Like one in four Americans, libertarian billionaire Charles Koch isn’t particularly thrilled with either major party’s frontrunner. He said as much in a recent interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, explaining that Donald Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States is outright “antithetical to our approach.”
“But what was worse,” he added, “was this ‘we’ll have them all register’ [proposal from Trump]. That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean that’s monstrous.”
He’s right. And one need not be a peacenik nor a civil libertarian to question Trump’s callous rhetoric.
Alas, Charles Koch’s commonsense realism is too much for conspiracy-mongering neoconservative Frank Gaffney. The Koch brothers are advocating “a kind of isolationism,” Gaffney charged in an interview reported at Breitbart. He then went in for the classic neocon smear: “They kind of remind me of the attitude that a lot of American businessmen and others had towards Nazi Germany before World War II,” he said, “which was, leave it alone, or maybe even do business with it. It’s problematic in the extreme.”
From there, he moved on to a litany of half-truths, all circling the absurd conclusions that most Muslims are terrorists and anyone who doesn’t share Gaffney’s bloodlust is ignoring Hitler reincarnate.
Unfortunately, while Gaffney represents an extreme of irresponsible hawkishness (“war at any price,” if I may invert a favorite scorn of his crowd), his overwrought push for perpetual American military intervention around the globe is by no means unique.
This enthusiasm for constant war is shared by prominent neoconservatives like Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and Mark Salter—the latter two of whom so prioritize an aggressive foreign policy that even Trump is too restrained for their liking. Indeed, Boot and Salter have both said they’ll jump parties and support the reliably bellicose Hillary Clinton in the event of a Trump nomination.
And speaking of Trump and Clinton, the two presumed 2016 nominees have similar appetites for war. While the candidates are by no means identical in their foreign policy proposals—Clinton is predictably, traditionally hawkish, and Trump vacillates between condemnation of nation-building and musings about using nukes in Europe—each comes with the assurance that the next four years will not see a significant reorientation of American foreign policy away from an interventionist stance. They may not use Gaffney’s Hitler language, but both implicitly accept the premise that the United States must remain bogged down in no-win wars…forever.
The worst part about this lack of real choice in would-be presidential foreign policies is that we do have a prudent alternative to endless, boundless war against everything that goes bump in the night. As any serious student of history realizes, in ISIS we do not face a new Hitler. Against the Islamic State, we do not need to repeat the last decade and a half of spiking national debt, putting American soldiers at unnecessary risk, disastrous nation-building projects, and distracting our military from the actual defense of the United States.
We can decide to stop throwing good money after bad trying to force a Western vision of democracy on chaotic Middle Eastern nations.
We can quit entangling ourselves in lengthy wars with no clear outcome besides rampant civilian casualties, appalling human rights violations, and a power vacuum that clears the way for ISIS.
We can let the more functional nations of the Middle East—with the geographic and cultural proximity America lacks—solve the problems of their own region.
In short, we can develop a new foreign policy of peace and restraint, of diplomacy and true defense, instead of maintaining this dangerous, bipartisan insistence on feckless intervention at every turn.
But we can’t do it if we take seriously the hyperbolic ravings of Gaffney. And we certainly can’t do it with a Trump or Clinton in the White House.