Friday, March 24, 2006

The Last Conservative Value

Commentary by Martin Kelly
May 17, 2005

“What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women!” - Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘Conan the Barbarian’

Thirteen months before he committed suicide at the age of just 30 in his hometown of Cross Plains, Texas, in 1936, Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard wrote a letter begging for payment of the eight hundred dollars he was owed by his most frequent publishers, ‘Weird Tales’.

In a Townhall column of October 10, 2003, entitled ‘Schwarzenegger can use popularity to effect change’, ‘National Review’ editor-at-large and youthful neoconservative ideologue Jonah Goldberg remarked,

“Schwarzenegger wasn't my candidate, and I was skeptical of the recall from the outset. But you've got to give him credit for one thing: Considering the array of forces against him, particularly in liberal feminist circles, he actually managed to make his greatest movie line a reality. In "Conan the Barbarian," he was asked, "What is best in life?" and he responded, "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!"

Perhaps Goldberg was being facetious. However, as an outsider looking in at a philosophy I can only examine from a distance, the original quote seems to perfectly encapsulate what can only be described as perhaps the last conservative value; one that straddles both neoconservatism and paleoconservatism, a true lowest common denominator amongst the qualities required to be an intellectual leader in the conservative movement.

That quality is pitilessness.

Neoconservatism is a philosophy based on global projection of national power. Their critics call them imperialists, but more accurately the neoconservative paradigm of ‘global benevolent hegemony’ means nothing less than world domination, as bizarre and paranoid as that one sounds when one sees it.

But there is no other logical conclusion to draw from the massive overseas military commitments the USA has undertaken since 9/11, and the willingness of George W. Bush to treat with anyone who declares they are on his side, up to and including the disgusting Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who's a key ally in the ‘War on Terror’, when he’s not mowing down his own people in the street or boiling them alive.

The K Street Napoleons of the neocon magazines and think tanks are only concerned for the ‘national interest’, as if the USA as a legal entity has some kind of higher moral standing than that of its citizens, quite forgetting that its citizens are the United States of America. Without them, there is nothing.

Their utter pitilessness can often be seen lining the pages of their publications, with no word of sympathy for the lamentations of the women of Iraq.

The reason for this pitilessness towards the widows of a country they have helped destroy is that the neocons may feel that the Iraqis should be grateful to them. After all, they are free now.

The notional freedom that Iraq enjoys was bought with a lie, that its ruler possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction that posed a threat to the security of the United States and other nations. That was not the case. It was only at the stage in the game when it became clear the White House and the Vice-President’s office would have to either hold or fold on the nukes that the liberty of the Iraqis assumed its paramount importance.

Of course the Iraqis are not free, not in any meaningful sense. Nobody can live freely in a country full of foreign armies and swarming with foreign terrorists. That Iraq is developing its own security apparatus is to be welcomed. However, the fact that it will take years for those forces to gain the training and experience they will need in order to combat the insurgency makes the likelihood of America’s stay in Iraq look bleaker than ever.

But it was at Abu Ghraib that the pitiless of neoconservatism found its poster children. The dumb grins of Charles Graner and Lynndie England as they abused their prisoners made them the embodiment of what was wrong with the war, wrong with the peace and wrong with the whole idea.

However, just as the crimes of the Abu Ghraib MP’s pale in comparison with Saddam’s, so too do Saddam’s pale in comparison with Hitler’s. Saddam invaded Kuwait; he used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war; he tortured, murdered and mutilated thousands, making millions into refugees and outcasts. He drained the natural habitat of the Marsh Arabs. He even deployed gas at Halabja.

But at no point did Ba’athist Iraq steep itself in blood so deep as the Third Reich. It is in relation to the Third Reich, and its ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘problem’ of Jewry, that paleoconservative pitilessness comes to prominence.

If neoconservatives make a fetish of dreams of projecting power abroad, paleoconservatives make a fetish of their isolationism. They seem blind to the fact that when one lives in a nation, a legal entity, there are times when one cannot be help be sucked into the affairs of other nations. And it is perhaps this blindness that has produced one of the most morally troubling commentaries of recent times.

On May 12, Patrick J. Buchanan, a man I otherwise greatly admire, published a column entitled ‘Was World War II Worth It?’ on ‘Chronicles Extra’. It took the position that the ceding of Eastern Europe to Stalin at Yalta was as great an act of betrayal as Munich. From the classic paleoconservative perspective, Neville Chamberlain’s greatest mistake in his involvement at Munich was to have got himself involved at all.

There is no doubt that in some cases Buchanan’s perspective is correct. As he put it, ‘Leninism was the Black Death of the 20th Century’. Of course more people were killed under Stalin than under Hitler. These are facts beyond dispute.

But when one deals in facts one must deal with all the facts. It is easy to criticize Roosevelt with the benefit of 60 years of hindsight; however, nowhere in the column does Buchanan mention that it was Germany that declared war on the United States, entirely without provocation, days after the carnage of Pearl Harbor.

More shocking still is his failure to distinguish between the crimes of Hitler and Stalin. Undoubtedly, Stalin killed more; but it was Hitler who made the genocide of ethnic and religious minorities, because of what and not who they were, one of the principal industries of his state. Even as the war was being lost on both fronts, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the febrile were being rounded up and deported to those bleak barbed-wire hells.

In summarizing the geopolitical reasons for fighting the war, Buchanan posed the question –

“Was that worth fighting a world war – with 50 million dead?”

Faced with a man who made it his aim to wipe out entire populations, the answer is yes; yes; and yes again. For such a distinguished thinker as Buchanan to gainsay a president who had to lead the USA into a war which it had most certainly not sought and which it could not avoid, and then fail to mention anything of the unique nature of the greater crime which that war brought to a halt, reeks of pitilessness.

It seems that the pity of conservatism’s intellectual leaders is a rationed commodity. Both neo- and paleo-conservatives are such hardened ideologues that they will never reach any kind of accommodation with each other. However, as a respectful foreigner, one might be tempted to venture the suggestion that the American conservative movement deserves better leadership than it’s getting.

Not just the conservatives – but all Americans.