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).