I have a confession.
In the 90’s, I intellectually explored various, political philosophies and view points that were seemingly in conflict with those I was raised with (call it “political rebellion”). Coming from what can be termed a “liberal” family background (albeit more a-political than activist), I explored areas which would be in contradiction to my familial history. I became a listener of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, even subscribing to his newsletter for one year. I became a reader of “The National Review” and columnist such as George Will and Cal Thomas. There was (and still is) aspects of what is termed as conservative thought I found agreement with. The belief that government can be an impediment to personal liberty has resonance with me. At one point, even the prevalent conservative implication that everything not conservative is liberal and, thus, bad, started sounding logical but would be challenged and revealed as a fallacy in my eyes in the light of global events of 2001-2003.
A life-long bedrock belief I hold is that war and violence are evil and in direct contradiction to the ideal spiritual state of man (not to be confused with the actual state of mankind). I won’t go so far as to say I’m a pacifist as I've not mastered the ability to 100% “turn the other cheek”. But as a Christian, a “cold war child”, and a life-long admirer of M.K. Gandhi, I believe in totality that non-violence is mankind’s only hope of survival in this age where technological advances outpace spiritual evolution.
In 1998, my political exploration of conservative thought began to conflict with my non-violence beliefs when I read statements by the “Project for The New American Century” (PNAC), a conservative organization seeking to advance American foreign policy beyond the immediate post-cold war era. In essence, many of their positions was to take advantage of the period following the fall of the Soviet Union where the United States stood as the lone global super power. Several members of this organization would later be key members of the Bush Administration where they would be named “Neo Cons”. Several of their position papers were the ground work for George Bush’s foreign policy and advocated unilateral action that “purposefully promotes American principles abroad” with the belief that what’s good for America is good for the whole world.
While its now easy, with the Iraq war in hindsight, to have pause with the assumptions of the PNAC, I truthfully say I found reason for concern when their positions were 1st published. In particular, the assumptions about the Middle East were particularly troubling given the historical track record of other nations that have tried and failed to sway the political landscape of that region. Being a reader of history, I questioned how the United States could do any better than the British or French (to only name the most recent attempts) at molding the region towards their interests.
In the climate immediately following the attacks of 11-September 2001, I found myself being very conflicted and concerned by conservative voices that became avid “cheerleaders” for the idea that we needed to exert our military and political will abroad, particularly in Iraq. I found it perplexing that while the Bush Administration was making its strong case to invade Iraq based on the threat Saddam Hussein posed, the likes of Scott Ritter, part of the U.N. weapons inspection apparatus put in place following the 1991 Gulf War, was speaking loudly that Iraq had been disarmed of their weapons of mass destruction. When conservative pundits started discounting Mr. Ritter, a decorated Marine, as a “shill on the payroll of Saddam Hussein”, alarm bells started sounding in my head.
A moment of epiphany for me happened late in 2002 when I was listening to Sean Hannity on the car radio. At this point, the “war drums” were beating loudly and most of the U.S. political leadership and media was in line with the Bush Administration’s intent to “disarm Saddam”. Mr. Hannity implied that anyone opposed to the invasion of Iraq was siding with the enemy, and thus, a traitor. This pissed me off to the point I had to pull the car over to calm down. I wasn't to the point of certainty that Iraq was WMD-free but I did believe that a unilateral war without absolute proof was wrong, mis-guided, and would lead to much unnecessary death. And even with proof, being the aggressor and invader was wrong. I also believed that if the U.S. was going into Iraq, we would be there for a long time because, in spite of whatever noble intentions our government may have had, the true focus of American interest, per the PNAC, was economic with the regions primary resource (oil) our #1 concern. We would not be removing Saddam and then hitting the road. This was nation building which I was led to believe was a bad thing among conservative ideologues. I recall Rush Limbaugh saying in the mid-90’s, in response to one of Bill Clinton’s advocacy for intervention in the Balkans and the use of soldiers as peacekeepers, “armies are good for only 1 thing, war”. I agree with that statement. Soldiers are historically not administrators of services, police officers, etc. They are good at fighting. That’s what they do. The notion that we would invade Iraq, lay the seeds of democracy, rebuild everything destroyed, be greeted as liberators, and (most ridiculous), that the Iraqi’s would pay for the cost, seemed ludicrous to me then and has proven to be incredibly erroneous. (By the way, with our current economic debt situation, why isn’t anyone loudly complaining of the 1 trillion dollar price tag of the Iraq war?)
I can go on and on about the Iraq war but, from a personal perspective, its served to enlighten me in a few areas. I learned that line between “conservative” and “liberal” is not as delineated as hard-core partisans on either side of that divide would lead you to believe. I learned that I strongly oppose the militaristic tendency of many self-professed conservatives which, I supposed, makes me “not conservative”. I learned, via sharing a plane ride with a family who was escorting their deceased soldier son (who was in the cargo hold in a flag-draped casket) that the consequences of going to war were tangible and tragic. But I’ve also learned to look beyond labels. When someone says “I’m conservative” or “I’m progressive”, I immediately question “what does that mean?”. Labels can be very effective at delineating between “us” and “them” and, as someone who, above all else, believes in God’s will for love and charity for ALL, I’m doing my best to do away with the “them” part and focus on “us” and “me”.