flynn who espouse policies that amount to attempting to militarily pound Islam into compliance. This is a prescription for perpetual U.S. involvement in conflict in the Middle East.
I am currently in the process of writing a primer of sorts on the fundamentals of a non-interventionist foreign policy. Because non-interventionism has so few spokesmen and such little institutional support, I think it is important to clearly articulate what exactly a non-interventionist foreign policy would look like. But as I have already disclaimed, I am not naïve and do not foresee a full blown non-interventionist policy being pursued anytime soon. In fact, I think if it does come about sooner rather than later, it will be the result of a severe financial crisis that forces a retrenchment out of necessity, not because those who support the reigning interventionist paradigm see the light.
As someone who has been arguing in the trenches the case for non-intervention since before the First Gulf War, I recognize that non-intervention is a hard pill to swallow for many who have been conditioned to take interventionist presumptions for granted. For this reason, I have thought long and hard about whether there is a middle ground somewhere that would get us to a more reasonable and less bellicose foreign policy.
In thinking about this question, I believe the foreign policy typology of Walter Russell Mead is helpful. I realize that some have criticized his typology, but I find it a useful framework for thinking about these questions. If you are interested in the subject of foreign policy, I suggest you familiarize yourself with Mead’s work.
A perpetual problem with American democracy is that surveys consistently show that cutting spending in the aggregate is popular, but people don’t want to cut any programs in particular. In fact, when asked about particular items like education, health care, Social Security, etc. they generally want to spend more. The one persistent exception to this desire to increase spending in particular is foreign aid. Foreign aid is not popular, so it is baffling that more enterprising politicians haven’t latched onto cutting it as an issue.
Obama proposed $50.1 billion in foreign aid in the 2017 budget. In reality, this is really a drop in the bucket of our massively bloated $4.15 trillion federal budget, but it’s money that ought not be spent. The leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid is prosperous Israel at $3.1 billion followed by Egypt at $1.31 billion. Middle Eastern countries dominate the top of the list of countries receiving aid.
I am a long time veteran of the intra-conservative foreign policy debate. I like to say that I was a non-interventionist before Ron Paul made non-intervention cool starting with his Republican primary campaign in 2008. While I started out like most conservatives of my generation as a hawkish Cold Warrior, my perspective changed in the lead up to the First Gulf War, and I became an enthusiastic member of the Buchanan Brigades when Pat Buchanan challenged George Bush I in the 1992 GOP primary. On foreign policy I have not looked back since.
So I have been swimming upstream on foreign policy among my fellow conservatives for many years, and have been engaging interventionist all along. Long ago I came to realize that for many conservatives, interventionism isn’t so much a concrete specific plan as it is a general sentiment. It is the belief that the U.S. needs to do something rather than nothing, that we need to project strength rather than “weakness” and that we are essential to maintaining the global order and without our leadership and activism on the world stage the world would spiral into chaos.
Once you get past all the noise on both sides, Donald Trump is clearly a different kind of Republican and he succeeded in the Republican primary and with swing voters in Flyover Country precisely because he isn’t a typical Republican. Too what degree Trump has fundamentally changed the GOP in his image remains to be seen, but Trump has clearly moved the party in a more economic populist direction. The party has become more overtly a party of the working class that better reflects its actual voting base.
With such a significant transformation, some resistance is to be expected. There remain many holdouts who still support the previous more ideological “conservative” version of the party. These are the people who groused that Trump’s inaugural speech didn’t say enough about high-minded issues like freedom, limited government, the Constitution, spending cuts, tax cuts, the debt, values, etc. etc. You know, the whole laundry list that Republican candidates have traditionally paid lip service to every election cycle and then returned to Washington or their various state capitols and resumed business as usual. Who has time for such pedestrian concerns as reviving our decimated manufacturing base and putting people back to work when there are abstract principles and generic policy preferences to yammer about?
In a recent interview for a German magazine, then President-Elect Donald Trump called NATO obsolete. Trump is absolutely correct, NATO is obsolete. Cue neocon and other interventionist heads exploding in 3, 2, 1…
Trump’s statement has caused the predictable hysteria among foreign policy interventionists that is to be expected anytime someone drifts outside the tight confines of the reigning orthodoxy, but let’s examine the issue.
NATO is the epitome of the kind of entangling alliance that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson warned us about. It is a tripwire for a potentially catastrophic conflict. Plus there’s that whole nuclear weapon’s thing. The idea that an attack on any NATO member is an attack on all is absurd on its face and the kind of thing that only a globalist stooge could believe. I’m sorry, but from the standpoint of the U.S., an attack on Latvia is not the same thing as an attack on Omaha, and any treaty arrangement that obligates us to treat them the same is foolish.