Conservative Foreign Policy: Chicken Hawks and Chicken Littles

The predictable conservative reaction to the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran reminds us yet again that right wing rhetoric never really changes. Just like we are always on the verge of being taken over by the UN or China and perpetually at risk of being overrun by immigrants (fear and xenophobia being their primary currency), every single negotiated settlement to any foreign policy problem is the death of the country as well.

Look how the right reacted to the INF treaty signed by the real Ronald Reagan (as opposed to St. Ronald the Magnificent, who exists only in their imaginations):

In December 1987—less than six months after Reagan famously declared at the Brandenburg Gate, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”—Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev came to Washington to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. For the first time in history, the INF Treaty proposed the outright elimination of an entire class of missiles (and not just “arms control”): namely, nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. The U.S. had about 400 such missiles in Western Europe; the Soviets had four times as many across the Iron Curtain.

The treaty was too much for conservatives, who believed that the missiles were central to U.S. relations with its Western European allies. The conservative stalwart National Review dedicated an entire issue to the INF Treaty, calling it “Reagan’s Suicide Pact.” Editor William F. Buckley sent Reagan the first copy, writing in an accompanying letter, “For the first time, I and my colleagues need to take very serious issue with you.”

Henry Kissinger warned that the treaty undid “40 years of NATO.” Conservative columnist George Will ridiculed “the cult of arms control,” writing, “The Soviets want victories; we want treaties.” Conservative Caucus Chairman Howard Phillips fumed that Reagan had become “the speech reader-in-chief for the pro-appeasement triumvirate of (White House Chief of Staff) Howard Baker, Schultz, and (Defense Secretary) Frank Carlucci.” Every Republican presidential candidate, save Vice President George Bush, opposed it. New York Times columnist William Safire seemed to sum it up best: “The Russians… now understand the way to handle Mr. Reagan: Never murder a man who is committing suicide.”

The conservative stalwart National Review dedicated an entire issue to the INF Treaty, calling it “Reagan’s Suicide Pact.”

They said the same thing about ending the treaty the negotiated end to the Korean War, the withdrawal from Vietnam, the SALT I and II agreements, START and New START, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and virtually every other diplomatic agreement we’ve signed over the last few decades. And in every case they seem to know only one historical reference: Neville Chamberlain. Every single diplomatic solution is a replay of Chamberlain’s alleged appeasement of Adolf Hitler.

There’s an old cliche that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if the only foreign policy tool you think exists is the military, you’ll find endless situations in which to use that military. This pretty much perfectly describes the neo-conservatives (but not the paleo-conservatives, who tend to be the exact opposite).

"Please, don’t denigrate Jesus by inferring that the religious right is in any way influenced ..."

Trump Using Demagoguery to Defend Child ..."
"Isn’t it ironic that the president responsible for the lies that enabled the Iranian invasion, ..."

Trump Using Demagoguery to Defend Child ..."
"Yes, Trump’s base are that fucking stupid. Many working poor are desperately unhappy with their ..."

Trump Using Demagoguery to Defend Child ..."
"Yes, the policy of taking children from their parents if they illegally cross the border ..."

Trump Using Demagoguery to Defend Child ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. C. Sessions

    Somebody has some real issues with their masculinity.

  • justawriter

    I also love how they manage to forget that Chamberlain was also a Conservative, and it was only his ouster by his own party that allowed Churchill to be Prime Minister without facing the voters until near the very end of the war … a vote he lost fairly decisively, if I recall correctly.

  • Conservative Chamberlain would’ve supported the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles, holding down the German threat with the troops he didn’t have and that the public didn’t have the will to commit.

    Heck, he would’ve punched Hitler right in the mouth and burned Germany to the ground, stopping to flatten Italy on the way home. With what, I don’t know. The British Navy, somehow.

  • colnago80

    Re Modusoperandi @ #3

    Actually, Chamberlain allowed himself to be bamboozled by Frankenberger’s bombast into thinking that Germany had an invincible armed force in 1938. Actually, pound for pound, Czechoslovakia’s armed forces were superior to Germany’s, as the Czech army was fully mechanized, unlike the German army; the Panzer divisions existed mostly on paper and the Luftwaffe was also mostly on paper. The German General Staff knew better and was horrified by Frankenberger’s reckless adventurism.

  • I also love how they manage to forget that Chamberlain was also a Conservative, and it was only his ouster by his own party that allowed Churchill to be Prime Minister without facing the voters until near the very end of the war … a vote he lost fairly decisively, if I recall correctly.

