EVEN TRADITIONAL CONSERVATIVES OUTRAGED BY RADICALISM OF THE RIGHT
The Boston Globe
Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
For a moment during the spring, neoconservatives associated with the
Bush administration thought they had died and gone to heaven. The
quicker than expected fall of Saddam Hussein seemed to justify their
vision of a new America that would reshape world politics. The United
States would use its overwhelming military power to crush tyrannical
regimes, they declared, and establish American-style capitalist
democracies in their place. Domestically, the neocons' only question
was whether the tax cuts aimed at reshaping American society would be
merely big or gigantic. As time passes, however, it has become
increasingly clear that this course is neither neo nor conservative and
that it may lead more quickly to hell than to heaven.
This was not the foreign policy agenda traditional conservatives like
myself voted for in 2000. Concerned about growing anti- American
feeling around the world, we were pleased when candidate Bush spoke of
adopting a humbler attitude in foreign policy and of reducing US
overstretch abroad. We also anticipated that a new Bush administration
would embrace long-standing conservative objectives such as smaller
government, fiscal responsibility, tax cuts crafted with a goal of
balancing budgets, strong protection of individual rights, and support
for healthy state and local governments. There was certainly no mention
in Bush's campaign of revolutionary schemes to transform the world.
So imagine our surprise when instead of a new humility, the fledgling
Bush administration embraced a new arrogance. Traditional conservatives
were no fans of the Kyoto agreement on global warming - many thought it
unfair to US interests. But why so loudly reject a treaty that could
have been left in limbo without any meaningful effect on the United
States? Why make enemies so needlessly? Domestically, the initial Bush
tax cut proposals seemed surprisingly large. But traditional
conservatives held their fire. The cuts did seem to provide stimulus at
a time when the economy was sinking dangerously, and the forecasters
said we could maintain a balanced budget even with the cuts.
The events of Sept. 11 strengthened the president's hand, giving him a
moral authority that had been lacking after the election. It also
allowed a small group of self-styled neoconservatives in his
administration to turn the ship of state onto a dramatically new course.
In foreign affairs, this meant ditching America's "no first strike"
commitment to deterrence in favor of preventive war. Out too were
long-term alliances in favor of temporary "coalitions of the willing."
Suddenly America's "mission" was to recast the world in the American
democratic capitalist mold. Neoconservatives have openly called this
Domestically, the administration's new direction has been even more
dramatic and, for traditional conservatives, alarming. Far from being
reduced, the size of government has grown larger as spending has been
significantly increased to support our imperialist strategy. Passage of
the Patriot Act has imposed the greatest constraint on individual
American freedoms since the internment of Japanese-Americans during
World War II. In the face of budget projections now deep in the red,
further tax cuts may cripple all but the most basic of government
Will traditional conservatives sit still for this? The dawning
realization that the aftermath of war is likely to be long, painful,
and costly, coupled with the absence of any significant weapons of mass
destruction, has begun to refocus attention on the viability of the
preventive war doctrine and the new imperialism.
Conservatives like former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft
have noted that despite its great power America still needs help. Yet
its efforts to get that help have been undermined by global resistance
to the new US strategy and by our government's loss of credibility.
Indeed, the new doctrine is seen by many as being not only ineffective
but also dangerous. Resistance is also growing on the domestic front.
Maine's Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, a member of the traditionally
conservative Main Street Coalition, played a key role in capping the
most recent tax cut at $350 billion. Even more significant has been the
revolt of Republicans in the House against the recent changes in FCC
rules regarding the consolidation of media companies. This, quickly
followed by a House vote supporting US sales of inexpensive imported
drugs, again in defiance of the White House, indicates that traditional
conservatives are waking up to an important discovery.
There is nothing neo about imperialism. It is just as un- American
today as it was in 1776. And there is nothing conservative about
gigantic military establishments, endless oceans of red ink, and
crumbling state and local governments burdened by unfunded obligations
passed on by an irresponsible federal government. Far from
conservatism, this is radicalism of the right, and it is unsustainable
because it is at odds with fundamental - and truly conservative -
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and
author of "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good