Conservatives dodged a bullet on November 2. Squabbling bitterly over Iraq, they contributed to the possible unseating of an incumbent conservative president in wartime. Realists or traditional conservatives attacked neoconservatives for splitting the NATO alliance and chasing after democratic rainbows in the barren sands of the Middle East. Neoconservatives attacked each other--including in the pages of this magazine--exchanging salvos about whether terrorist threats are existential and legitimacy requires broader coalitions. Nationalists deplored the crippling Cold War reflex to fight wars far away from home and give other nations a free ride.
Conservative wars over foreign policy of course are not new. Conservatives split after the Vietnam War. At that time, neoconservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, attacked Nixonian policies of dâ€štente and called for the end--not containment--of Soviet communism. Conservatives quarreled again after the Gulf War. Neoconservatives faulted realists for failing to march to Baghdad and eliminate Saddam Hussein. During both periods--in 1976 and in 1992--liberals exploited conservative divisions to take the White House. That did not happen this time. But conservatives are tempting fate if they continue these intramural squabbles. Internecine wars are not only self-destructive, they are unnecessary. Conservatives need each other. Here's why.