I am writing these critical observations as a bona fide paleoconservative, indeed as someone celebrated by my friend Joe Scotchie, in his recent work on American conservatism (The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right
), as an architect of the new Old Right. It seems to me apparent that at least some of my soulmates have gone over the top in foreign policy. Their views on the Middle East have become over-determined by their opposition to the neoconservatives.
It is one thing to criticize, as I myself have done ad libitum
, the dubious statements that keep popping up on National Review Online (NRO): for instance, that Arab leaders are recent reincarnations of interwar European fascists; that international peace requires that the United States overthrow all Middle Eastern governments, except for that of Israel, and set up forced instruction in the occupied countries in global democracy; that anti-Israeli Islamicist violence in Europe is really attributable to Christian anti-Semitism (only about half the neocons seem to believe this); and that all peoples can be turned into democrats, because we succeeded in converting the particularly recalcitrant Germans after World War II. (For those who would like to learn why these assertions make little sense, I shall gladly email essays in which I have dealt with them.)
But it is another matter to deny reasonable assumptions simply because the neocons believe them. By now it is apparent that Saddam Hussein is a vicious, sadistic lunatic who has been aggressive toward his neighbors, stockpiles highly destructive weapons, and has threatened repeatedly to unleash missiles on the “Zionist entity.” Although the extent of his involvement with al Qaeda has yet to be fully ascertained, we do know that he has pay rolled Arab terrorists for years. It is consequently in the American interest to work toward a regime change in Iraq—or at the very least either force Saddam to comply fully with United Nations inspections or surgically remove his threatening weapons system. On the basis of what the president has said, this seems to be his intention—which is not the same as the stated view of writers Jonah Goldberg, Michael Ledeen, and others who want to reconstruct the Islamic Middle East. It is therefore unfair to do what some paleos now routinely do, which is to equate Bush’s firm resolve not to let the Iraqi regime go back to business as usual with the revolutionary illusions of some misnamed American conservatives.
The other point on which paleos have gone too far is in condemning the Israelis for the derailed peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The reasons for this anti-Israeli sentiment are not to be found entirely in the Middle East. Paleos are reacting to the tedious accusations of anti-Semitism that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) keeps leveling against those who do not support Israel unconditionally. And some paleos, starting with Pat Buchanan, have reacted strongly against the Christophobic statements that have come from American and European Jewish leaders. I myself was appalled by—and wrote an angry polemic for The Spectator
on—the attempts to link Islamist attacks on European Jews to the “European Christian past.” What made these attempts especially odious was that they came from journalists who had previously attacked Europeans for not being liberal enough in accepting Third World immigrants.
It is also the case that Israeli supporters in the United States misrepresent the ethnic character of the Israeli nation state, drawing exaggerated comparisons between American cultural pluralism and what exists in Israel. It can, of course, be countered that although intended to be an ethnically unified state, Israel has been forced to accept a large Palestinian minority, who in Israel proper exercise the rights of citizens. Unlike most of its Arab neighbors, moreover, Israel has parliamentary opposition parties, a free press, and the rule of law.
Whether or not, however, the Israelis have some unpleasant or dishonest backers in the United States, they also live in a very dangerous world. About five years ago the Israeli government offered to give back to the Palestinians over 90 percent of the land that Israelis had taken in war thirty years before. The Palestinian response was to blow up Israeli shopping malls, while Palestinian leaders made speeches about wiping out the Jewish population of Israel.
Again, I’ve no problem accepting the likelihood that Israeli armies in 1947 and 1948 expelled Palestinians, whereupon Arab countries drove out their Jewish minorities whom the Israelis subsequently took in and resettled. The question is what the Israelis, including a Sephardic majority whose families had been uprooted by Arab governments, can do now to ensure their survival in the face of an enemy that does not recognize their right to be where they are.
And the problem does not seem to be that the Palestinians lack majority rule. Rather it is their inability to produce leaders who will honor and enforce agreements with the other side. What kept Europe relatively tranquil in the eighteenth century was not the rule of democracy, which led to the bloodbath of the French Revolution, but the recognition of international laws of war and peace. In Grotius’s phrase, Pacta servanda sunt—that states are required to observe treaties is the only guarantee of peace. The Israelis would be foolish to think that the present Palestinian leadership would honor a peace treaty, even it decided to make one. It is also questionable whether Palestinians who tried to keep such a peace would survive assassination by Palestinian terrorist groups. (For more on this topic, see “Palestine’s Emerging Democratic Alternative,” American Outlook
, Fall 2002.) The most the Israelis may be able to achieve in the present unsatisfactory situation is making those who are blowing up their families pay a high price. Except for practicing the beatitudes, and living and dying like saints, I cannot imagine what other political course is open to the beleaguered Jewish state.
I have raised these points of disagreement because it is important that well-meaning paleoconservatives understand their excesses. Because they appear to be correct on so many issues, like immigration, minority quotas, and combating the politics of guilt, and because most of them have sacrificed for worthy convictions, it is imperative for them to stop imitating The Nation
on the subject of foreign policy. The folks on the Left, as one learns from reading their publications, do not mistake the paleos for comrades-in-arms. They rail against them as fascists, no matter what. It therefore would be a shame if the Old Right drives away their natural followers by persisting in a mistaken course.Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Hudson Institute.