Terrific time last night in Washington speaking about Stan Evans to the Frank Meyer Society.
With the Ukraine crisis dividing the right, I thought readers might like this passage from the penultimate chapter, where Evans expressed some skepticism about neoconservative foreign policy (by the way, one of his quips from this period was: “A paleoconservative is a conservative who has been mugged by a neoconservative”):
When President George H.W. Bush began assembling a war coalition in the aftermath of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Evans noted that it wasn’t clear the coming war was necessarily a vital interest of the United States (while also rejecting the idea that we were intervening at the behest of Israel), and moreover questioned the sudden “neo-interventionism” of the left: Where were the usual indignant cries of “no more Vietnams,” against backing foreign autocrats, and concerns about the “imperial presidency”? This skepticism of Middle Eastern policy should not be regarded as “isolationism” of the old Robert Taft variety, he argued, but rather flowed from his long-running contempt for our hubristic foreign policy establishment. In another column Evans came close to repudiating the Vietnam War: our Middle East blunders that had helped strengthen the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria reminded him of “the grim effects of early Vietnam syndrome, which might best be described as creating such a mess through mistaken intervention that U.S. troops are sent in to set the situation right.” In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Evans thought his skepticism was fully vindicated, arguing that the ambiguous post-conflict conditions in Iraq proved that U.S. strategy and messaging had been “incoherent.”
Evans returned to this problem in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. He had given up his column by that point and was only writing intermittently about current issues, but Human Events reporter John Gizzi caught up with Evans in December, 2001 to ask him about the wider war strategy then being contemplated in Washington. In particular, Gizzi wanted Evans’s reaction to a comment from William Kristol in the Washington Post: “Whether we take on Iraq has huge implications for the U.S. role in the world and, fundamentally, it’s whether we’re going to take it upon ourselves to shape a new world order.” Evans was not enthusiastic about the idea, telling Gizzi:
I don’t know where the idea came from that conservatives favor a ‘new world order’ or any variant of that notion. That sounds more like the globalism of Woodrow Wilson and FDR than the limited constitutional government U.S. conservatives have historically favored. As to conservative doctrine on such issues, my personal view is that the proper role of the U.S. government is to defend our country against attack or imminent security damage. I’m no military expert, but judging by results to date, the President and his team have done a superlative job of responding to the attacks of September 11th. I would specifically include in this their reluctance to expand the fighting in all directions.
Chaser: In 1978, Evans said, “[Irving] Kristol is great, but Friedman is greater.”
P.S. The book is now officially on sale and shipping.