Any Conservative Schism May Not Be What You Think

July 9, 2010

First, a friendly point of order for Matt Lewis on his piece suggesting a potential conservative schism demonstrated by the divide between Coulter and Kristol. The debate began long before Coulter chimed in. I snarked that Kristol should resign minutes after seeing his piece. Erick at Redstate promptly echoed Kristol in his call for Steele's resignation. Melissa Clouthier, Cubachi, and many others figured prominently in the debate.

Matt's an excellent young conservative journalist. I'm a fan and mean no disrespect. But it would be nice to see some of our younger talents not fall into the trap of thinking it takes a Coulter, or a Kristol to make something news. I say that, especially, as Matt is one of us out here. But I digress.

Ann Coulter's recent column "Bill Kristol Must Resign" may have officially kicked off the next great schism within the conservative movement. At issue is the war in Afghanistan — and, more specifically, whether Republicans should support President Obama's approach to a conflict that has now lasted for Americans far longer than World War II.

Regardless, debating this policy is healthy, and conservatives are justified to have this discussion. There are conservative arguments to be made for — or against — continuing the war in Afghanistan, just as I believe a principled conservative case could have been made (and was, in some quarters) against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is a debate that conservatives, and all Americans, should keep having. War is not something to be entered into lightly; nor should support for it ever be contingent on whether the commander in chief has a D after his name, or an R.

As I see it, the real debate is one of policy, not, should we support the war, or not. By ramping up as he has, if things don't go well, if casualties mount, Obama will likely undermine a longer-term, low-intensity effort to turn Afghanistan around. And ultimately, the real push back against it will come from the Left. So, I don't see it rising to the level of schism Matt suggests. However, I do believe a schism exists and is going to continue to grow.

I see the schism as more youngness in thinking, if not age, versus old line, or more traditional thought. One could also conceptualize it as establishment versus the base, or grassroots that we have today. But it is not quite the same grassroots most closely associated with the Christian Right, though they still make up a good portion of the overall base. Still, they aren't driving the discussion, they're a part of it.

Ultimately, I don't see Paul's isolationism taking hold on the Right. If we're attacked, the country will expect action. But barring certain events, foreign policy rising to the level of war likely isn't on the plate.

Interestingly enough, I would put Coulter in the youngness of thinking category, while seeing Erick and Redstate as, by and large, more traditional in some ways. This younger, or actually newer Right is more Libertarian, though not necessarily isolationist, but prudent, especially so, as it is driven by economic concerns and size of government. And I believe it will prevail.

It isn't being driven so much by thought leaders, as it is being driven by generational changes. I'm an older dog. But I'd like to think of my thinking as of the newer side. This more, let it all hang out Right simply isn't as troubled by Steele's gaffes. The old Right often seemed more hung up on propriety, than it did winning. I think the newer, if not always younger, Right simply wants to win and is less likely to be distracted by relatively insignificant events. It's also more concerned with fighting the Left, than tending to its own power base on the Right. All in all, I think it's a very good thing and will prove to be far more attractive to more Libertarian thinkers.

Again, you can read Matt's thoughts here.

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  1. jakee308 says:

    Again, Dan, you’re correcto mundo.
    These days, a person’s AGE doesn’t necessarily equate with the type of conservatism that they wish to see in ascendance.
    What passed for conservatism only a few years ago has been shown to be too much a shadow of big-government progressive thought. The Republicans for 14 years showed us that they practice a form of conservatism that many of us have trouble distinguishing from the ideas and programs of the left. LOOK AT WHERE WE’RE AT WITH THAT!
    Ann has been in the forefront of this ‘new’ wave of conservatism and Kristol represents the ‘old time’ conservative brahmin that has lately been rejected by the voters, particularly the Tea Party folks.
    This coming election is crucial not only for the country but for who will represent our country’s conservative leanings for the next few years. I don’t see some of the current Republican ‘Leaders’ making the cut (at least I hope they don’t) as they are still trying to do things the ‘old’ way and we know that won’t work.
    Some of the old will stay on due to the areas they represent and that we don’t want to throw them all out at once or we will be worse off.
    I think Steele is inept, naive and has so far shown a lack of skill as the Chairman. However, he was right in this case. It wasn’t another gaffe. He properly was pointing out that the Left was moaning about how we had to leave Iraq and go back to Afghanistan and catch Osama. But they’ve done this sort of thing before.
    The left is very good at building strawmen and moving the goalposts all the better to accomplish what they truly want which is for the U.S. to become an oligarchy like Russia or a one party ruled agglomeration of states like the E.U.; all the more to subjugate the masses.
    I echo Ann when I say that Kristol should resign, I think he is more of a hindrance than a help and those who think like him should really take a closer look as to where those who think like them have led us.

