A Global, Multi-Civilizational, Multi-Polar Muddle


In “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony,” Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, has authored a provocative analysis of international security challenges awaiting the next administration and the US as the new century unfolds. Instead of an ascendant PRC, global Islamic extremism, or a Westphalian state system in decline, Khanna discusses the coming parity of the US, the European Union, and the PRC and the likely competition for confederates around the world. In Khanna’s words, the three poles are the “ultimate ‘Frenemies,’” where each nation dominates its hemisphere, but cannot deter the other two from meddling. The competition among the three is fiercest in the “second world,” a cross-section of countries offering both enormous opportunity and risk whether it is investments, security, or critical support on multilateral matters. The second world is replete with “swing states,” such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, or South Africa, whose fickle affections could alternatively provide or withhold critical support at crucial junctures. Instead of a single United Kingdom balancing against Continental rivals, declaring “no permanent friends or allies… only permanent interests,” the world will endure three global powers endlessly maneuvering against each other with swing states constantly courting and rejecting each against the others. A robust challenge for any strategist, the tri-polar competition would humble the most gifted modern Bismarck and induce permanent paranoia right out of George Orwell’s 1984, a similarity Khanna readily recognizes. Khanna acknowledges the metrics usually cited by American triumphalists – the world’s largest economy and most powerful military – but he breathlessly declares we are witnessing history’s first “global, multi-civilizational, multipolar battle.”


Or maybe we're not.


Such a sweeping assertion merits examination and upon close examination Khanna’s assertion lacks consistency and depth. In particular, Khanna emphasizes the fluidity with which swing states can navigate in today’s global political economy, variously establishing linkages with either the US, Europe, or China. Khanna pointedly declares “globalization is the weapon of choice.” However, in discussing his methodology (two years of travel through 40 countries, an approach to be lauded), Khanna states he has “learned to see countries not as unified wholes but rather as having multiple, often disconnected, parts, some of which were on a path to rise into the first world while other, often larger, parts might remain in the third.”*


Despite this discovery, Khanna persists in defining the global system as purely state-centric. Khanna continuously depicts the competition in terms befitting 19th Europe rather than multi-dimensional challenge grandly described at the outset. Indeed, in his various descriptions of premiere swing states, Khanna repeatedly returns to the sub-state entities and body publics pushing and pulling the country in various directions, but does not count the content of the regime as an indicator of its likely course.


Khanna identifies how the swing states are navigating the current environment to their advantage, but fails to note the successes are tactical and not strategic, principally because the current leadership in each state is captive to multiple competitive interests within their own country. Russia’s Putin is hailed as Russia’s savior but he cannot undertake the necessary steps to truly empower the economy without upending the delicate balance of factions within the Kremlin oligarchy. Iran’s Ahmadinejad is the stark face of Iranian nuclear nationalism, but dissatisfied hard-line theocrats and pragmatic business types both freely act at odds with his administration. Considerable insights can be made via systemic and state-centric conceptions of international affairs, but in an increasingly globalized world, sub-state and non-state entities must be factored. Khanna admits he “wondered whether globalization would accelerate these nations’ becoming ever more fragmented, or if governments would step up to establish central control.” Khanna comments “it was necessary to assess each country from the inside out,” but never shares what he concluded.


Furthermore, Khanna’s description of a second world in play closely mirrors the contours laid out by Dr. Thomas Barnett, formerly of DOD’s Office of Force Transformation. Substitute “second world” with “new core” and the discussion of new diplomatic-military realities with the emphasis on changing rule-sets and a reader will think he’s reading a knockoff of Barnett’s book, The Pentagon’s New Map. However, Barnett identifies how the US can modify national security organizations and foreign policies to capitalize on opportunities availing themselves in the near- to mid-term. Instead of predicting US difficulties in a heated competition in the second world, Barnett constructively discusses how the US can lead the Old Core to collaborate with the New Core in “closing the gap,” the geographic areas presently disconnected from the global economy and, by no small coincidence, the locus of instability in the world. In the subsequent book, Blueprint for Action, Barnett provides a set of substantial agency reforms and policy prescriptions the US can undertake to address these challenges, far more extensively than Khanna’s call for “channeling JFK” or “Pentagonizing the State Department.” (Dr. Barnett has declined to comment on Khanna’s article on his blog, as he will be reviewing Khanna’s book in an upcoming issue of National Review.)