    As I recall, the Labour Party wouldn’t form a unified government unless the Torries ditched Chamberlain and replaced him with Churchill or someone else to their liking. Chamberlain, believing that a unified government was necessary for the war effort, did the honorable thing and resigned.

    Still, today’s right tends to willfully ignore the fact that Chamberlain was of the right, and that it was those leftists in Labour who were sounding the alarm bells on Hitler and were outright opposed to the Munich agreement. Makes it much harder to insist that Hitler was a left-wing hippie.

  • abear

    Xenophobia seems to sell in the US and not just to conservatives.

    Recently, the head of the border agents union testified to congress that there was a huge threat of terrorists crossing the Canadian border. Although the border services have boosted personnel, have deployed drones and ground sensors you still need to be very afraid.

    Granted, nearly 14 years ago a terrorist (the New Years bomber) tried to enter the US via the Victoria BC- Port Angeles WA ferry, although passengers fingered the guy as behaving before he even got off the boat and he never got past customs.

  • Chamberlain would have been gone no matter what happened. He was diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer in July of 1940 and died in November.

  • colnago80 “Re Modusoperandi @ #3…”

    colnago80, yes. Clearly the 900,000-man army that Britain wouldn’t commit would’ve kicked the 1.5M-man army that Germany would. To further tip the balance in Britain’s favor Chamberlain could’ve required Hitler to agree to bring his men to Britain first, rather than Britain going the other way. In addition, a diplomatic coup that great would have, no doubt, convinced the public to support a war they were trying to avoid.

    In short, I’m saying that Chamberlain should’ve asked Hitler to annex Britain first, ending the war before it happened and rewriting history with awesome.

    And also the British should’ve had robot dinosaurs.

  • Steve Morrison


    Oh, he’d have done worse to Hitler than just punch him.

    He’d have kept calling him “Frankenberger”!

  • colnago80

    Re Steve Morrison

    Frankenberger might have croaked of apoplexy if Chamberlain had done that.

  • Ichthyic

    Just like we are always on the verge of being taken over by the UN or China and perpetually at risk of being overrun by immigrants (fear and xenophobia being their primary currency), every single negotiated settlement to any foreign policy problem is the death of the country as well.

    Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

    Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

    Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

    In an interview with Gilbert in Göring’s jail cell during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (18 April 1946)

  • Ichthyic

    Frankenberger might have croaked of apoplexy if Chamberlain had done that.

    you might be right, if he did it as often as you do.

    the inanity is indeed apoplexy inducing.

  • Ichthyic

    btw, just to counter SLC’s endless historical imaginations, probably the best set of books I have ever read documenting the first half of 20th century Germany, and Europe, is the three volume set by Richard Evans:

  • lorn

    There is also a view that Neville Chamberlain allowed himself to be portrayed as an appeaser to allow time for Britain to improve its air and ground forces.

    Germany wasn’t as strong as many believed but it was united and poised to build its military might. Britain had gone slack after the suffering of WWI and allowed its air and ground forces to deteriorate it had good designs for the next wave of military technology but was not poised to quickly apply its industrial capacity to them. Had the battle of Britain happened a year earlier because Chamberlain laid down the gauntlet Britain wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    It is also unclear what the US would do. The anti-war and pro-German sentiment was strong in the US, Lindbergh and Ford were both pro-Hitler and Father Coughlin, both pro-fascist and antisemitic, was a radio staple. The US only warmed to helping after they demonstrated protracted fortitude and showed they could hold out. The US wasn’t going to deeply invest in Britain as a lost cause.

    Neville Chamberlain can be interpreted to have done as any good diplomat does. When faced with a rabid dog and no place to run, you speak sweetly and softly, while frantically feeling around for a stick. He gave Britain time to grow its military and industrial capacity, and he gave the US time to come to its senses and see what Hitler was.

    Buying that time came at a cost. Neville Chamberlain would always wear the label of appeaser even as he allowed the strength Britain would need to stand alone against Germany and take a beating while the US decided if it was worthy of help. We still hadn’t decided before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Germany, pursuant to its treaty obligations to Japan, declared war on the US.

    Had it all happened a year earlier Britain would have been much weaker, would have folded quickly, with less time for us to build sympathy, the Japanese would have still been a year away from bombing the US and the Germans declaring war on us.

