One of the ironies expressed by Reinhold Niebuhr in his classic The Irony of American History was that there was a certain similarity between Western liberal ideology and Communist ideology. Both believed that, given the right conditions and methods, mankind can be controlled by an elite class for the betterment of all.

Writing in the midst of the Cold War, Niebuhr made a very clear distinction between the two ideologies. The methods of the communists he viewed as nefarious, while he believed that the potential excesses of liberal ideology had been tempered by practicality born of experience.

According to Niebuhr, one of the characteristics of irony is that it is generally unnoticed. It results from a sort of double-think. In the case of the example above, the greatest irony is that the aspects of Communism which were most decried by the West had their basis in the West’s own ideology, a fact not noted by most critics of Communism.

In modern American politics, there is just as big of an ironic disconnect between Republican/conservative ideology in foreign and domestic affairs.

As a general rule of principle, Republicans distrust the ability of government to efficiently improve the lives of its citizens. Reduce taxes, cut off handouts, let individuals in the market decide what's best: these are the rallying cries of most conservative Republicans. This is in opposition to the ideology of modern liberal Democrats, who view a government of enlightened leaders as capable of improving the lives of their fellow countrymen through the application of sagacious policies.

In foreign policy, however, the basic ideology of the Bush administration was nearly identical to those aspects of Democratic domestic policy which were most roundly condemned by conservatives. In part, the invasion of Iraq was driven by the belief that the application of sagacious policies by an elite (Americans, in this case) would improve the lives of Iraqis. [Yes, of course, there were other reasons for the invasion. But the reasons given by the administration changed so often I figure one is as good as the other.]

Republicans seem just as inclined as Democrats to carry out intrusive policies designed for the betterment of the less fortunate. The main difference seems to be that Democrats focus these policies on (or force these policies on, depending on your view) American citizens, whereas Republicans give Americans the benefit of the doubt in solving their own problems and instead focus/force policies on an international level.

I don’t know if this is due to a sense of American exceptionalism, a compulsion to spread democracy as quickly as possible, or something else. Importantly, I’m not even saying this is necessarily a bad thing.

It’s just ironic.

[note: I know this idea isn’t original to me. Many foreign policy conservatives have distanced themselves from Bush’s actions, labeling him and his team as neo-conservative, neo-Wilsonian, etc. – anything but “conservative.” They’ve obviously recognized the irony.]