One important lesson to be learned in the wake of the Serbian
conflict is this: Since the Cold War ended, with a few brief exceptions,
the United States has been on an intellectual vacation concerning
That’s why we were caught with our intellectual pants down as General
Clinton was preparing to bomb Serbia.
Now’s the time for Republicans to pick up the ball.
During the Gulf War, we had a national mini-debate on the proper role
of the U.S. military in international affairs, but it didn’t take long
until we resumed our foreign-policy sabbatical. Ironically, our nearly
supernatural victory against Saddam just fueled our apathy.
All but the isolationist wing of the Republican Party believed that
preserving the free flow of oil at market prices was sufficiently
important to our national interests to warrant repelling Hussein’s
invasion of Kuwait. Though there were compelling humanitarian reasons to
justify U.S. intervention, most Democrats initially opposed Desert
Storm, presumably because humanitarian concerns must take a back seat to
politics — we had a Republican commander in chief then.
Clinton has dispatched our armed forces on so many missions that an
unschooled observer might erroneously conclude that he has an affinity
for the military he loathes. But most of Clinton’s deployments have been
for social purposes, not military. To him, the military is little more
than a glorified Peace Corps.
Indeed, for Clinton and his ilk there is rarely a moral dilemma over
military deployment anywhere on the planet. If there is a humanitarian
reason to intervene, most other concerns are utterly irrelevant, such as
our military readiness, our other obligations around the world, our war
aims and our exit strategy.
If there is enough emotional energy triggering our humanitarian
impulses, then Commander Clinton will intervene. This explains why he
has intervened in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Serbia. It does not and
cannot explain why he has chosen not to in equally pressing humanitarian
situations like Rwanda. But liberals don’t have to reconcile such
inconsistencies — their motives are beyond reproach.
So for liberals, there is no intellectual vacation from such
questions because there is so little intellectual engagement on them in
the first place. It’s largely an emotional matter.
Republicans must seize this moment to lead the national debate on
these issues before we find ourselves at the doorstep of another Slobo.
We simply cannot wait for the next foreign crisis to develop a coherent,
post-Cold War foreign policy.
Republicans, though, are in the midst of a civil war over whether and
when the United States should use its military force. Just like all
civil wars, it is very bitter — name-calling and finger pointing are
the rule rather than the exception.
One Republican hawk said that Republican doves opposed the war
because of their obsessive hatred of Bill Clinton. Another referred to
them pejoratively as the “Little Buchanans” (meaning selfish
But conservative columnists opposed to the intervention have also
impugned the motives of Republican hawks. Some, they say, are globalists
who believe that nation-states are obsolete. Others are determined to
prove their compassion and virtue. I agree that there is an abundance of
those who would forfeit our sovereignty at the drop of a hat, but not
many of them are in the Republican Party.
My belief is that Republican hawks and doves ought to get off their
judgmental high horses with each other. This continuing stridency and
pettiness is divisive and destructive.
There is every reason to bring this debate to the forefront of our
party. But there is no justification to fall into this liberal mode of
demonizing those, especially our usual ideological soul mates, who
disagree with us. Let’s talk about the issue, not the conservative
credentials of those espousing either side.
We should begin the discussion with our shared ideas and from there
explore our differences. The common denominator among Republican hawks
and doves is their conviction that our national interests should guide
our foreign policy. Defining the national interests, though, will be the
I believe that Republican doves have been carrying the day. They have
made clear their intellectual arguments against the intervention. The
hawks have largely refused to enter the fray, choosing instead to rely
on platitudes like “European stability is vitally important to the
United States.” Yes, say the doves, but what does that have to do with
Serbia? Let’s have some answers.
Let the debate begin. If we make headway, we can move on to other
issues and maybe eventually reunite this fragmented, self-defeating