    There is even an argument to be made that if the time line was advanced a year Germany wouldn’t have had time to try to invest in capital ship and would have instead invested its shipyard capacity into building U-boats instead. Donetz would have been far closer to his thousand U-boat ideal because they are cheap and fast to build compared to capital ships. If you double the numbers of U-boats historically available to Germany in 1941 the sea lift would have been impractical, if not impossible. Without that aid Britain wouldn’t have survived.

  • sailor1031

    here we go again:

    the Luftwaffe was also mostly on paper

    Tell that to the people of Guernica or Warsaw. It was Britain that had the paper air force. Had Germany invaded the Sudetenland in fall 1938 there was no way the British, or the French, could have supported them in any effective way – as was proved two years later. Or is it your thesis that Hitler’s rearmament program only started in 1939?

  • colnago80

    Re Lorn @ #14

    Where to begin. As I stated, the German armed forces in the Spring of 1938 were in no shape to take on the combination of Britain, France, and Czechoslovakia. Ole Lorn is totally neglecting the fact that the Czech army, fully mechanized, with superior tanks to anything elsewhere, and fighting from far more defensible ground then was in Poland in 1939 would not have folded up like the antiquated Polish army did. Lorn also neglects the fact that the Molotov/von Ribbentrop pact had not yet been signed so that the German General Staff could not be assured that the former Soviet Union would stay out of the conflict, particularly if the German forces got caught up in a stalemate in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. Incidentally, the US army was in even worse shape then the British Army and was in absolutely no condition to send troops to Europe.

    I don’t understand the claim that Britain would have had to stand alone against Germany in 1938. Does Lorn think that Czechoslovakia was going to give in without a fight and the France was going to stand aside?

    As to the issue of naval forces, Lorn is neglecting the fact that the German naval high command, like those in Britain and the US was still operating under the notion that battleships ruled the waves, and neglecting the fact that Frankenberger was enamored with them. Actually, I agree with Lorn that Germany would have been much better off building a fleet of ocean-going Uboats instead of wasting resources on the Bismarck and the Tirpitz, both of which were, as naval historian Richard O’Connell put it, relatively harmless weapon systems which contributed zero to the German war effort. Unfortunately for the Germans, Donetz wasn’t running the German navy, Raeder, a battleship admiral, was. The notion that work on the Bismarck and the Tirpitz would have been suspended if the war started in the Spring of 1938, assuming that Frankenberger wasn’t bluffing at Munich, is an interesting speculation but, given the proclivities of the German naval high command, IMHO, unlikely.

    Re sailor1031

    Britain and France could have supported Czechoslovakia by invading the Rhineland. They didn’t do so in 1939 because Poland collapsed so quickly. IMHO, the largely infantry German army in 1938 would have had a much tougher time against the fully mechanized Czech armed forces, particularly given the much tougher terrain in Czechoslovakia. And, in the event of a stalemate in Czechoslovakia, the temptation for Stalin to intervene and grab off some territory in Eastern Europe would have been overwhelming. IMHO, Chamberlain’s appeasement policy was the catalyst that convinced Stalin that the Western Powers weren’t serious about containing Germany and led him to approve the Molotov/von

    Ribbentrop treaty.

  • dingojack

    SLC – remember this? Can you spell ‘war on two-fronts’?


  • colnago80

    Re dingo @ #17

    Apparently, the Chihuahua forgets that Germany was also facing a possible war on two fronts if the former Soviet Union intervened in a war in 1938. Actually, Japan posed little threat to the former Soviet Union as they were already heavily involved in China, and had to keep a wary eye across the Pacific. Tthe notion that a possible Japanese invasion of Siberia would cause sleepless nights for Stalin is overblown at best. The notion that Japan had sufficient armed forces to occupy Siberia is piffle (nobody did).

  • dingojack

    Russia and …. who exactly? The Tooth Fairy?

    Japan’s presence as a threat kept a lot of troops in the east (Russia had a lot of valuable assets in Siberia and the Pacific coast rermember), it was Japan’s move toward a southern strategy that allowed Stalin to move units to the west. (Besides which, we’re talking about Stalin here. He was the tsar of the paranoids).


  • colnago80

    Re dingojack @ #19

    Japan moved South because that’s where the oil was. At that time, there were no known oil deposits in Siberia. And ole Stalin would have found it irresistible not to move into Eastern Europe if Germany was stalemated in Czechoslovakia.