Europe as a Superpower… Seriously?


For this author, the key defect in Khanna’s analysis is his depiction of a robust European superstate emerging as a pole in this global competition. Khanna’s assessment runs contrary to the well catalogued decline of Europe politically and economically vis-à-vis the United States, China, India, and other rising economies. Khanna argues the European Union has supplanted the US as liberal state par excellence with its “supranational integration model” and the manner in which this inspires second world states, but noted earlier in the essay


While European nations redistribute wealth to secure or maintain first-world living standards, on the battlefield of globalization second-world countries’ state-backed firms either out-hustle or snap up American companies, leaving their workers to fend for themselves. The second world’s first priority is not to become America but to succeed by any means necessary.


Place the clause about European priorities at the end of the paragraph and one can readily see the real challenge is posed by the take no prisoners style of East Asian authoritarian capitalism championed by China, not a Europe focused on making sure everyone has enough health care or vacation time. Rising economies do not emulate the leaden bureaucratic and sclerotic economic model of the Eurostate but the dynamic capitalism evident in China, Singapore, and the rest of East Asia.


Recent US foreign policy ventures may have deepened security challenges for the time being and severely aggravated internal fiscal imbalances, but the liberal capitalist model retains its attractiveness. For all the plaudits heaped on PRC’s party leaders and Russia’s oligarchs for overseeing historic economic growth, the gains do not approach the achievements of like countries choosing the liberal route. As Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss point out in their recent Foreign Affairs article, The Myth of the Authoritarian Model; How Putin's Crackdown Holds Russia Back, authoritarian capitalist states are growing, but at a slower and less comprehensive rate than liberal capitalist states. McFaul and Stoner-Weiss demonstrate the correlation between autocracy and economic growth has been spurious, noting sustained high growth under autocracy is the exception, not the rule, around the world -- “For every China, there is an autocratic developmental disaster such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo; for every authoritarian success such as Singapore, there is a resounding failure such as Myanmar; for every South Korea, a North Korea.”


In fact, Europe symbolizes the risk for the US given its emphasis on the first part of the liberal capitalism formulation at the unfortunate expense of the latter component. Confidence in unelected bureaucrats, reliance on sweeping entitlement programs, and espousal of multiculturalism have proven fatal to Europe, resulting in political paralysis, economic malaise, and violent cultural clashes across the continent. America has maintained a robust democracy and achieved a measure of harmony on race and ethnicity, but to remain relevant against authoritarian capitalism, Europe’s choices provide a broken compass, a course not to be followed. America’s current messes may smack of imperial overstretch, but Europe’s performance (and more drastically its demographics) underscore how altruistic overstretch is a state of affairs to be avoided at all cost.


America prospered (unevenly) during the Cold War despite gargantuan defense budgets, but when the threat disappeared, expenditures dropped precipitously. However, the expected “peace dividend” did not materialize immediately. The unprecedented growth experienced in the latter Nineties depended on the subsequent actions balancing the budget, lowering taxes, and reining in the welfare state. If not for 9/11, much needed entitlement reform to some degree or another might have been achieved. With the American dollar in precipitous decline and stagflation on the horizon, dismantling the entitlement state is critical to preserving the national economy and its viability as a model for other nations. (Even some nations in Europe have seen the light.)


