A Time for Silence? (sample column)
April 3, 2003

     Now that the war on Iraq has begun, many people, 
including some who have opposed war from the start, take 
the view that we must now suspend criticism and "support 
the president." I understand the sentiment, but it seems 
to me to get some basic principles backward.

     Under our constitutional principles, "We the People" 
are the ultimate authority in the United States, and our 
officeholders are our servants. There is no room for a 
quasi-sovereign or quasi-monarchical presidency which we 
are bound to obey, especially when it comes dangerously 
near to usurping powers delegated by the people to other 
branches of government, such as the power to declare war.

     Yet many Americans talk as if exercising the right 
of criticism which belongs to the people were a kind of 
disobedience to authority, or even a form of aid and 
comfort to the enemy. And how long should such criticism 
be suspended?

     This already threatens to become a long war. We must 
be prepared for a protracted struggle. Not only is Iraq, 
at this early phase, stubbornly resisting American 
efforts to "liberate" it; President Bush has suggested 
the need to liberate neighboring countries, effecting 
"regime change" and establishing "democracy" throughout 
the Mideast, a project that would require some years, or 
even decades.

     If it becomes another Vietnam, or worse, why 
shouldn't we criticize the government that has brought it 

     Free criticism of the government is not just rude 
heckling; it is supposed to be part of the process of 
governance itself. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of 
government propaganda. 

     It may even be a misnomer to speak of "the war on 
Iraq." The neoconservatives who have shaped our 
president's thinking have been calling openly for "World 
War IV" to achieve regime change in most of the Arab 
countries and Iran. Michael Ledeen, a prominent 
neoconservative, calls the attack on Iraq "just one 
battle in a broader war." Iran, he adds, is "the mother 
of modern terrorism."

     Richard Perle, yet another influential 
neoconservative, pronounces himself "rather optimistic 
that we will see regime change in Iran without any use of 
military power by the United States." But of course this 
hardly rules out U.S. military power, if necessary, to 
effect that regime change.

     So we may be in only the first phase of World 
War IV. Surely we may, without disloyalty, oppose the 
projected attacks on Iran, Syria, and other countries.


     I have just been listed among "unpatriotic 
conservatives" by one David Frum in a cover story in 
NATIONAL REVIEW for my failure to support the hawks 
before the attack on Iraq. Frum also cites Patrick 
Buchanan, Robert Novak, Charley Reese, Thomas Fleming, 
and Samuel Francis among those who are waging "war on 

     Frum has patriotic credentials, of sorts. He is now 
best known as the author of Mr. Bush's "Axis of Evil" 
speech, laying the rhetorical groundwork for a war beyond 
Iraq. Though he hails from Canada, I gather he is now 
technically an American citizen.

     I first met the patriotic Mr. Frum 20 years ago, 
when I still worked for NATIONAL REVIEW. (At that time 
and long afterward, I must say, I always found him 
personally genial.) His first contribution to the 
magazine was an article warning that a Reagan arms sale 
to Saudi Arabia, by endangering Israel, would drive many 
people away from the conservative movement.

     At the time I was too naive to have suspicions of 
Frum. But two things about his article troubled me.

     First, the question for Americans should have been 
not whether the arms sale was good for Israel, but 
whether it was good for America. But this obvious 
consideration didn't seem to occur to Frum, who now 
challenges the patriotism of Americans. (Nor did Canadian 
interests seem to concern him, but never mind.)

     Second, conservatism was a whole philosophy of 
government, and it struck me as odd that anyone, let 
alone "many people," should reject its principles -- 
natural law, tradition, limited government, prudence, 
constitutional constraints -- over something as trivial 
as an arms sale.

     Gradually it sank into my slow brain that Frum's 
"many people" -- the neoconservatives -- regarded both 
America and conservative principles as purely 
instrumental to Israel's welfare. Such is his, and their, 
American patriotism. We are entitled to wonder why they 
are eager to see the United States fight a war 
concentrated in the Mideast, against Israel's enemies.

     But they are equally eager to suppress this 
question. Frum's latest article is an audacious attempt 
to silence conservative opponents of the war by smearing 
them. All of his targets are manifestly patriotic men, 
who have opposed war on Iraq because they regard it as 
harmful, not helpful, to America. How it must elate him 
to be allowed to indict their loyalty in the very 
magazine that once symbolized American conservatism!

     In fact, Frum's article marks the takeover of the 
American conservative movement by neoconservatives who 
care nothing for the principles of classical 
conservatism. Just as pro-Soviet Communists once 
infiltrated the ranks of liberals by adopting liberal 
rhetoric, today the pro-Israel neoconservatives ape 
conservative rhetoric for their own purposes.

     True to form, Frum makes no reference to 
conservative principles in pronouncing certain 
"paleoconservatives" unpatriotic. He insinuates, of 
course, that they are racists, anti-Semites, nativists, 
etc. But their "war on America" seems to consist entirely 
in applying their principles to the current U.S. 
government and reaching conclusions he dislikes. He 
especially dislikes their suspicion that the war on Iraq 
and its neighbors will serve the interests of Israel, not 
the adopted country to which he has recently sworn 
allegiance. Either they are unpatriotic or he is.

     But as in his article on Reagan's arms sale, Frum 
never gets around to a discussion of conservative 
principles. He seems unaware, and utterly unconcerned, 
that the U.S. government today is further than ever from 
its founding principles, the very principles his 
"unpatriotic conservatives" have struggled to conserve. 
All that matters is that they oppose the war he craves.

     Frum has described himself as "liberal" on "social 
issues," including abortion. So it seems that you can be 
a full-fledged member of the Culture of Death -- pro-
abortion *and* pro-war -- and still be a good American.

     But how would Frum's America deserve anyone's 

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