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:
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."
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