When National Review debuted its “Against Trump” tour de force, it was met with deserved applause.
Yet, as was quickly pointed out in the days that followed the article’s debut, it was not entirely forthright on two counts.
First, as writers as diverse as Reason’s Nick Gillespie, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, and Salon’s Gary Legum pointed out, the pages of National Review have oft been graced with support for some of the very policies—especially immigration ideas—that are deemed so abhorrent when they fall from Trump’s lips.
As Gillespie put it, if Trump “is in fact ‘a philosophically unmoored political opportunist’—and I think that’s a pretty fair description—National Review’s editors might at least acknowledge that they helped to create the opportunity in the first place.”
Second, while the ensemble featured a variety of right-of-center perspectives, it overwhelmingly selected writers (with the exception of the Cato Institute’s David Boaz, and Glenn Beck on a good day) who advocate an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy.
In a word, National Review showcased many unrepentant hawks.
Hardball host Chris Matthews drove this point home. “These guys are all war hawks,” he said, after listing a few of the “Against Trump” contributors. “That’s why they don’t like Trump, because he’s the only guy on the right wing who said [Iraq] was a stupid war.”
As for National Review’s roster, they’re eager for more war in Syria, Matthews added: “Regime change is in their bloodstream, and Trump is saying it is stupid for us to play that role. Isn’t that what unites these people?”
While I’d counter the suggestion that Trump is the “only guy on the right” to say Iraq was a mistake, Matthews’s assessment of the line-up is basically right. And he’s not alone in his view that this foreign policy difference is the true source of Trump hate expressed by National Review and the broader GOP establishment.
Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com argues that “the real motive behind the neoconservative holy war against Trump is rooted in his [nationalist] foreign policy positions, which the neocons rightly view as a direct threat to their internationalist project.” While Raimondo concedes that Trump is “hardly the consistent ‘isolationist” he is made out to be by nervous hawks, he maintains that Trump’s comparative disinterest in unfettered war is the real reason for establishment dismay.
The many other policy differences I have with Trump aside, I wish I were persuaded by this case. I agree with Raimondo’s contention that “the question of war and peace is the central issue of modern times;” and I wish I could believe that Trump is winning thanks to a foreign policy of “prudent skepticism.”
Alas, Trump’s record convinces me otherwise. True, he has repeatedly condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He seems to be aware that war and a world-wide military presence come with a big price, which is much more than can be said of our last Republican president. And he has correctly critiqued the deadly policies of uber-hawk Hillary Clinton. In these, Trump is right—and no doubt an irritant to the neoconservative crowd.
But then there’s everything else he’s said.
He has criticized Obama for not sending in more American soldiers already.
He wants to keep troops in Afghanistan long-term.
He speaks enthusiastically of increased airstrikes, despite the fact that airstrikes were central to Clinton’s 2011 Libyan intervention—and the fact that under Obama the Pentagon has already launched so many airstrikes against ISIS that we’re literally running out of bombs.
He has announced his plan to commit war crimes, intentionally bombing women and children.
He claims to be the “most militaristic” GOP candidate—and while that’s a much-contested title this cycle, Trump is at least in the running.
Even his supposed Iraq War prescience isn’t as good as he makes it out to be: His big opposition announcement came in July 2004, more than a year after the invasion, and Trump voted to reelect George W. Bush a few months later. It should thus be no surprise that Trump has selected remorseless, neocon Iraq War architect John Bolton as a foreign policy advisor.
All that said, I would be happy to be proven wrong. I would be delighted to see Trump morph into a consistent noninterventionist and become the bane of hawks everywhere.
But as it stands, well, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.