“Endgame conservatives”

Last week, Scott linked to Rich Lowry’s article about the “to hell with them hawks.” These are conservatives who seek “to detach Bush’s Jacksonianism (the hardheaded, somewhat bloody-minded nationalism) from his Wilsonianism (the crusading democratic idealism).” As Scott noted, Lowry did not identify the “to hell with them hawks.” Scott suggested that they include William F. Buckley, George Will, Jeffrey Hart, and John Derbyshire.

Jed Babbin at the American Spectator has responded to Lowry’s article with a piece called “Endgame Conservatives.” Babbin argues that “Lowry’s challenge must be met because the neo-Wilsonians such as he are profoundly wrong about the nature of this war and how we must fight it to win in the long haul.”

Babbin’s thinking does not closely resemble that of, say, Will, Buckley, and Hart. They tend to question whether we should have invaded Iraq and whether we should be attempting to build a democracy there. They also want us to be more cautious and modest when it comes to regime change. Babbin wants the administration to be more, not less, aggressive. Moreover, he seems convinced that we were right to overthrow Saddam Hussein given the strong evidence that he posed a threat to our security. And I don’t read Babbin as saying that, now that we’re in Iraq, we shouldn’t be promoting democracy. Rather, I take Babbin’s argument to be that democratizing Iraq is a collateral matter and one that shouldn’t divert us from striking at Iran and Syria.

Babbin’s critique of the Bush administration, then, is mainly that it’s not being aggressive enough in attacking hostile regimes. To me, that matter is largely independent of the questions of (1)how concerned we should be about the political fate of the countries in which we topple regimes and (2) the extent to which we should embrace pro-democratic rhetoric. President Bush could adopt a more Jacksonian stance towards Iran, for example, and still act like a Wilsonian with respect to post-invasion Iraq.

And that, I think, is what he should do. It clearly matters what happens in a country after it has been “liberated.” It mattered in Eastern Europe after World War II and it mattered in Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out. Even if one totally discounts as factually incorrect or immaterial the notion that more democratic outcomes will produce fewer terrorists over time (and I wouldn’t), it still seems true that more democratic outcomes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will produce states that cause us significantly less trouble.

SCOTT adds: In today’s New York Sun, the precocious Joshua Gelernter makes the case that the Iraqi constitution might benefit from “The Madison solution” (subscribers only).


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