  2. Steve C. says:

    Your affinity for a particular brand of conservatism has more to do with outlook than calendar years. And also with where you stand. If you are a part of the establishment, you tend to defend the consensus. You are one of its creators. If you are not part of the establishment you tend to be skeptical of received wisdom. This tension is good for conservatism. The difference between today and 1962 is that the outsiders have now got bigger megaphones and a wider audience. Any successful political movement is the result of a compromise (or fusion) between the competing factions. Political parties exist to gather interest groups, round off the sharp edges, and present a platform voters will support.
    Evolution, not revolution, is what is happening. I see the current turmoil as the initial stage of a series of consecutive waves. If our fundamental goals are to return to a society informed by the principles of the founding, it will take more than just a few elections. The most important factor is the ability to deliver success if the Republicans take back the House. In this we will be relying on the very political leaders who are complicit in the failures of the past 20 years. Some of them will get the message this time. Others will breathe a sigh of relief and go back to the old behaviors. Regardless, they are the tools we have. It is our job to hold them accountable. But we also have to be realistic about what can be accomplished in the first iteration. Compromise will be required. We can either be optimistic about compromise or pessimistic. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “Take half the loaf. We’ll go back and get the other half later.” We also have to avoid Gingrichian Stupidity. Although I was cheering him on at the time, his decision to fight Clinton over the budget turned out to be monumentally dumb because when he surrendered to reality, he got nothing.
    We must be patient. It looks like we have finally learned a lesson from the left. We are playing the long game. We also need to steal another one of their imperatives, no enemies to the right.

  3. Neo says:

    (By the way, Democrats: WHERE’S OSAMA?)

  4. itsMike2Cents says:

    This schism is actually between those who are able, even maybe once every few months (like Kristol), to rationally come to the defense of Obama when he is unfairly blamed or criticized –
    and those who just couldn’t even fathom such a concept.
    But Dan is correct in that this is far from the beginning of the fracturing of the ‘conservative movement’ – simply the latest example.

  5. I think its appropriate for many conservatives to reevaluate their stances on Afghanistan and Iraq, as the mission scope in both campaigns has expanded significantly since they were “sold” to the country. Remember how the Bush administration was claiming that people would throw rose petals at our soldier’s feet (or some such nonsense) – all we had to do was topple Saddam and the country would get together for a group hug and we could bug out. That a country of factions that hate each other held together by brute force would immediately and spontaneously evolve into a functioning, peaceful nation was a bizarre notion on both the theoretical level and it was contradicted by recent history as well (Bosnia and the former Czech Republic). Iraq may well turn out OK in the next decade, but there’s also a chance that it turns into Iran, Jr.
    In Afghanistan, we stared out with the mission of rooting out Al Queda and capturing Osama bin Laden (fail – they moved to our “ally” Pakistan, and fail). Now we’re trying to get rid of the Taliban (while funding them with our drug policy, which is too much irony even for me) and drag one of the most backward countries on earth into… where? It’s is a serious project – one that will take decades at best and a century isn’t out of the question.
    Is it worth substantially more lives and (less importantly) substantially more money to finish this? Do we want to send the signal to the third (and fourth) (and fifth) world that “if your government attacks us, we’ll get a bunch of our soldiers killed and spend a trillion dollars to kick them out and rebuild your country? Or would we be better off just bombing the crap out of countries that sponsor terrorist groups (“If you kill our innocent civilians, we’ll kill yours”)? When is it better to be feared and when is it better to be loved? These are tough, nasty moral questions that are probably worth asking again with the benefit of more recent hindsight.

