Sarah Palin should have her right to pontificate revoked. In an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, the Alaskan rogue had the audacity to claim, “Say [Obama] played the war card. Say he decided to declare war on Iran or decided really to come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do. But that changes the dynamics in what we can assume is going to happen between now and three years because I think if the election were today, I do not think Obama would be reelected.”
Even though Palin quickly backed away from her incendiary comment, she implied that a war with Iran would be necessary for the president to appear “tough” and gain more support at home. Aside from the fact that a surgical strike on Iran would unite Iranians behind an unpopular regime, lead to a regional conflagration spanning from Tehran to Tel Aviv, and further endanger U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the notion of initiating a war with Iran for the sake of domestic popularity exemplifies the sad and contradictory state of the modern GOP: America can NEVER embrace the principles of limited government without rejecting its neo-imperial policies.
Palin’s comment reflects an ongoing effort by conservatives to cast Obama as soft on terrorism, and mirrors much of the media coverage following the foiled Christmas Day attack over Detroit. After the failed attack, many conservatives (including Dick Cheney) sought to cynically exploit the would-be deaths of hundreds of innocents for their own partisan political gain. Of course, Obama perpetuates many of Bush’s errors. Nevertheless, Sarah Palin and her ilk simply serve to epitomize the philosophical inconsistency of the modern GOP. After all, Republicans of yore forcefully opposed foreign interventions and nation-building overseas. But under their present permutation, the GOP has abandoned their limited government principles. For example, the GOP claims limited government in our health care and in our wallet but not in the affairs of other nations. Thus, we get the bizarre public figures who say that tweaking the communal identity of a tribe in Helmand is alright, but paving a road in Detroit is socialist. Moreover, while the GOP wags a sanctimonious finger at Americans and Democrats about the need for fiscal restraint at home, they burn through billions of dollars on an imperial foreign policy abroad. The canard that such policies ostensibly make Americans safer is not true either. The Christmas Day crotch bomber blew a massive hole through that argument, as he vividly illustrated that occupying foreign countries is not a precondition to keeping America safer.
It’s time to redefine the terms of the debate: Sarah Palin is not a conservative—she is a neoconservative inspired by populist beliefs, and so is much of the modern GOP. Going abroad to defend our country, if absolutely required, is fine, but overthrowing foreign leaders to liberate their people or access their markets is a bastardization of free trade theory and classical liberal thought. Libertarian/conservative/independent-minded folks (such as myself) advocate a foreign policy of military restraint not because we are pacifists, but because we believe that free trade and open markets afford the best means for increasing a country’s power and prosperity. To quote my friend and colleague, Christopher Preble, the argument that an open global economic system must be protected by the United States actually makes America “less safe, less prosperous, and less free.”
Evidently, America’s ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and covert operations in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen are not enough for Sarah Palin. Yet even as she admonishes the Democrats for spending billions on bailouts, which some in the GOP endorsed, she’s all for squandering more of the American taxpayers’ ever-diminishing financial resources on a Quixotic quest for spreading liberty at the barrel of a gun. To make matters worse, the policies that people like her endorse, such as unending wars of occupation and harsh interrogation methods, have become major recruiting tools for terrorists.
Conservatives need to wise up! But they must first overcome their identity crisis.