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Ann Coulter vs. Bill Kristol: Beginnings of a Conservative Schism?

5 years ago
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Ann Coulter's recent column "Bill Kristol Must Resign" may have officially kicked off the next great schism within the conservative movement. At issue is the war in Afghanistan -- and, more specifically, whether Republicans should support President Obama's approach to a conflict that has now lasted for Americans far longer than World War II.

Mocking neoconservatives, Coulter wrote: "Bill Kristol [editor of The Weekly Standard] and Liz Cheney have demanded that [Michael] Steele resign as head of the RNC for saying Afghanistan is now Obama's war -- and a badly thought-out one at that. (Didn't liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war?)"

Coulter failed at convincing Kristol to resign -- she never says from what. In fact, channeling Michael Steele, who vows to stay on as party chief, Kristol responded: "I ain't going anywhere." But she may have succeeded at advancing a major debate.

Until now, there has been somewhat of an unspoken rule, adhered to by most on the right, that conservative Republicans would vigorously oppose Obama's liberal domestic policies while supporting his efforts to win in Afghanistan. After all, Republicans had staunchly backed George W. Bush when he made the case for fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Changing course now would seem craven -- playing politics with national security. And so, in foreign policy, Obama was criticized from the right only when he appeared to be showing weakness, not when he displayed toughness.

But recent comments from Steele have sparked a debate that was probably long overdue. Notwithstanding the fact that Steele almost immediately backtracked, some conservatives began defending the substance of Steele's comments. "Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was absolutely right," Coulter wrote. "Afghanistan is Obama's war and, judging by other recent Democratic ventures in military affairs, isn't likely to turn out well."

This is a serious point. As Politics Daily's own David Corn recently wrote:
The war in Afghanistan is President Obama's war and partly of the president's choosing. Sure, Obama inherited the conflict. Bush initiated the military action in Afghanistan after 9/11 -- and then veered into Iraq before the war in Afghanistan was resolved. Yet Obama, after much deliberation, decided to change the nature of the Afghanistan war. In December, following many weeks of review, he announced he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and he embraced the counterinsurgency plan proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was then commanding U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
There was always skepticism on the left about Obama's decision to escalate the war -- perhaps even to waging war there in the first place. And if the commander in chief is losing any significant portion of the right when it comes to Afghanistan, his policies could be on perilous ground.

One of the ideas advanced by Coulter is that Bush wisely kept a relatively small footprint in Afghanistan, while choosing instead to invade Iraq -- terrain more hospitable for a traditional ground war. There is some revisionism at work here, and it must be said that prominent voices, like Liz Cheney's (not to mention Gen. David Petraeus'), were raised in support of the surge in Afghanistan. Still, it's fair to broach the question raised by Steele and Coulter: Would Bush be doing anything differently today in terms of Afghanistan?

Or is Coulter's position a less high-minded one? After a decade of defending Bush's actions, and getting beat up for it, are Republicans now saying it's time for a Democratic president to get the Bush treatment?

Coulter is not the first conservative to warn that Afghanistan could turn into a quagmire. George Will and Tony Blankley have raised that very point. But Coulter has made it in a way that directly -- and personally -- challenges conservative orthodoxy. And it's catching on. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough tweeted Coulter's column out to his followers, adding, "Thank you, Ann Coulter. She speaks out against the GOP now being for permanent war. She is right."

And if conservatives are asked to choose sides between, say, the elected leader of the Republican National Committee (Steele) and the titular head of the Democratic National Committee (Obama), how many will decide that Obama's Afghanistan policies are not worth the trouble? Maybe it was unavoidable, but it does seem as if Coulter's comments today hearken back to the 1990s -- when Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office -- and conservatives criticized his efforts in places like Bosnia and Kosovo as "nation building."

Clearly, things have changed since 2008, when candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and even Mitt Romney represented the mainstream viewpoint, and when Congressman Ron Paul was essentially mocked for his isolationist tendencies and his desire for a "humble foreign policy." Today, Paul's positions are enjoying resurgence, and his son, Rand Paul, is poised to be elected to the U.S. Senate. How quickly things change.

Regardless, debating this policy is healthy, and conservatives are justified to have this discussion. There are conservative arguments to be made for -- or against -- continuing the war in Afghanistan, just as I believe a principled conservative case could have been made (and was, in some quarters) against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is a debate that conservatives, and all Americans, should keep having. War is not something to be entered into lightly; nor should support for it ever be contingent on whether the commander in chief has a D after his name, or an R.

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Hmm..I completely agree with your 'wrap it up' point at the end about the importance of the discussion, but still reject that anything Ann Coulter says should receive this kind of analysis. Real debate is immensely important; nothing that woman says is constructive or sincere. I would really like the media to collectively turn its back on her now. Can we make that happen, please?

