Two very revealing snapshots from CPAC yesterday.

Ron Paul wins CPAC strawpoll. Crowd apparently booed the result when it was announced.

And later,

Even Ann Coulter, who drew a huge crowd herself, felt compelled to give a shout out to Paul-mania, saying she agreed with everything he stands for outside of foreign policy — a statement met with cheers.

Despite Coulter’s attempt to make foreign policy a mere trivial disagreement, her statement — and the CPAC crowd’s response — is absurd.

The United States currently has troops in 140 countries around the world. We are actively involved in shooting wars in three countries, going on a decade now. We will spend nearly $700B on defense in 2010 — almost as much as the “generational theft” stimulus bill — and this doesn’t count the billions we spend on Homeland Security. And all for a single year of “defense.”

So Ann Coulter agrees with everything Ron Paul says, except for that trillion or so a year she wants to keep spending to maintain a US Empire. Or, put another way — Coulter and the neoconservatives that have taken over the Republican Party want Ron Paul’s pre-WWI, pre-Fed, pre-Social Security, pre-IRS federal government — to go with LBJ’s Great Society military.

This notion that you can have “small government” while maintaining a global empire and fighting a “Global War on Terror” is obviously nonsense, and even William F. Buckley recognized that. Here’s Buckley, arguing during the Cold War that conservatives had to embrace “Big Government” (from Julian Zelizer’s Arsenal of Democracy):

Buckley wrote that conservatives had to “accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged…except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.” He explained that Republicans “will have to support large armies and air forces…central intelligence…and the attendant centralization of power in Washington–even with Truman at the reins of it all.

If Buckley had said this at CPAC about the “War on Terror” and Obama he’d have been booed off the stage.

But whoever the GOP nominee is in 2012 will have to embrace this paradox wholeheartedly. The GOP isn’t ready to give up it’s small government, low tax, Pax Americana neocon fantasyland — anytime soon.