- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

American conservatism is a troubled brand these days.

You need look no further than President Bush’s 20-something approval ratings and the widespread sentiment that going to war in Iraq was a bad idea. Putative Republican presidential nominee John McCain is basing much of his campaign on assuring voters that voting for him won’t result in a third Bush term.

Conservatives, however, are not responding to these setbacks by remaining silent. In “Liberty’s Best Hope: America’s Leadership for the 21st Century,” Kim R. Holmes of the Heritage Foundation assesses the state of the world and prescribes how the United States can provide more effective moral leadership.

Mr. Holmes, an assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs during the first term of the current President Bush, still thinks the Iraq war was a good idea (though he criticizes the post-war planning), and sees it as an example of the fusion of power and principle, advocated by President Ronald Reagan.

“I have no doubt that taking an aggressive military stand against Saddam Hussein is in tune with Reagan’s principles on the use of military force… It’s more about building a certain kind of international order and institutions than about fighting wars, although there may be a time when that is needed too,” Mr. Holmes writes.

Not surprisingly, he criticizes the war’s opponents but often has the unfortunate tendency to confuse opposition to U.S. policies with anti-Americanism. Sometimes they are one and the same, but not always. He also contends that if liberals get their way, the United States would be a country of high taxes and activist judges that lacks the will to stand up for its principles.

“Since liberals want to create a different kind of America, they are immune to attacks on their patriotism,” he adds.

One is almost waiting for him to follow that with a sentence such as: “In the liberals’ ideal world Barack Obama would name Jane Fonda to be secretary of defense and would vow never to wage a full-scale war ever again.”

Mr. Holmes is a fine scholar of international relations but his rhetorical overkill all-too-often gets in his way. The book reads as if he is trying to be conservatism’s answer to Dick Clark: Spinning those golden oldie stereotypes of his ideological adversaries.

Readers not turned off by the combative tone will find some valuable nuggets, especially in the second half of the book, which focuses on finding solutions to current military and diplomatic problems.

Mr. Holmes is on the mark in suggesting that federal defense and diplomatic agencies should be restructured so they can improve communication, and more importantly, execute policy more effectively. His proposals to shift responsibility for some post-conflict operations away from the Pentagon and to increase pay and benefits for overworked military personnel are also worth implementing.

Since he once was responsible for developing American positions in dealing with the United Nations and other world agencies, it is not surprising that he has strong beliefs about how to react when they (or an American ally) criticizes the United States on certain subjects.

One of his suggestions, however, represents a cure that is worse than the disease.

If an ally of the United States supports a world organization’s criticism of one of our policies in the “war on terrorism” Mr. Holmes suggests “we should call in the ambassador, demand an explanation, and henceforth find some way to continue to express our dissatisfaction until the behavior is stopped.”

The author also opposes congressional efforts to require a FISA court approval before federal agents could conduct surveillance on American citizens abroad. He sees this as unnecessary “meddling.”

It will be interesting to see if conservatives are equally eager to give more power to the executive branch if the Oval Office occupant is named Obama or Clinton.

Should Mr. Holmes have his way, Mr. Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will only get to the Oval Office as guests of a President McCain.

The book is not a campaign tract for the senior senator from Arizona — it was released before the nomination fight was concluded — but Mr. Holmes has written an extended memo that he thinks will help the next president do the “right” thing.

If you like your foreign policy discussions served with a bit of red meat, “Liberty’s Best Hope: America’s Leadership for the 21st Century” will satisfy your literary taste buds. Otherwise, you might want to order your diplomatic and military analysis cooked differently.

Claude R. Marx is the author of a chapter on media and politics in “The Sixth-Year Itch.”

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