US – The Potential of a Competition State


In contrast to Khanna’s global, multi-civilizational, multi-polar muddle is an international political economy increasingly characterized by a plural and composite structure, or “plurilateralism” as defined by Philip G. Cerny, professor of global political economy at Rutgers University. Cerny notes the modern international system centered on the Westphalian nation-state as vehicle for collective civic action, and most recently, as a collaborative (or sometimes competitive) agent in the economy. With the rise of the modern industrial bureaucracies, once hard to attain public goods could be readily be provided by the state. Conversely, the advent of globalization diminishes the sovereign scope of a state and empowers transnational and non-national actors to provide such goods more efficiently. From Cerny’s perspective, states capable of conforming to such conditions will endure and flourish; such “competition states” retreats from the economy and focuses on providing the public goods for resident national assets to enhance their global competitiveness – namely human capital, modern infrastructure, and research and development capacity. Conversely, states unable to adapt will inevitably decline; such “residual states” is marked by sustained intervention in the domestic economy and capturing the rents of the country’s capital for the politically connected segment of the population.


Immediately, the disadvantages of the European and the East Asian approaches become apparent. European countries have achieved political economies of scale by undertaking integration on a continental scale, but on the global stage, the approach – commonality of high taxes, expansive welfare, and protectionism -- has compromised their overall competitiveness. In East Asia, nations have achieved enormous economic growth after undertaking substantial investment in education, standardization, and infrastructure, but the opacity endemic in semi-democratic and neo-authoritarian states has engendered corruption and an inefficient allocation of resources. The Asian financial crisis in 1997 was a harbinger of the fate awaiting the PRC should be unable to complete a rationalization of state-owned enterprises. Even worse, the PRC lacks the democratic institutions necessary to channel popular discontent should growth falter.


The United States has vigorous democratic institutions and a hardy individualist tradition, but its sixty-three year experimentation with entitlement programs is perilously close to jeopardizing the country’s vitality into a near future marked with increasing turbulence. American competitiveness in the geopolitical marketplace will not be achieved by a posture where “less can be more,” in Khanna’s words, but by revitalizing the exceptionalism of the American liberal capitalist model.



* The author acknowledges Khanna produced the essay as an adaptation of his upcoming book, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, to be published by Random House in March. Accordingly, the book may flesh out Khanna’s concepts to a greater extent.


Being Right Rather Than President

President's Day provides an always welcome opportunity to look back on American presidential history. While the holiday is a legacy of celebrating the births of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, its expansion to encompass a celebration of all presidents, great and small, is more fitting. The remarkable ones, like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan, always shine, whether it is for their leadership, rhetoric, steadfastness in crisis, or vision for America. Those presidents less remarkable are routinely referenced as footnotes, but still there are grounds for recalling their terms. James Knox Polk, America's first successful "dark-horse" candidate, was a political heir to Andrew Jackson, and successfully guided the United States through a war with Mexico and expansion to the Pacific Ocean. Chester A. Arthur, successor to another unheralded president, James A. Garfield, confounded everyone by championing civil service reform, a system of merit which prevails (for good or for bad) to this day. Even Warren Harding, who is identified as America's worst president, received the affection of millions when his body traveled the country back to Washington after his death while in office.

Equally intriguing are the stories of esteemed individuals who made bids for the White House and lost. Some defeats were outright repudiations, such as Alf Landon in 1936 and George McGovern in 1972. Some were unforgettably close, like Tilden in 1876 or Gore in 2000. Finally, there were those defeated candidates whose loss was undisputed but marked by unassailable dignity, so much so in one case it was remarked the loser had merited an "honorary degree" from the Electoral College. While the losing candidate, Adlai Stevenson, lost twice to the much more popular winner, Dwight Eisenhower, he was not alone in losing multiple times. William Jennings Bryan lost his bids three times, the first time in 1896, a rematch in 1900, and then again eight years later in 1908. Both men lost by sizable margins, but their messages continued to inspire, with Bryan and Stevenson signaling the rise of Progressivism and modern liberalism, respectively.

Another three-time loser was Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay earned his place in history as the "Great Compromiser" and one-third of the "Immortal Trio" (Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun were the other two), and he is probably the most qualified man who never became president. When asked why he would not adjust his position on slavery to improve his chances in the upcoming 1840 presidential election, Clay responded "I had rather be right than president." His subsequent effort to navigate the tricky shoals of slavery politics foundered, but Clay's statement remains a classic republican standard whereby a presidential contender is expected to stand with integrity no matter the electoral consequences.

