Buckley lives on
There's an odd synchronicity to the death this week of William F. Buckley, Jr.
Most of the obituaries credit him as being a leading light in modern conservatism, but few of those obit writers realize the full import of that description. As "Mr. Republican," Sen. Robert Taft, approached his final days in the early 50s, Buckley defined a new kind of conservatism for the postwar age — one that essentially threw in its lot with the Truman-Acheson national security state. As he wrote in the Catholic journal Commonweal a year before Taft's death in 1953:
"…we have got to accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor a defense war can be waged…except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
In practical terms, that meant "large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington."
Not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the Founders, suspicious as they were of standing armies. Hard to reconcile Buckley's view with that of James Madison — a position so eloquent, it was the masthead on the blog I kept anonymously before I took up this one:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be
dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War
is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the
many under the domination of the few…No nation could preserve its
freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Buckley may be gone, but his influence lives on, as we see this very day in the White House's response to an updated study on the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The original study two years ago by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated the costs at $2 trillion. And now? $3 trillion.
The two argued then and now that the cost to America of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wildly underestimated.
other factors are added — such as interest on debt, future borrowing
for war expenses, the cost of a continued military presence in Iraq and
lifetime health-care and counseling for veterans — they think that the
wars' costs range from $5 trillion to $7 trillion.
"I think we
really have learned that the long-term costs of taking care of the
wounded and injured in this war and the long-term costs of rebuilding
the military to its previous strength is going to far eclipse the cost
of waging this war," Bilmes said in an interview.
The White House — which originally figured Iraqi oil would make the war "self-financing" — offered up a telling response. It did not dispute the $3 trillion figure. It resorted instead to Buckley's argument of generations ago — saying basically no price is too high for the defeat of an existential threat:
"People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of
doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin to put a
price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9-11," said
White House spokesman Tony Fratto, conceding that the costs of the war
on terrorism are high while questioning the premise of Stiglitz's
"It is also an investment in the future safety and
security of Americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion?
What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have
already been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"
In other words, no financial cost is too high… even if it bankrupts the Empire. And by implication, no sacrifice of civil liberties is too great… even if it means conservatives carry out measures they would have denounced in Clintontime as the work of "jackboot thugs."
"Big Government for the duration" and a "totalitarian bureaucracy" indeed.