Some conservatives remain wary and are willing to say so publicly about President Bush’s threats of war against Iraq.
Most regard Mr. Bush as one of their own, and support his stated aim of forcibly disarming Saddam Hussein’s regime, if necessary.
But some conservative critics are philosophically opposed to using the U.S. military as a force to transform dictatorships into democracies.
“It is a traditional conservative position not to want the United States to be the policeman of the world,” said Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican. “It is also conservative to favor smaller government that is closer to the people, rather than world government.”
Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, says that while Iraq is a threat, “it does not pose an imminent threat that justifies a pre-emptive military strike.”
He and Mr. Duncan were the only two conservative House Republicans to oppose an Oct. 8 resolution authorizing military force against Iraq.
Although the resolution passed with overwhelming Republican support, including many of the most conservative House and Senate members, Mr. Hostettler says a “vote for pre-emption would also set a standard which the rest of the world would seek to hold America to, and which the rest of the world could justifiably follow.”
Conservative critics of the administration’s Iraq policy argue that it amounts to a form of imperialism that would require an ever-larger federal government to liberate foreign countries, watch over their democratization and protect the homeland against enemies made in the process all at the cost of Americans’ personal liberties.
“Neo-imperialism is never a conservative virtue, whatever the clothing or, more accurately, fig leaf,” said William Bradford Reynolds, chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Reagan administration. He predicts the pursuit of terrorism will loom large as a justification for further U.S. “intrusions” abroad if the U.S. suffers more attacks like those of September 11.
While rank-and-file conservatives, by and large, embrace most of Mr. Bush’s agenda, some confess to reservations about Iraq, as at a recent conservative political-action conference in Arlington.
C. Preston Noell III, 47, president of Tradition, Family and Property, a conservative Catholic think tank in McLean said, “Many of my conservative friends who greatly support President Bush are uneasy with the level of proof [of Iraqi weapons violations] that has been offered. They would feel much better if President Bush would show the proof as to why we really need to clout Saddam Hussein.”
Of the principal conservative think tanks the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Manhattan Institute, the Free Congress Foundation and the Cato Institute only the last two have voiced dissent on Iraq.
“On foreign policy, ‘conservative’ isn’t quite the right word for George W. Bush,” said Cato Chairman William A. Niskanen, who was a member of President Reagan’s Council of Economic advisers. “He is very much the interventionist on the model of Teddy Roosevelt. He wants to put things in order around the world, even if it takes military force.”
Military historian William S. Lind, director of the Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Cultural Conservatism, has concluded that the “administration’s Iraq policy is more liberal than conservative. It is Wilsonian, an attempt to export democracy on the tips of American bayonets, which never works not in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia or Kosovo.”