  6. David R. Graham says:

    I concur with Dan’s analysis, sentiments and prognosis.
    The debate is precisely one of policy, not whether what started out as OEF should be supported since it became this administration’s project. I suggest the policy in question is military policy, which as always is diplomatic policy extended to national security intentions.
    What’s the national security threat in AFPAK? AQ is re-established in the Horn of Africa — and some would say, this administration. Taliban (Arabic for “students”)?
    Absent willingness to annihilate the entire population of a large topography — no easy task in itself — the only way to conduct a successful military campaign off home soil is to be doing something the population there fundamentally is grateful you are doing. Usually this means, getting some hag (tyrant) off their back and not replacing it with a different one.
    In order for a population to feel some gratitude for what the outsider is doing, the population has to feel some unity within itself. It has to self-identify in some substantial way as a single reality, a “people,” and finally, a “nation.”
    Successful military operations, especially COIN (counter-insurgency) operations, premise on a substantial spirit of nationalism by the people amongst whom the operations occur.
    Iraq could succeed because the people self-identify as Iraqis. They have a substantial spirit of nationalism which transcends party and denomination, and long have had.
    Afghanistan and adjacent “areas,” nominally of Pakistan, have no substantial spirit of nationalism, never have had. There it is all warlords — Karzai one of them — and families. Among the Pashtuns, one family in particular has controlled the smuggling and other trades of the area for centuries. The Taliban is this family and its tributaries.
    There is no basis for COIN operations (nation-building) in Afghanistan, unlike Iraq. No nationalist spirit. COIN, which is the ostensible policy of this administration in AFPAK, cannot succeed in that topography. The Soviet demonstrated the difficulty of annihilation operations.
    What’s left? CT (counter-terrorism) operations, which is about the only kinetic activity going on in AFPAK now. This fact gives rise to Yon’s description of AFPAK as a hunting lodge for bad guy leaders. That’s fun, of course, but not producing a long-term security asset, which is the sole legitimate reason for committing armed forces to combat.
    CT is not able to secure foreign or even domestic soil (if the domestic soil has enough people on it). This lesson was learned the hard way in Iraq until the switch to COIN and a good area commander (Petraeus) reshaped (the “surge”) the operation to foster Iraqis’ substantial, pre-existing nationalism (itself a legacy of deep history, the British Army and Saddam Hussein).
    AFPAK has no nationalist base. COIN is an impossibility there. So CT can be done (the quick success of OEF proved that) but it cannot bring forth a stable, friendly or friendly-enough situation. There is no situation to be friendly from. It’s all tribes/families and warlords, no cohesion.
    Well, almost. There is one sliver of possibility CT and COIN together could bring about a friendly-enough situation — friendly-enough to the USA, Europe and beyond.
    That possibility arises from the fact that a nation rises up around an Army it considers its own. No Army, no nation. Have an Army a people love, have a nation.
    (The totalitarians in WH and Congress either haven’t figured that out yet, or, more likely, they want US Armed Forces as personal Praetorian Guard to stand between them and the opprobrium they know the array of their wants arouses among their subjects — a risky want, that.)
    There are efforts underway to stand up the Afghan Army, which like the Iraqi Army, still shows British Army influence, a plus. The Afghan Army is far, far less than the Iraqi Army was and is — for two reasons: lack of widespread nationalist spirit and sodomy, at which Afghans (I use the term ethnically, not politically) may be deemed the world champions.
    Efforts by US Army personnel to train up the Afghan Army have been underway for years. If that effort succeeds and if Afghanis rally to the Afghan Army by self-identifying with it as theirs, AFPAK could be a friendly or friendly-enough topography. Big “ifs”.
    GEN Petraeus can be relied upon to intensify effort to move those “ifs” to “iss”. Will he encounter the reality that that is not really what the WH wants him to do, even though he is told it is? Hasn’t he taken that into account by agreeing to accept this demotion? Don’t you love rhetorical questions?
    The effort to stand up the Afghan Army constitutes the largest nation-building operation in memory, starting as it has from near zero. The time-line for it must be long, say, “Decades.” Its chances of success slim.
    Then there are the diplomatic policy questions whether all of that is desirable, possible of success, ours to do and worth the cost. And finally, there is the political question of what does this administration really intend by having US and Nato forces in AFPAK.
    Let’s assume for the moment at least that its stated intentions in re AFPAK are like its stated intentions in every other area of its activities: namely, lies.
    What if its motive is to expose US Armed Forces and their families to harm, to include physical, morale, reputation and legal harm? What if its intent is to embarrass Officers, conflict Enlisted and show “the Muslim world” that US Armed Forces can be defeated, and should be?
    What if this administration’s desire is to use US Armed Forces, while they are succumbing to the aforementioned intentions, to kill its competitors for world domination? E.G.: it’s OK to make sweet with Muslims but not if they want to supplant me and my administration. If they do, we’ll kill ‘em.
    In other words, what if this administration’s policy is personal and not American? What if the security it wants is its own, not this nation’s?
    It is something to consider. It seems that every time someone believes what this administration says it intends or says it does they get bit where it hurts. Maybe that hurt, and others like it, are what this administration and its legislature sincerely want.
    If so, and even if not so, questioning and even demurring the need or wisdom of extended US Armed Forces operations in AFPAK as well as questioning and even suspecting the motives of this administration’s activities with respect to AFPAK are eminently desirable, and Chairman Steele has every reason to do that. He’s doing his job.
    Dan rightly concludes that it’s the “Left” (I prefer “totalitarians”) who will try to halt extended operations in AFPAK by US Armed Forces. They got more than they bargained for with this one they put in the WH.
    US Armed Forces themselves are not happy being in AFPAK because they know the score there, the lack of nationalism, and what that portends. They were happy in Iraq because they knew nationalism was there to build on and they knew that their C-in-C loved them, did not want to hurt them.
    Finally, while I’m likely more than one decade older than Dan, I too side with the young ones, the let it all happen/don’t get flustered by anything folks. I like what they are doing. I like that they can appreciate genuinely educated people, such as Hansen, Krauthammer and Bertonneau. I do not like, and never have, what the tony, elitist, entitlement, stuck-up, old-before-their-time, grunge-in-khaki-and-blazer-with-tassle-loafers Republican/Conservative establishment pols and acolytes have done all my life and from long before.
    So, go kids!

  7. Neo says:

    Frankly, I really get tired of the pundits trying to out-pundit each other, especially when they go after stuff that isn’t illegal.
    There is enough illegal cr@p going down at the DOJ (and … name that cabinet post) … and they are wasting their time beating up Mr. Steele. Please go hit yourselves with a 2 by 4 … multiple times .. please. If it doesn’t help .. repeat till it does.

  8. FeFe says: is right, Biden is Gaffetastic! Why not Steele too?
    Ebony And Ivory
    Live Together In Perfect Harmony
    Side By Side On My Piano Keyboard
    Oh Lord, Why Don’t We?