Shining the Spotlight on Antiwar Conservatives

Today, in the Week in Review section of the New York Times, David P. Kirkpatrick calls to our attention a nascent political force that wasn’t much heard from during the campaign — conservatives appalled by the war in Iraq.

These are traditional conservatives in and around the think tanks of Washington, D.C. who held their tongue during the campaign for fear of endangering President Bush’s chances, but who are now eager to take on the neoconservatives inside and outside the White House whom they blame for leading the nation, and the president, astray.

Granted, it’s a splinter group, but that splinter contains some pretty big names in the conservative pantheon: Richard Viguerie, the dean of conservative direct mail; Ronald Godwin, a top aide to Dr. Jerry Falwell; William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review, whose Oct. 19 column on the subject asked, “At War With What or Whom?”; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, and chairman of the Free Congress Foundation; Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute; Donald Divine, a vice chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Godwin is so disgusted with the war and the men who made the case for it that on election night that he told Kirkpatrick, “I see a real battle for the Republican Party — starting about Nov. 3.”

Members of this group, Kirkpatrick writes, “argue that the war is a political liability to the Republican Party, but also that it runs counter to traditional conservatives’ disdain for altruistic interventions to make far-off parts of the world safe for American-style democracy.”

Divine, in a column shortly before the election, wrote that conservatives should vote for Bush because he, not John Kerry, was the candidate more likely to cut his losses and withdraw from Iraq.

For his part, Norquist contends that, “Clearly the war in Iraq was a drag on votes, and it is threatening to the Bush coalition.” He contends that the war reduced Bush’s election day majority by six percentage points, dragging it down to 51 percent of the vote.

And Weyrich has sounded this battle cry, with words that could have come right from the keyboard of a Kerry speechwriter: “The consequences of the neocons’ adventure in Iraq are now all to clear. America is stuck in a guerilla war with no end in sight. Our military is stretched too thin to respond to other threats. And our real enemies, nonstate organizations such as al Qaeda, are benefiting from the Arab and Islamic backlash against our occupation of an Islamic country.”

In short, these are guys who would rather pick up a live rat than sit down to break bread with a neocon.

Kudos to Kirkpatrick, for reminding us that even conservatism, a movement that can seem to outsiders to be a monolith rolling its way to political dominance and tolerating no dissent has, in fact, its own outspoken dissidents, who feel free at last to speak out against the war and to call for a rapid disengagement.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.