However, after decades of cynicism and brutal partisan conflict, the impulse for integrity has diminished and Clay's standard appears elusive as ever. For all the questions presented to Sens. McCain, Obama, and Clinton over the past year, none has inquired what principle would each of them stand by no matter the cost to their presidential ambitions.

Sen. McCain will eagerly remind audiences he fought a lonely fight for the military surge in Iraq when no other major political figure, save a lame duck President Bush, wanted to persist with the venture. With the achievement of greater security in Iraq, McCain appears vindicated and his steadfast support of the effort has bolstered his already considerable reputation on national security affairs. For many supporters, McCain's stalwart commitment to Iraq is simply indicative of his authenticity. McCain posits his "Straight Talk Express" is the best vehicle for carrying the GOP to victory, but McCain must take care to make sure his eagerness to win does not undermine his reputation; his attacks on fellow Republican Mitt Romney, alleging he called for timetables in Iraq, were simply bogus.

Similar to McCain, Obama asserts his integrity was forged in the debate over the war, albeit from the other end. Obama enjoys needling Clinton by declaring noting how he consistently opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning -- "I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed the war in 2003. I opposed it in 2004 and 2005 and 2006." Building on this stance, Obama has fashioned an entire campaign on the mantra of generational change that only his earnestness can achieve. However sincere Obama's call for change is, he has been unable (or worse tactically unwilling) to discuss how he will challenge the orthodoxies of prevailing liberal or conservative politics. When attacked for inspirational speech-making lacking in policy details, Obama will denounce the critique as the attack politics of old. When called out for policy prescriptions that smack of old-style big-government liberalism, he responds the description is symptomatic of "broken politics." Obama will soon have to take a more definitive stand on his policy proposals -- potentially unpopular as many costly government programs are when fully explained. Should he capture the nomination, he will undoubtedly face a spirited challenge from McCain, who has already gone on record castigating his "disingenuousness."

Under Clay's standard, Clinton emerges as the worst -- she alone has demonstrated an unprecedented eagerness to be president rather than right. After sixteen years, there is little left when it comes to imagining the worst of Hillary Clinton, as she and her husband have repeatedly demonstrated the willingness to abandon principles and allies for political gain at the drop of a poll point. Having sunk her arrival on the national stage by helming the health care reform fiasco, she resurrected herself only after standing by her scoundrel of a cheating husband and alleged a "vast right-wing conspiracy" was the source of all their troubles. Then, once in the Senate, she locked arms with these same Republican conservatives on issues far afield from usual liberal priorities, ranging from flag burning to the war in Iraq. The Clintons espoused triangulation as the basis for a "third way" in politics, but in their execution, no interest is served except their own.

Happy President's Day -- may the most earnest candidate win.

Having Just The Right Vice

The Vice President can't help you. He can only hurt you."

--Richard Nixon, 1968


With the Republican nomination race over (well almost), the next favorite activity of political punditry is already underway – picking the vice-presidential candidate. In last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Pat Toomey listed ideal running mates for Sen. John McCain to consider. Reflecting his priorities as the president of Club For Growth, all of the possibilities were, in his words, “true-blue fiscal conservatives,” such as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. On RealClearPolitics.com, Tom Bevan’s quickie straw poll resulted in 70 names, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice topping the list, followed by former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “Dream tickets” and “history-making” picks aside, serious observers are correct in commenting the selection of a running mate is one of the first genuinely presidential decisions a candidate will make. Unfortunately, for a major part of American history, the vice-presidential slot has been filled according to sometimes expedient calculations embodied in Nixon’s infamous quote above – the vice-presidential candidate has been selected because of the political advantages brought to the ticket in terms of geography, ideology, and, of late, gender or race. In 2000, Dick Cheney, a conservative by way of Wyoming, offered little in the way of these advantages; however, the influence he has exercised since taking office has been unprecedented. More importantly, his contributions, however controversial, have highlighted the importance of choosing a capable vice-president. Whatever your opinion of Vice President Cheney is, one must concede he has established a new standard for the qualifications and readiness of individuals nominated for the post. As the campaign proceeds, the usual (and inevitable) electoral factors must be secondary to evaluating a running mate’s qualifications and likely role in a future administration.


