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The Party of Freedom

Mar 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 27 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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And so, despite his doubts and dithering, President Obama is taking us to war in another Muslim country. Good for him.

The Party  of Freedom

The president didn’t want this. He’s been so unhappy about such a possibility—so fearful of such an eventuality—that first he tied himself in knots trying to do nothing. Then he decided that, if he had to act, it would be good to boast that he was merely following the Arab League and subordinating American action to the U.N. Security Council. After all, nothing—nothing!—could be worse than the perception that the United States was “invading” another Muslim country.

Rubbish. Our “invasions” have in fact been liberations. We have shed blood and expended treasure in Kuwait in 1991, in the Balkans later in the 1990s, and in Afghanistan and Iraq—in our own national interest, of course, but also to protect Muslim peoples and help them free themselves. Libya will be America’s fifth war of Muslim liberation.

The modern Republican party has played a key role in these honorable struggles. When in power, Republicans have taken the lead in fighting for liberty. When in opposition, they have sought to push Democratic presidents to act—in the Balkans, and today in Libya—and have supported Democratic presidents when they acted on behalf of American interests and principles, as with the surge in Afghanistan.

On March 17, for example, a few hours before the Security Council voted on Libya, the House of Representatives considered a resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, “Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.”

The Afghanistan war has had bipartisan support from the beginning. The Obama administration and the GOP leadership were both opposed to Kucinich’s resolution—which called not merely for timetables or draw downs, but for the simple and absolute removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Yet close to half the Democrats in the House of Representatives voted for retreat and defeat.

And the Republicans? 222 to 8 against withdrawal. And the 87 Republican freshmen, about whom there’s been a fair amount of media hoopla heralding supposedly newly emerging isolationist tendencies? Not a single vote for Kucinich.

That’s not to say there’s no debate in the Republican party, and among conservatives, about American foreign and defense policy. There is and should be such a debate. And there are authentic strains in the Republican and conservative traditions to which the worriers and the withdrawers can appeal. Those strains are not, in our view, very helpful guides to dealing with the world of 2011—but those who disagree with us are free to make their case.

What we do hope, however, is that the worriers and the withdrawers really do make a case—rather than demagogically play off frustrations with a difficult war, or exploit a vague and ill-informed sense that the Pentagon is too big. A real debate on defense programs and on Afghanistan will be healthy for the party and for conservatives. It’s a debate we’re confident Reaganites will win.

And it’s a debate that may remind Republicans and conservatives that the Reagan tradition—indeed, the Reagan-Bush-Dole-Bush-McCain tradition—in foreign policy isn’t a burden to be borne. It’s a tradition to be proud of. It’s rare that a political party gets to stand for more than a partial interest, for more than a limited point of view. It’s rare that a political party gets to stand for the national interest, for national greatness, for the exceptional American role in the liberation of peoples around the globe.

That is what the modern Republican party has stood for. Part of that modern Republican tradition includes, when in opposition, supporting a Democratic administration when it does the right thing. That’s what Republicans have done with regard to Afghanistan. It’s what Republicans will do as the nation prosecutes the effort in Libya. And as Republicans select a 2012 nominee, they should seek a leader who will stand unabashedly for freedom at home and abroad.

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