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Conservatism as a one-legged stool?
George Will's editorial about Rick Santorum's presidential ambitions contains a very interesting paragraph as Will describes Santorum's concerns about the future of the Republican Party:
The party is, he says, in danger of becoming "a one-legged stool." The "Eastern establishment types" want to saw off the cultural conservatism leg, concentrating on economic issues. The rising libertarian faction, exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, wants to saw off the strong foreign policy leg.
I agree with Santorum that there is a danger of moderates sawing off the social conservative leg of conservatism, but I do not agree with him on the third leg. Traditionally, the third leg has been a strong national defense, which is not the same as Santorum's vision of a strong foreign policy. Santorum's vision is for an interventionist foreign policy.
We can certainly maintain a strong national defense without having an interventionist policy. We do not need to send troops to intervene in the civil wars in Syria or Libya to maintain a strong national defense, any more than we needed to intervene in Yugoslavia or Somalia twenty years ago to adequately protect our national security interests.
The debate between the libertarian and neoconservative wings of the Republican Party is not a debate about whether we should have a strong national defense. We are not having the debate that took place between Republicans and Democrats during President Reagan's military buildup in the 1980's. The debate is, with a strong national defense as a given, how much do we need to use our military in areas where our national security is not directly threatened?
I fall in line with the libertarian wing. I believe in a strong national defense (limited, of course, by constitutional authority and civil rights protections) but I am opposed to engaging militarily unless there is a clear and direct threat to our security. With Afghanistan, that threat was obvious. With Syria, Libya, Bosnia and Somalia, that was not the case. I am not willing to tell people they have to lose their husbands, sons and fathers in battle unless there is no other option.