Not what I expected.
Conservatives have long been isolationists or noninterventionists. Although there are numerous examples to support this point, two stand out. William Graham Sumner, a late-nineteenth-century conservative philosopher, was vehemently anti-imperialist. Sumner was even opposed to most forms of warfare. He wasn’t quite a pacifist, but he was getting there. Senator Robert A. Taft, a legendary mid-century politician, led an effort to keep the United States out of World War II before Pearl Harbor. Taft was a key figure in the Old Right, as conservatism was known in the first half of the twentieth century. Following the war, he actually opposed the formation of NATO. There was a rumour that if Taft had accepted NATO, General Eisenhower would not have challenged him for the Republican presidential nomination in 1952.
With the threat of communism looming, conservative opposition to foreign alliances shifted during the 1950s and beyond. This effort was led by William F. Buckley, Jr., arguably the greatest conservative intellectual of all time. This shift in foreign policy is understandable given that we are facing an existential threat. Karl Marx, the founder of communism, made no secret of his desire to completely destroy capitalism. By definition, Communism sought global conquest, and it had two superpowers (the Soviet Union and China) to help it achieve this goal.
In the late 1970s, Buckley and his allies formed an alliance with a group known as the neoconservatives. He was drawn to them due to their support for a strong national defence against Soviet aggression as well as their academic and intellectual credentials. In terms of domestic policy, they had little in common with traditional conservatives. They tended to be liberal or moderate on issues like gun control, abortion, gay rights, the Electoral College, the Senate filibuster, and so on.
Many neocons were former communists who supported Leon Trotsky. They became concerned about the treatment of their Jewish brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union and their ability to emigrate to Israel. Another major source of concern for them was the general stability of the state of Israel. They believed in the spread of democracy, particularly in the Middle East, in addition to their strong opposition to Soviet Communism. The idea was that if the Middle East was made up of democratic countries, Israel’s future would be secure because democracies do not fight each other. Many of them were appointed to positions of power by President Reagan, and they helped bring communism to an end in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they nearly impeached Reagan with the Iran-Contra scandal, a foreign policy initiative in which they were almost entirely in charge.
The neocons were at their peak during the George W. Bush administration. They were the driving force behind the Iraq war and the attempt to transform Afghanistan into a Western democracy. During the Obama administration, they also flexed their muscles in Libya and Egypt. Their Middle Eastern venture eventually resulted in a stalemate in the Syrian Civil War. They turned their attention to Ukraine late in Obama’s presidency. At that point, their focus had shifted from the Middle East to the spread of liberal democracy throughout Eastern Europe. Who knows where this hunger will lead? It’s almost certainly a worldwide phenomenon.
True conservatism has never been about conquering the world. Indeed, it has always been hostile to such endeavours. We fought fascism because its primary adherents (Germany, Italy, and Japan) had global ambitions. We fought communism because it wanted to bring everyone into its fold. Today, neither fascism nor communism poses such a threat. Of course, China remains, but it has evolved into a semi-capitalistic entity that prioritises money over ideology. All major nations have spheres of influence and areas critical to their national self-interest, but that is about it. Nationalism appears to be the current trend, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As a conservative, I would never volunteer for an international crusade. Nations can do whatever they want as long as they do not pose an existential threat to me and my family. George Washington warned us to avoid entangled alliances, and Dwight D. Eisenhower alerted us about the military-industrial complex’s threats. We should pay attention to what they say.