No Enemies on the Right

No Enemies on the Right

Few American conservatives aspire to global imperialism, a fact that often frustrates British observers like Niall Ferguson, who cannot understand why Americans refuse to act like imperialists. Yet many conservatives know that power will be exercised by someone and see a unique opportunity to preserve America's "sole superpower" status. Hence the injunction, also contained in the President's 1992 National Security Strategy document, to act in such a way as to discourage other nations from challenging American power. Again, not all conservatives agree. Realists observe from history that hegemons come and go. Preserving hegemony is unlikely. A balancing process ensures that hegemons, after they climb to the top of the heap, will be challenged and counterbalanced by rising powers. It is better to anticipate these challenges and aim for a world balance that is stable and functions on the basis of predictable alliances. Nationalists believe that such balancing will be automatic and does not require U.S. intervention and standing alliances. America can stay in its own hemisphere and let others do the balancing until the situation directly threatens America.

All conservatives agree that the terrorist threat must be more broadly defined than liberals have been willing to do--it is not simply a "criminal matter." Moreover, conservatives rate much higher than liberals the likelihood that authoritarian or totalitarian states (such as North Korea) and failed states (such as Afghanistan under the Taliban) may assist terrorists in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Waiting until one has proof suitable for a domestic jury is unacceptable for most conservatives. Admittedly, intelligence needs to be better, as Iraq suggests. But it can never be good enough. A terrorist war requires pre-emption; and pre-emption, because it is speculative, can never entail foolproof evidence.

Pre-emption, however, is not a license to invade everywhere. Iraq qualified for many reasons--supporting terrorists in the same region from which Al-Qaeda originates; contacts with Al-Qaeda, although no proof of collaboration or, it should be added, of the absence of collaboration; recent aggression against its neighbors in a region that is critical for world oil supply; acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) based on the historical record and the best intelligence at the time; a leader who invaded neighbors even at the risk of survival; and long-term defiance of the UN. North Korea and Iran do not yet meet all of these conditions. Nevertheless, the strategy is to stalk the adversary abroad and, together with homeland security, keep the conflict as far away from the U.S. mainland as possible.

Nationalists argue that Iraq was not a sufficient threat to warrant attack. They prefer to concentrate on homeland defense and let allies in Europe and Asia assume greater responsibility for Iraq and North Korea. Until America is attacked directly, they opt to keep their powder dry. Some realists (for example, Brent Scowcroft, George H. W. Bush's national security advisor) also worried that intervention would increase instability in the Middle East (and now argue that they were right) and preferred to continue containment. Acting without NATO's consent, as they saw it, undermined the chances of containment. They were willing to give containment more time, even though the inspection regime required the maintenance of 200,000 troops in the Persian Gulf and the record of containment of Iraq in the 1990s was hardly encouraging. And now the scandal of UN management of the Oil for Food program suggests that the sanctions were falling apart just before the invasion.

As desirable as it might be, however, what if NATO cannot act or sanctions have no effect (as in the case of Iraq)? Conservatives must have a fall-back position. "Coalitions of the willing" may be a preferred alternative for neoconservatives, but it is a fall-back position for all conservatives. The ideal strategy would be to use such coalitions to restructure existing alliances, not create new ones. Why throw away the investments made over decades in NATO? True, restructuring can be frustrating and time consuming. But a more mobile, flexible NATO could become for the hot war against terror outside Europe what the more static, deterrence-oriented NATO was for the Cold War inside Europe. If the War on Terror is serious and long term, as conservatives believe, does not America need alliances that are more than temporary marriages of convenience? Can we imagine fighting World War II or the Cold War without permanent (that is to say, for the course of the conflict) allies? Would Spain have withdrawn so easily from the Iraq coalition if this coalition had been increasingly circumscribed by a NATO role?

Nationalists underestimate the threat if they assume the United States can build an air-tight homeland defense and keep the terrorists at bay in this hemisphere. This is just a delaying strategy, not a decisive one. Terrorism is not going away. If you cannot depend on allies to fight terrorists with you, how can you depend on them to fight terrorists without you? Nationalists temper neoconservative enthusiasm to seek out and destroy enemies everywhere. In that sense, neocons and nationalists need one another. But oceans and missile defenses alone cannot protect us from this threat.

These divisions among conservatives, therefore, are not fatal but actually helpful. In the War on Terror, they have produced a very sensible strategy of international institutions a la carte. "Coalitions of the willing" fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; NATO (and perhaps eventually the EU, as it is doing in the Balkans) provides stabilizing forces for economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and eventually perhaps in Iraq (where NATO currently advises the Polish brigade and provides training for Iraqi forces); and the UN promotes political reconciliation and human services in Afghanistan and for forthcoming elections in Iraq. No conservative group, it should be noted, gives the United Nations a leading role. The UN is simply not a reliable institution to defend freedom. With major not-free powers exercising vetoes in the Security Council and majorities of not-free societies dominating the General Assembly, the UN is hardly an institution, let alone the only one, that can decide when it is legitimate to use force. Here a sharp dividing line exists between conservative and liberal grand strategies.

Coping with Globalization

Relatively free markets at home and abroad ensure competition, innovation, growth and, over time, equality. But markets require safety, and so, like Adam Smith, conservatives expect governments (not markets) to provide for defense. In that sense, security precedes markets, and stability is a prerequisite of trade. Neoconservatives and realists acknowledge this need for forward security. Some nationalists or libertarians reject it. They assume that countries will trade peacefully without security structures because it is in their mutual interests to do so. But it is also in their interests to secure the best terms possible for trade. Thus, why wouldn't some countries be tempted, at least sometimes, to set the terms of trade at gunpoint? Then mutually beneficial trade ceases, right? If markets function without safety, why do we have contracts and courts and ultimately police to supervise domestic markets? Some degree of world stability is essential for trade and investment, especially at the levels of contemporary economic interdependence.

Beyond the basic protections of property (including intellectual property), political freedom, and competition, however, all conservatives are skeptical of international economic institutions (just as they are of centralized domestic institutions). They prefer institutions that facilitate negotiations among governments, such as the GATT and WTO, over those that regulate governments, such as UN specialized agencies; redistribute resources, such as the IMF and World Bank; or act directly as state entities, such as OPEC.

Most conservatives are avid free traders. After all, economic freedom is an essential building block of political freedom. If citizens cannot accumulate and control economic resources, how can they exercise and protect their political freedom? But protectionism appeals to authoritarian states and offers short-term benefits to non-competitive workers. Leadership is necessary to secure the political and competitive advantages of freer trade. To its credit, the current Bush Administration has provided such leadership. Its trade representative, Robert Zoellick, saw immediately the relevance of trade to security and argued after September 11, 2001 that a new multilateral round of trade negotiations was now more important than ever. In the midst of a crippling recession and stock market crash, the administration secured trade promotion authority (TPA), where the Clinton Administration failed twice and withdrew the legislation a third time. Though Bush acquiesced to steel and agricultural protectionism in order to secure agreement from Congress, TPA will result in a net gain for free trade if used boldly. Furthermore, the launching of the Doha Round, again where the Clinton Administration failed in Seattle in 1999, and the proposals the Bush Administration tabled in Geneva that effectively eliminate steel and agricultural subsidies, reveal Bush's true purposes. The world has a good chance, now that Bush has been re-elected, to conclude a significant new trade agreement, one that centrally addresses for the first time freer trade in products that benefit developing countries and thereby helps to fight the War on Terror.

Essay Types: Essay