BOSTON — How might the Tea Party use the world’s most powerful army?
For now, that remains a mystery wrapped in slogans and three pointed patriot hats. But it may be a serious topic of conversation if Republicans choose a populist conservative to run against U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012.
Author Ann Coulter provided some clues in a speech last week at the staid Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Wearing her trademark black cocktail dress, with a small gold crucifix hanging from a chain around her neck, Coulter outlined a vision for American power that amounted to this: do unto others as you’d like, so long as it directly benefits America’s short-term material well-being.
“Of course we should go to war for oil,” Coulter told an audience of gray-suited national security analysts, speaking in a room decorated with portraits in gilded frames. “It's like saying, you're going to war just for oxygen, just for food. We need oil. That's a good reason to go to war.”
She added that she supported keeping U.S. troops in Iraq “because we wanted a puppet government, or at least a friendly government … [one] that will not shelter terrorists who will fly planes into our skyscrapers.”
In a half-hour speech organized by the New America Foundation and billed as a way to bring populist ideas into the Washington policy debate, Coulter quoted Sen. Joe McCarthy. She suggested Saddam Hussein was an Arab Hitler who needed to be stopped. And she defended such disgraced leaders as the Shah of Iran, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
She expressed sympathy for the Taliban, asserting that the U.S. should abandon its war in Afghanistan. “Afghanistan, unlike many Muslim countries, has never exported violence, to go out and kill the infidels. Their various tribes fight one another, but they don't export terrorism,” she said. “The Taliban had invited Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan to help deal with the Northern Alliance. They didn't want to attack the United States. [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar had no idea what was coming” when bin Laden attacked the U.S.
That view echoes the pacifist left, and stands in stark contrast to the principle governing former President George W. Bush's global war on terror, namely that “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists.”
She referred to the conflict as “Obama’s war in Afghanistan,” distancing conservatives from the war Bush launched after 9/11. “America's only interest in Afghanistan was to take out the Taliban, kill or neutralize Osama bin Laden, take out Al Qaeda's bases, and quarantine the entire country. We had accomplished that by the end of 2001,” she asserted. “So why is Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan now?” (Bush had continued fighting until Obama took office, largely because the government of Hamid Karzai failed to control the country, surrendering large parts of it to the Taliban.)
As usual, Coulter lambasted Democrats as clueless on foreign policy and defense. “The Democrats idea of the military is that they are well-dressed and well-armed boy scouts out doing charitable work.
“Since Vietnam, the Democratic party has supported foreign intervention only if it serves no interest of the United States. If it serves our national security interest, they are hysterically opposed to it,” she declared. “The reason liberals can never explain their approach to foreign policy is that is that if they said it out loud, Americans would burn them in oil.”
“The incontrovertible lesson of history is, if at all possible, don't allow Democrats anywhere near foreign policy,” she said. “There's always a conflict of interest when people who don't really care for America are asked to defend it. For 50 years, Democrats have harbored traitors, lost wars, lost continents to communism, sheltered America's enemies, defended America's enemies. Their utter incompetence at national security is bad enough when the economy is booming. But we're not exactly rolling in money now to be going on these pointless foreign interventions staged by Democrats to prove they can be trusted with national defense.”
“For the past 50 years,” she added, “Democrats have orchestrated one humiliating foreign policy defeat after another, in Vietnam, Somalia, Korea, Title 9 — the list goes on and on.
She failed to mention that it was a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, who ordered the military into Somalia in 1992, launching America’s post-Cold War experiment with using the military for humanitarian goals.
In contrast, Republicans fight good wars, she argued. Glossing over Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction program, which the Bush administration used to justify regime change in Iraq, she stated that Afghanistan and Iraq were equally valid targets for U.S. intervention after 9/11. Both, she contended, “[sheltered] associates of the terrorists who hit us on 9/11.” In truth, while the Taliban welcomed Al Qaeda to Afghanistan, Saddam Husein’s government was essentially at war with militant Muslims in Iraq, as a Senate investigation concluded.
Ridiculing liberal arguments against invading Iraq, she said, “Maybe for their next trick Democrats can tell us why fighting Adolph Hitler was a war of necessity and not a war of choice. Because, Adolph didn't hit us on 9/11. He never hit us, never planned to hit us. But Obama says — he has explained why that was a war of necessity — Nazi ideology sought to subjugate, humiliate and exterminate. It perpetrated war on a massive scale. So, what: Saddam was just moody?”
In contrast to mainstream Republicans, Coulter rejected the Arab spring, suggesting that the U.S. should prop up friends like Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by mass democracy protests in Tahrir Square in February. Mocking the demonstrators as “mummy decapitators” who “[shoot] guns in the air,” she noted that “Mubarak supported U.S. policy, used his military to fight terrorists [and] recognized Israel's right to exist — or as liberals call it, three strikes and you're out.”
Coulter, who asserted Tea Party allegiance in an interview with CBS News, began the presentation by telling the audience “I’m not an expert on Afghanistan.” She later noted that she doesn’t know much about the Middle East.
Although forcefully delivered, her speech was sprinkled with inaccuracies. For example, several times she spoke of an Obama administration military intervention in Egypt; there was no such intervention. She said that liberals didn’t support America’s post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan; in fact, the vote in favor was 98 to 0 in the Senate and 420 to 1 in the House. And she alluded to the Taliban’s pre-9/11 fight against “those Kurds in the north.” That war was against the Northern Alliance; the Kurds occupy northern Iraq and western Iran, more than 1,000 miles west of Afghanistan.
Flipping her long blond mane over her shoulder, Coulter concluded with a quote “from the only man who knows liberals better than I, tail-gunner Joe — Joe McCarthy,” the Wisconsin senator censored by lawmakers after his red-baiting campaign in the 1950s. “He said if liberals were merely stupid, then the laws of probability would dictate that at least some of their decisions would serve the interests of the United States.”
Follow David Case on Twitter: @DavidCaseReport