Having abandoned religion, a new generation of conservatives is playing a dangerous game with how it views foreign policy
It didn’t take long for conservative writer Ben Shapiro to hear the backlash
“You gonna send your kids to fight in the world war when they’re of age???? Assad did not do this or the other chemical attacks he’s been accused of. Stop being such an obvious shill,” one user wrote on Faceboook.
“Are you really falling for this garbage?” wrote another. “It would make sense for you to be bias towards this issue since this is about Israel pulling the US into yet another war and you’re Jewish.”
Shapiro, a contributor to National Review and writer at The Daily Wire, was guilty of nothing more than calling attention to the obvious: the disgusting nature of Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Syria. Writing in support of U.N. Ambassador Nicki Haley, who on Wednesday gave a scathing indictment of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, Shapiro made the mistake of attaching a three word Facebook post to his story: “Good for Haley.”
Yet for the many so-called conservatives, the apparent condemnation of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian allies went too far. Not only that, but it was either inaccurate or unwarranted, since, by their (and Ron Paul’s) logic, the Syrians were victims of a false-flag operation made to frame them.
Nevermind that evidence strongly points to the fact that Sukhoi bombers, used by the Syrian and Russian militaries, carried out the strike, or that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that “There’s no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al Assad is responsible for this horrific attack.” For right-wingers in the era of Alex Jones’ InfoWars and Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, the chemical attack that killed more than 50 people is the stuff of conspiracies. That, or it’s vitally necessary in the war against the cancer of Islamic extremism.
For the past six months, I’ve floated in and out of this strange nebulous of online conservatives, sometimes seeing myself as a fellow traveler. It was all fun at first—I mean, who doesn’t like hashtagging “Imwithher” to pictures of Marine Le Pen and offering up a “Praise Kek” to the latest news of liberal outrage. And surely, as the #resistance to President Trump has turned violent and less reasonable, embracing the most radical of postmodern ideas and, in many cases, the most aggressive of anti-Christian political elements, it made sense to move further rightward.
Except it hasn’t played out that way. If the Left has abandoned the moral relativism of a decade ago for the secular religions of intersectionality and gender identity politics, then elements on the Right, particularly within the Internet subculture, have discovered moral relativism. And it’s especially pervasive when it comes to foreign policy, masquerading under every twenty-something’s favorite ideology: libertarianism.
I’ve been tempted by the position myself, just as I’ve been tempted to support the Assad regime. Assad has, in the past, made poignant displays in defense of the Christian community within Syria, while his suave western look, soft-spoken attitude, and willingness to bomb ISIS into submission make him a seemingly “acceptable” dictator. Many of my friends, having grown up in the shadow of the Iraq War yet unwilling to turn to liberal politics in its fallout, have since coalesced around Assad because he seems to represent a figure that neoconservative foreign policy couldn’t bring down. He is our guy—no matter what he does.
Yet what I saw this past week has reminded me in no uncertain terms that evil does not take a Left or Right wing side, and certainly isn’t something only reserved for ISIS. Like many conservatives, the preferential treatment given to Islam in the West, as well as radial Islamists’ aggressive and specific targeting of Christians in the Middle East, outrages me. I’ve been the first to criticize Pope Francis for his Obama-like approach with confronting the problem. Yet this stance does not excuse those who make up their own facts and apologize for moral evil.
As Catholics, we’re reminded that every free action taken by man can be for good or for evil. This is especially true in war. U.S. forces, for the most part in our country’s long history, have abided by a very strict rules of engagement policy that parallels the Catholic understanding of the just use of force. When those on the Right denigrate our own service members and military leaders by comparing them to regimes like Assad’s, they are overlooking the incredible lengths to which the U.S. has gone to defeat ISIS in the most just way possible. They are also overlooking that the use of chemical weapons “merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”
Whether or not Assad needs to be disposed for this latest attack is a question for the national security apparatus. The entire powder keg in Syria and Iraq, in which Russia, the U.S., Turkey, Syria, the Kurds, and others, are vying for influence is, to borrow President Trump’s words, “a mess.” Yet the situation highlights a problem on the Right that is not going away. In a climate of conspiracy theories, libertarianism-at-any-cost, and moral relativism, the Right is lurching toward a world where the gray area between right and wrong is threatening to overtake even the most blatant examples of good and evil.