Non-intervention: Liberal or conservative?

Is opposition to war and support for a non-interventionist foreign policy a liberal position, or a conservative one?

Look at the historical record and the answer is clear.

The majority of the major conflicts — both declared and undeclared wars — of the 20th century have been started by Democratic presidents.  Indeed, President Obama has continued that tradition quite effectively, with undeclared military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya during his first term. Granted, he did not originate all of these engagements, but to imply that Obama has been a dovish president is odd, to say the least.

And some remarks from historical conservative figures:

I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the United States except to defend the liberty of our own people.   – Robert Taft, “Mr. Republican”

We are not struggling to establish universal “democracy” or “capitalism” or “human rights”… We have not been appointed the correctors of mankind; but, under God, we may be an example to mankind.   – Russell Kirk

If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us… I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you.”   — George W. Bush

The conservative tradition in America has called us to be a nation that leads by example, that projects strength but does not look abroad for monsters to slay. For generations, conservative leaders have recognized the economic and human costs of war – as well as its tendency to enlarge the state – and advocated restraint and diplomacy wherever possible. To argue that this is a liberal position does a disservice to the intellectual roots of American conservatism, not to mention the historical facts.

Religious conservatives in particular should also take note of just war theory, which has been an important element of Christian thought for centuries. Great scholars such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas developed standards that must be satisfied for a military undertaking to be considered moral. The basic idea is that war is so destructive to society and human life that only under particular circumstances can it be legitimately justified. Pope John Paul II cited this doctrine, for example, in condemning the 2003 Iraq conflict.

It’s sad that so many purported conservatives feel the need to boast about their warmongering. But it’s downright foolish to claim that there’s anything conservative about it.

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