July 15 2010 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

why would anyone listen to someone who almost sparked a riot at canadian college campus. hundreds of protestors assembled against the appearance of ann coulter and what she had to say. it got so intense, it was on the verge of a riot. so tell me, why would anyone listen to anything that person has to say?

July 13 2010 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i think ann coulter should resign. she should resign from the public eye. she and her conservative counterparts including limbaugh, palin, beck, dobbs, are making fortunes with all the slanderous propaganda, against anyone who doesn't call themselves conservatives. with all their mis-informed, outdated, one-sided, biased information, why would anyone listen to a word they say. i would like to see a face-to-face debate between kristol and coulter. i think kristol is an intelligent, well informed authority, and ann coulter will come across as someone who is wise-cracking and disrespecting. i don't pay attention to anything ann coulter has to say, let alone get one of her books.

July 13 2010 at 7:36 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Parodying The Godfather, "Our true motives in Afghanistan have yet to be revealed!" I contend the secret is mineral resources which the country has not been able to exploit. Was this not Russia's interest in the country? Note that our efforts in Iraq might easily be traced to the renewed efforts to produce oil and natural gas from the southern regions hitherto undeveloped but not undiscovered. Administrator Bremer had as a high priority the survey of the region for potential energy production. Time will tell. We can only hope the sacrifice in money, life and international standing will be worth it.

July 11 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rand Paul is not "poised" to become a Senator. He is a candidate with outdated and quite frankly, racist economic and political views, presenting himself as something "new". I predict he falls in flames come Election Day.

July 11 2010 at 11:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

i just finished reading Ann Coulters article from july 7th and it is spot on accurate in my opinion , you have to take into account that she uses subtle jibes from past liberal dogmas to make her point , when we went into Iraq in 03 after exhaustive UN debate i immediately saw the strategic logic to the plan , all one need do is look at a map of the middle east to see the central location in the muslim world , it is a perfect place to draw out the terrorists to kill them in the open on muslim soil and not over here on our subways and buses . Yes , mistakes were made in hindsight , but there again we never had a instruction manual on just what to do following a attack like we had on 9/11 and given the middle class backgrounds of the 19 terroists who did this , it was obvious we had our work cut out for us , and i might add in the rest of the Bush term we never were attacked again , he must have been doing something right

July 11 2010 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Technically, we won the war in Afghanistan in late 2001, when Bush used B-52s, US Army and SF, routing the Taliban, and capturing the capital. Subsequently, we installed a friendly Govt. there. War won. I read so many comments where people do not even realize this - such is the incredible power of govt. propaganda. We had a perfect opportunity to leave, and announce at the same time we would continue to work with the friendly govts. in Pakistan and Afghanistan to hunt down AQ guys. Unfortunately, the neocons, as they always do, moved the goalpost. We stayed too long, the enemy, feeding off of occupation resentment, slowly got stronger. We can't keep making the same mistakes. It's bleeding us white, we all know the numbers $13T in debt and so on. We have to clean this mess us as fast as possible.

July 10 2010 at 11:45 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

VERY SAD so many can't seem to see thru Coulters emotional rants! THAT lack of 'thinking' unfortunately is a GIFT to the Libs

July 10 2010 at 11:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look alot of Conservatives were for Bush's war till millions of us realized that 9/11 & these wars are for another nation's pleasures, that runs our State Dept & our Politicians Coffers so they can get elected & elected....& "Both" parties spread their legs for this demoralized, meddling, & deceptive house of Horror, knowing full well that it would be American Blood, Sweat & Wages that would be lost for the Greed of the Pay Master....
Oh! Just in case you are wondering... this Too is totally Unconstitutional as it is Treason on the part of ANY nation to dominate influence in the State Dept. in this deceitful way & it's been going on since the days Johnson on Up.

July 10 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gatbooty's comment

The war started AFTER 9/11 BECAUSE of 9/11! Not many people decide who they will vote for based on how a war is going...and I doubt many politcians vote FOR war to get elected. War is a necessary evil. It is far better to kill them over there than on our soil. your post makes little sense.

July 13 2010 at 11:53 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Ann Coulter is finally almost correct, but for the wrong reasons. We should not be still be in Afghanistan, we should have left 3 months after invading to depose the Taliban. She should have taken this view because is is correct, not because 9 years after invading, a liberal president has decided incorrectly to increase troops . It sure took a long time for her to realize this. We will have to stay in Afghanistan for 30 years, if we want to make sure that Al-Queda does not use Afghanistan for a base of operations. My guess is that Al-Queda is not welcome in Afghanistan any more .

July 10 2010 at 4:25 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to klrav6's comment

I agree with leaving after we won the war originally, but Bush kept it basically a low grade war. Obama has significantly upped the ante, and that will naturally draw more attacks from a war weary populace.

July 10 2010 at 11:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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