In the days before the United States stepped onto the world stage, the emphasis on political calculations may have been harmless, but the subsequent record of vice-presidential ascensions should have induced some caution. The first vice-president to assume office, John Tyler in 1841, was merely brought on the ticket to provide an alliterative touch to the presidential campaign slogan but ended up advancing the sectional crisis; he even ended up serving in the rebel Confederate government. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, could not rein in the Radical Republican Congress and ended up impeached. President Chester A. Arthur, president after Garfield’s assassination, was forgettable. In contrast, Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency after William McKinley’s assassination and earned a place on Mount Rushmore. Similarly, Harry Truman seemed an unlikely heir to FDR but eventually won re-election in 1948 in fighting style and has emerged an icon of presidential authenticity.


Fortunately, in modern presidential politics, the selection process has begun to increasingly incorporate the possibility this individual may have to assume the presidency. In one of the few praiseworthy decisions he made, Jimmy Carter rightfully recognized his “outsider” administration would benefit from the voice of a well-regarded veteran “insider.” Carter chose Sen. Mondale and then gave him an office in the West Wing, signally the office’s first significant elevation. Since then, thoughtful, and more importantly, successful, presidential candidates have selected running mates with commendable pedigrees.


Beginning in 1976, virtually every running mate have been esteemed political figures and were readily recognized as presidential material in their own right. The presidential candidate as well as the voting public could be confident in the running mate’s political qualities, executive capabilities, and continuity in the Administration’s policies. The most glaring exception is, of course, Bush 41’s choice, Sen. Dan Quayle, who never stood a chance. Quayle was emasculated the day the decision was announced. Amidst draft dodging allegations and missteps that permanently earned him the label of lightweight, Quayle was an ignored participant in a Bush Administration that guided American foreign policy during momentous times in Eastern Europe and Iraq. While Quayle was Bush 41’s saving grace with conservatives, Quayle was not a factor in the Administration or later presidential elections, unlike his predecessors or his successor, Al Gore.


Gore underscores the benefits of choice that defies the usual balancing criteria. A youngish Southern moderate, Gore re-emphasized Clinton’s demonstration of youthful dynamism in contrast to the tired establishment Republicanism of Bush 41. Before Cheney, it was Gore who was repeatedly identified as the most powerful vice president in history. When Gore made his eventual run as the third term of the Clinton administration, he only faced one challenger, unlike Bush 41 who faced off against six rivals.


Whereas the Clinton-Gore ticket imparted synergy, the Bush-Cheney team conveyed depth. Before becoming Vice President, Cheney possessed an already impressive resume. He had been White House chief of staff, representative-at-large from Wyoming, the House minority whip, Secretary of Defense in the previous Bush during the Gulf War, and then CEO of Halliburton – just the right combination of executive, legislative, security, and private sector qualifications a presidential candidate could ever want in a running mate and potential successor. When it was announced, the selection was greeted with praise; when he was given an expansive role in the new administration, the arrangement was lauded as the cornerstone of an exceptionally gifted Administration.


However, after six arduous years of helping to shape a broad swath of domestic and foreign policies, the breadth of qualifications and influence Cheney has brought to the office are now depicted as a recipe for executive authority unbound. Cheney’s influence, while considerable, has been exaggerated and such critiques have arisen from shrill partisans easily baited by the defiant style with which Bush and Cheney have conducted policy. Cheney has indeed been the most powerful vice-president ever and, in this day age, why would anyone want the un-Cheney, an unqualified and unready individual assuming the presidency?


Yes, selecting an individual with a McCain administration’s “third term” in mind remains important. Bush 43’s selection of an individual who readily forswore a desire for the presidency has been a mixed blessing. The Republican Party, usually more orderly in crowning its frontrunner, had been without one this time around. In light of the Administration’s present political standing, this could be a positive – McCain has been a fervent support of Bush 43’s Iraq strategy, but he is still sufficiently independent of the Administration to win over Democrats and independents.


