The American people rightly, and overwhelmingly, punished the Republican Party in the mid-term elections, chiefly because of the Iraq war and the neoconservative ideology that helped bring it about.

Iraq is a disaster today partly because of the neoconservative fantasy that democratic nationhood can be built from scratch, at the point of a gun. This is crazed nationalist utopianism — and it is wholly alien to core Republican traditions. Worse still, neoconservatism has endangered the core values and traditions of America itself.

As Thomas Jefferson pointed out, empires require emperors. Instead of adhering to core principles of balanced budgets, smaller but accountable government, fiscal responsibility, local political control as the preference for governance, and a belief in the sanctity of civil liberties, Republicans have embraced highly centralised, militarised big government.

The Founding Fathers would be horrified by the shameful excesses of such neoconservative folly: warrantless wiretaps, Abu Ghraib, Gauntánamo Bay, renditions, and torture.

If it is to join with responsible Democrats in promoting an alternative to the neoconservative train wreck, the GOP must rediscover its roots. To do so, it must return to the tradition represented by President Dwight Eisenhower. No one, we assume, can seriously accuse him of weakness or lack of patriotism. Yet Eisenhower was also characterised by virtues that have been completely forgotten by the Bush administration. He was tough when necessary, but also extremely prudent. He successfully opposed calls for preventive war against the Soviet Union and China.

As he told a press conference, he had personally experienced “the job of writing letters by the hundreds, by the thousands, to bereaved mothers and wives. This is a very sobering experience.” The decision to go to war, he said, should not be made in response to anger and resentment, but only after prayerful consideration and the conclusion that no other means existed to protect America’s rights.

He also opposed preventive war because, in his wise words, “The colossal job of occupying the territories of the defeated enemy would be far beyond the resources of the United States.” Eisenhower referred repeatedly to the fact that the strength of a nation lies ultimately not in arms but in its ability to provide decently for its people.

In a speech titled “The Chance for Peace,” he listed all the schools and hospitals that the US could build for the cost of one bomber, and declared, “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

The Eisenhower tradition is therefore not only a practical vision for American policy, it is a profoundly ethical one. The experience of a lost war brought on by overweening arrogance, ambition, and recklessness is precisely the time to rediscover that tradition’s solid, prudent, and patriotic virtues. — The Christian Science Monitor