Throughout its history, the United States has hosted numerous political parties, movements, and factions. The Whigs, the Rockefeller Republicans, the Reagan Democrats, and the hip Keep Cool with Coolidge crowd. But there is one group that is often forgotten about in the American tale: the anti-war right, an entity that has been pummeled into submission and silenced for nearly 30 years – until now.
Recently, President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address. The speech, when pontificating on foreign policy, had a mix of non-intervention, neocon appeasement, and change to the status quo. Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, sent out a tweet soon after President Trump’s remarks, thanking former Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) for the “revival of the antiwar Right.” Was Deist correct?
Thanks, Ron Paul?
Well, Dr. Paul was the only one on the debate stage in 2008 and 2012 to oppose the Iraqi occupation, champion non-intervention, and refute the mainstream media’s pro-war talking points. Paul received the most contributions from active military members, even surpassing former President Barack Obama; it was obvious that Paul resonated with conservatives who felt disenfranchised with the GOP.
Fast forward to 2016, and more of the candidates on the debate stage were dovish on foreign policy, except the usual suspects, such as Sen. Graham, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). But Trump led the field in shouting to the heavens that Iraq “was a big fat mistake,” adding that foreign policy under the Rs and Ds of the last 20 years had been a blunder.
He was right. There was no end in sight to Afghanistan, the Libyan invasion destabilized an entire region, and regime change had produced blowback in various parts of the globe. This was a breath of fresh air, especially since the Democrats – the apparent stalwarts of anti-war and peace – hardly uttered criticisms of Obama’s expensive escalation in the Middle East.
Today, the Republican Party contains a growing number of representatives and senators who are beginning to question the efficacy of overseas intervention, occupation, and regime change. Senator Rand Paul, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) are quickly becoming the most important Republicans in Washington today, if only for their stances against meddling into the domestic affairs of foreign nations. As just one example, they were among the few to against banning the president from leaving the cult of NATO.
History of Anti-War Conservatism
The right has a long tradition of being anti-war, contradicting the conventional thought that all conservatives advocate going to battle to resolve every dispute and disagreement. From the First World War to Vietnam, many conservative figures and groups, like the America First Committee and Senator George Aiken (R-VT), had an important presence in opposing America’s entry into foreign excursions. Even the policy of preventive war was lamented by the right, which argued that this strategy is “committing suicide for fear of being killed.”
Led by Senator Robert Taft (R-OH), otherwise known as Mr. Republican, the right championed a more non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, advocating national sovereignty as opposed to globalism. A large swath of Republicans were against many of the organizations and treaties the international community still holds dear today, from NATO to the United Nations.
“If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be … enough to fill the city of Detroit.”
To summarize the Republican Party’s one-time position on combat, you’d need to travel back to the 1976 vice-presidential debate, when Rep. Bob Dole (R-KS) exposed the “Democrat wars,” though his digression was completely unrelated to the question posed (President Richard Nixon’s pardon). He slammed the left for several conflicts of the 20th century: “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be … enough to fill the city of Detroit.”
Yet, for years the consensus across the country has been that the Republicans are the war party and the Democrats are the anti-war crusaders. The former has been mostly correct this century, while the latter has been exposed as nothing more than a myth. It is difficult to envision an anti-war right after the extended period of the Bush doctrine, neoconservative rule, and hawkish faces like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) leading the conservative movement for too long. But things are starting to change in conservative circles and even the GOP.
End the Wars
It is difficult to determine where Trump is headed on foreign policy. One moment, he is declaring an end to these “foolish wars” and announcing withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria. The next, his administration assures the neocons, the left, and the mainstream press that the U.S. is indeed staying in these distant lands. Simply put, Trump has the right sentiment, but the wrong circle.
Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles recently observed that the president is trying to please everyone, from the die-hard anti-war libertarians to the hawkish neocons. Indeed, it’s unlikely he will bring troops home from 100-plus nations during his tenure, but if Trump can withdraw most soldiers from Afghanistan, refuse to expand involvement in Syria, and refrain from further antagonizing North Korea, then the Trump foreign policy could be considered a success – or better than his predecessors.
Isn’t it amazing that a president who is loathed by the entire establishment has done more for peace than one who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize? As The American Conservative declared, “Real conservatives hate war.”