However, the Bush 41 experience reminds us we cannot be so cavalier. If the Administration is limited to one term and the vice president would be a viable candidate, then the individual could be (and perhaps should be) a formidable figure in his own right in order to lead the party four years later. In 1996, senior statesman Sen. Dole was an easy frontrunner over the unremarkable Quayle, but lackluster in the general election, and a golden opportunity to usher in a new generation of leaders was delayed and a vulnerable President Clinton went on to victory. The choice in 2008 must be made with this history in mind.


Given the fragility of the Reagan coalition this time around, the vice-presidential candidate should be someone with strong credentials in both the economic and social conservative wings of the party, preferably executive experience, and (unfortunately) born in the latter half of the Baby Boom. This author is just as eager as anyone else for Baby Boomers to step aside, but conservative ones are tolerable. At any rate, this individual may have to accept being transitional if rising stars such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (“A Very Brady Conservative”) lives up to expectations or (fingers-crossed) Jeb Bush returns to the stage.


On Toomey’s list, only Gov. Sanford stands out in this light. Gramm and Forbes would make great secretaries of the treasury; they were busts as presidential candidates. Bevan’s list offers a number of interesting possibilities – Watts, Palin, Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Gov. Bill Owens, or former Rep. Steve Largent. As Bevan noted, the most intriguing are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and SEC Chairman Chris Cox.

Nominating Mr. Surge

"the rise of McCain through New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida indicates that for many voters 'the war' is still the issue, because, after all, what else has the Senator got going for him? Surely, it's not his global warming hysteria or illegal immigration amnesty or demonization of capitalism."

Mark Steyn, Feb. 4, 2008, "A McClinton Consensus" The New York Sun

In his recent column, Mark Steyn labeled Sen. John McCain "Mister Surge," because of the pride he takes in his lonely commitment to winning the war in Iraq. It's amusing because McCain's resurgence is due in part to his pugnacious retail politicking and straight talk, but as the economy begins to take center stage, as it always does, his persistence in highlighting the surge may become an unsettling echo of the criticism made against the bare basics of Mayor Rudy Guiliani's campaign -- "9/11, a noun, and a verb." If McCain is not careful and does not pass his Econ 101 exams with flying colors, he will have a difficult time against either Hillary Clinton, policy wonk extraordinaire, or Barack Obama, inspirer nonpariel.

Besides the seeming one-dimensional nature of McCain's campaign, there is also the considerable opposition from keepers of the Reaganite conservative flame. Some conservatives have come around to McCain given the poor odds the Republican Party would face in the fall. Other conservatives refuse to make perfect the enemy of the good, especially when opting for perfect will result in the absolutely intolerable. But still, some conservatives will refuse to acquiesce and declare in the tradition of esteemed American statesman, Henry Clay, that they'd "rather be right than president." (Henry Clay proved this point three times.)

Mr. Steyn favored Mayor Guiliani but the label of Mr. Surge brings attention to a subtler philosophical challenge than the more well-known differences over immigration, campaign finance, and global warming.

Throughout the primary season, reporters and commentators have variously discussed the inability of any of the current GOP contenders to win the allegiance of the entire conservative coalition - libertarians, traditionalists, or nationalists. The reality is in an America at peace, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee would have been the main contenders for the nomination because the conservative movement is really comprised of just two philosophies - libertarianism and traditionalism.

It is rare when a single individual can credibly emerge as the voice of both philosophies nationally, simply because the two outlooks are based on conflicting premises. Libertarianism espouses individual autonomy and unfettered free markets - morality is a matter of choice and altruism only undermines the individual. Traditionalism upholds shared values to bind and shape individuals within a community and nation - morality is explicitly defined and obligations to one's fellow man are honored. Patriotism is a fundamental element of modern conservatism, but only when an
existential challenge emerges to the nation do these two components unite into a potent political union.

It is part and parcel of conservative thought that the urgency of survival would lead a conservative to compromise partially on fundamental principles. While proudly standing as the self-identified guardians of Providentially guided constitutionalism, conservatives readily yield to the wisdom that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact."

