For neoconservatives, the thought of a Republican questioning American foreign policy is like a man questioning a woman about her weight; it's something you're not supposed to do. It's against the rules.
After Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele questioned President Barack Obama's wisdom in continuing to fight a land war in Afghanistan, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol immediately snapped back. "There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they're certainly entitled to make their case," Kristol wrote. "But one of them shouldn't be the chairman of the Republican Party."
Perish the thought. You see, the RNC chairman can question Obama about healthcare, climate change, stimulus, immigration, financial overhaul, his birth certificate, his wife's fashion sense, and his vacation schedule, but when it comes to arguably the most expensive, expansive, and enduring aspect of our federal government — foreign policy — heaven forbid that any Republican dare challenge this Democratic president.
The reason Kristol and his neocon pals (Liz Cheney, Charles Krauthammer, Lindsey Graham, John McCain) called for Steele's head is not because they merely disagree with the RNC chairman: It's because he committed heresy.
Neoconservatives, in conjunction with their allies on talk radio and in the mainstream press, have worked hard for years to make sure the only questions Republicans should ever ask about war are "where" and "when" and never "why" or "what for." Defending Steele, pundit Ann Coulter asked, "I thought the irreducible requirements of Republicanism were being for life, small government, and a strong national defense, but I guess permanent war is on the platter now, too."
She later asked, "Didn't liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war?"
Steele was attacked for the same reason the GOP establishment tried to shun presidential candidate Ron Paul during the 2008 election. Candidates like McCain or Mitt Romney never had a problem with Paul's limited-government message; in fact, in this current Tea Party environment, both politicians now try to mimic it. But when Paul called for bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan — something a majority of Americans, both then and now, still support — Paul immediately became persona non grata. As Brad Pitt told Edward Norton's character in the 1999 movie Fight Club, "The first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club." In the "fight club" that was the GOP in 2008 — a party with a fetish for fighting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, if they got lucky, Iran — Paul dared to talk about fight club, thus breaking the Republicans' first and only rule.
But in 2010, does the rule still apply? Not surprisingly, the only major Republican leader to come to Steele's defense has been Paul, whose influence has grown significantly since the last presidential election. The American Conservative's Sean Scallon notes that the mere fact that Paul's defense of Steele has been given so much media attention — coupled with the fact that Steele is not being forced to resign — "show(s) that Paul, after being laughed at, scorned, and booed in GOP debates about his views three years ago, is now accorded far more respect in the party and in the media, and his views have at least a subtle influence. The neocons' attacks upon Steele only showed their fear of this influence."
Here's what the pro-war, any-war Right fears most: that a Tea Party movement with zero tolerance for government spending might also turn a critical eye toward the neocons' eternal pet project of perpetual war and empire. If Obamacare and its $1 trillion price tag really got the Tea Party brewing, what might happen if grassroots conservatives finally realize that our foreign policy costs far more? For Kristol and company, Steele committed an unpardonable sin by raising such questions among Republicans; he foolishly talked about the GOP fight club at the same time that Paul's antiwar influence was growing. Paul's defense of Steele was something that had to burn neocon ears.
Steele is no Paul, and even though his questioning of Obama's policy in Afghanistan contained much truth, the RNC chair backed away from his comments as fast as his critics jumped on him. Pat Buchanan noted the intentional stifling, writing, "While Steele has spent every waking hour since his words hit the airwaves explaining and declaring his commitment to victory, of far more interest is the alacrity with which neoconservatives piled on the chairman."
Of far more interest indeed. Will the GOP finally become a conservative party that questions the size of government in its entirety or will it remain the same old neoconservative party it was under Bush, forever expanding the size of government to support an exorbitant foreign policy that no one is ever allowed to talk about?
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.