During the presidency of George W. Bush, conservatism as a political ideology became equated with military adventurism. This was mostly due to the Iraq War – a largely unnecessary war, that was started by neoconservatives and establishment types who thought they could “export” democracy and human rights. The war in Iraq was so unpopular that the Republican nominee in 2008 (the admittedly weak Senator John McCain) had little to no chance of winning. Conservatism as a brand was tarnished, it seems, beyond recovery.
In the years since then, however, many reasonable right-of-center voters and commentators have done some serious soul searching, and they have concluded that the likes of Rand Paul and President Trump were right when they criticized the Iraq War and similar military adventures in the Middle East.
Sadly, however, establishment conservatives and neoconservatives continue to stick to their proverbial guns. Even after the Bush years and the necessary years of introspection by common sense conservatives, these individuals are merely waiting for a chance to start a new war. Their preferred target is, this time, Iran — a country run by an admittedly despotic, oppressive and aggressive regime.
Now that Iran has shot down an American military drone, they believe they finally have their reason to go to war. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Tom Cotton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA director Gina Haspel are reportedly all calling on Trump to pull the trigger. Senator Graham tweeted Thursday, for example, that “the only thing Iran and every other thuggish regime understands is Strength and Pain.”
So far President Trump has resisted this demand for war. He has adopted a foreign policy in which military strikes are a last rather than a first resort. We should be glad about that: not only does that serve America’s interests best, but it’s also best for the world as a whole, and for conservatism.
Because, if we go back to the conservatism of the Bush years – a supposedly “compassionate conservatism” mixed with large-scale military adventures that cost thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and that wreak havoc and chaos – conservatism as a political philosophy is doomed. If Bolton, Graham and their ilk have their way, conservatism and “warmongering” will be interchangeable terms which will result in conservatives losing elections on a nightmarish scale.
For President Trump, then, this controversy with Iran could very well be the defining moment of his presidency. If he continues to listen to his own instincts, he will not only prevent a potentially disastrous war from occurring, but he will also save conservatism.
Of course, this does not mean that military action is always off the table. There are situations in which war is the only possible course of action to defend America’s interests – or those of its closest allies. Iran could very well go too far, for example, by actually killing Americans. In such a scenario, military strikes are a reasonable and correct response.