Accordingly, it is the occurrence of an emergency that convinces these two philosophies to unite on the presidential level. Libertarians recognize the urgency of a new threat necessitates a compromise in favor of bigger government if the requisite national resources are to be marshalled for the coming fight. Traditionalists similarly realize long-held values, such as turning the other cheek or gender roles, will have to be compromised in order to fully support the nation's fight for survival. In the Cold War, libertarians and traditionalists found equally despicable qualities in the enemy - godlessness and totalitarianism. Liberalism and progressivism offered no attraction for either - the enthusiasm for bigger government and upending existing mores were anathema. Libertarians and traditionalists came together under the aegis of anti-communism and changed modern American politics.

From this union came a wellspring of ideas that were as Sen. Obama, of all people to remind us, characterized -- "transformational." Reagan educated the nation on the confiscatory nature of high marginal tax rates and was an ardent champion of life. The subsequent resuscitation of the economy and renewal of American pride, combined with a substantial investment in the military, constituted a powerful challenge to the Soviet Union, which collapsed three short years later. Historic deficits and amnesty for illegal immigrants aside, Reagan remains the ultimate modern conservative icon.

However, with the end of the Cold War, the emergency justifying libertarian and traditionalist compromises, the coalition became less cohesive and its presidential majority dissipated. Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, enraged libertarians by raising taxes and lost the election in 1992. The next Republican nominee, Robert J. Dole, was once derided as "tax collector for the welfare state." His listless campaign against the dynamic, but only semi-popular, President Clinton, went nowhere in a prospering America at peace. In 2000, George W. Bush pledged his fealty to both libertarianism and traditionalism. He promised a trillion-dollar tax cut and famously declared Jesus Christ his favorite philosopher, but four million evangelicals still stayed home and he lost the popular vote.

Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Once again, libertarians and traditionalists rallied behind a leader with a foot in both camps and a promise to take the war to the enemy. Libertarian and traditional conservatives rallied behind Bush in 2004 because he had delivered on tax cuts, conservative judicial appointments, and the war on terrorism. However, it was the war on terrorism that sustained their support for Bush when he endorsed a new
multi-billion dollar Medicare drug entitlement and when he compromised on school vouchers to win passage of new federal controls on grade school education. As the war in Iraq became increasingly difficult, Bush's departures from conservative orthodoxy became fatal. Libertarians abandoned him as federal spending continued unabated. Traditionalists raged when he named his unqualified legal counsel as a nominee for the Supreme Court and supported a permissive immigration proposal. Since the Republican mid-term defeat in 2006, Bush's only saving grace has been his steadfast commitment to the effort in Iraq.

Early on, McCain, in the Republican tradition of primogeniture, was the frontrunner before imploding last summer. In the interim, fractures in the Republican coalition became evident as
evangelicals threatened to bolt for an independent candidate, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul astounded everyone with record fund-raising hauls, and Huckabee advanced with an economically populist message. Today, McCain has astonished the party with his resurgence as the frontrunner while Romney's bid to uphold the Reagan coalition has foundered.

The key to McCain's viability has always been his
national security credentials. McCain protests he is a "true conservative," and his voting record has been such but his leadership has not. McCain never helmed a cause in support of libertarian or traditionalist principles; conversely, his leadership came as a contrarian to dearly held conservative beliefs on taxes, immigration, and the First Amendment. Should he win the election, McCain's likelier example of executive leadership will not be Reagan, but another venerated Republican icon -- Theodore Roosevelt. McCain's admiration for the 26th president indicates government activism, not restraint, will be the order of the day.

For conservatives, the challenge will be identifying and cultivating individuals who have demonstrated leadership on both libertarian and traditionalist objectives during an administration led by a purported Republican conservative. (Paging Jeb Bush. If we're not supposed to vote against someone because of his race or her gender, we should not discriminate an against obvious president in waiting simply because his brother ruined his good name.) The urgency of war that has allowed conservatives to excuse lapses by Bush and McCain must not confuse some to think alternatives such as "compassionate" or "heroic" variants are necessary for revitalizing the movement. As Barry Goldwater put it succinctly, "conservatism is economic, social, and political practices based on the successes of the past."