In my latest reading of The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman continues his narrative about movement conservatism. It’s not like a lot of left-leaning narratives about conservatism that I’ve encountered—-the types that romanticize William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater and view them as more reasonable than today’s tea party. No, Krugman is quite critical of Buckley and Goldwater! According to Krugman, Buckley wrote in convoluted sentences, and his National Review championed Francisco Franco and white suppression of African-American voting in the U.S. south during the late 1950’s. And Goldwater defended Joe McCarthy and earnestly searched for corruption in Walter Ruether’s union, even though Ruether was so squeaky-clean that he “paid his own dry-cleaning bills when traveling on union business” (page 114).
On a couple of occasions, Krugman tries to see where conservatives were coming from. He notes, for example, that many conservatives during the 1960’s were from the ranks of medium-sized business-owners, for these were the types of businesspeople who especially resented union demands—-probably because the demands were costlier for them than they were for big businesses (that’s just my hunch).
I’d like to highlight something that Krugman says on pages 122-123, regarding foreign policy:
“In retrospect the hand-wringing over Communist advances looks ludicrous; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in particular, turned out to be the beginning of communism’s collapse. The Islamic revolution in Iran was a real setback, but it’s hard to see how an aggressive foreign policy could have done anything except worsen the situation.” Earlier, on page 107, Krugman states: “…in the end, the strategy of containment—-of refraining from any direct attempt to overthrow Communist regimes by force, fighting only defensive wars, and combating Soviet influence with aid and diplomacy—-was completely successful: World War III never happened, and the United States won the Cold War decisively.”
Is a hard-line foreign policy the best approach? When I was a child and a teenager, the books that I read were largely right-wing, and they criticized U.S. leaders for not having a tough stance against the Soviet Union. These leaders sought to contain Communism rather than defeat it, I read. In some cases, the authors of these right-wing books advocated a non-military way to get rid of Communism: simply cut off aid to Communist countries, then they would shrivel up! In other cases, the authors were clearly open to the U.S. being aggressive militarily. They supported General Douglas MacArthur’s attempt to expand the Korean War into China, for example. And then there were times when I was unclear as to what exactly these authors thought the U.S. should have done. Our failure in the 1950’s to stop the brutal Soviet suppression of freedom movements in Eastern Europe was cited as an example of us being soft on Communism, but what exactly did these right-wing authors think we should have done? Gone to war with the Soviet Union?
I’m not the sort of person who thinks that we should go to war over everything in the world that is problematic. War is costly, in terms of lives and money, and so it should be the last rather than the first solution that we consider. I’m also not the sort of person who is intent on provoking our enemies. I’m not in favor of us being wimps, but there’s little point to going around making people angrier at us than they already are. Consequently, I can somewhat see Krugman’s points.
At the same time, unlike Krugman, I’m hesitant to regard our Cold War policy prior to Reagan as any sort of success. I agree with Ann Coulter’s point in Treason that Communism was expanding throughout the world, until Reagan came along. But I don’t see Reagan as a belligerent President in his stance towards Communism. He didn’t send American troops to beat up on the Communists, for example, but he supported anti-Communist forces in Communist countries. And, as Pat Buchanan once said, Reagan did not say “Mr. Gorbachev, I will tear down this wall”, but rather “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” There were downsides to Reagan’s policies, however—-some of the anti-Communist forces whom we supported could probably be classified as terrorist in their methods, in that they wrecked havoc and killed innocent people.
In terms of how our foreign policy should be today, I’m not a neo-con who supports the broad use of American force to eradicate radical Islam. I’m more in favor of us cultivating relationships with moderate Muslims, and also seeking to eliminate some of the problems that get radical Muslims a following. I think of poverty, and things that we have done that have been insensitive towards the Muslim religion. I’m not saying that we should combat poverty only by being a welfare state to the world, or that we should suppress the rights of people in America to criticize Islam. But we should do something to help countries to have a higher standard of living, and we should think before we (say) put U.S. military bases on Saudi soil.