Four More Years of War

No matter who wins in November, America will remain overstretched overseas.

It’s hard to remember through the fog of constant war, but the 2008 presidential election was a contest between two candidates who were propelled into their nominations by the anti-war vote.

Barack Obama, we remember. He was the one who opposed the Iraq war in real time, campaigned on that stance daily, and benefited from the pent-up passion of that once huge but now nearly extinct tribe known as the anti-war left. As the Iraq war and President George W. Bush each became less popular by the day, Obama became the conduit for people frustrated by the foreign policy status quo.

John McCain was arguably the most interventionist major-party nominee in several generations; in 1998 he authored the idea of “rogue-state rollback,” whereby the U.S. would fund anti-dictator insurgents all over the globe and come to their defense militarily should the authoritarian regimes gain the upper hand. But he nonetheless received a plurality of the anti-war vote—roughly double that of a principled noninterventionist, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)—during the crucial early-state GOP primaries that sealed his nomination. Such was his original reputation as a media-friendly “maverick” that journalists and voters alike assumed the guy they liked so much couldn’t possibly be in favor of constant pre-emptive war.

Such are the inadequacies of America’s two-party system: The majoritarian impulse against war and global police work gets funneled into candidates who openly campaign, as Obama did, on redoubling old interventions (such as the war in Afghanistan) while being open to launching new ones (such as the war in Libya). 

The lesser of two interventionists not only has turned out to be fond of deploying military force, to the point of using his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize speech as an opportunity to muse on the concept of “just war”; he also has embraced and extended many of his predecessor’s controversial methods for waging war, from warrantless surveillance to secret overseas detention camps. We now live in a country where the president asserts and flexes his right to send drone assassins after any human being (including any American) he identifies as an enemy anywhere in the world. 

For the beleaguered anti-war remnant, the temptation is always to throw out the trigger puller in chief, in the hope that the new regime will take a less meddlesome and costly approach. But in 2012, despite the rise of a small but growing band of intervention skeptics within the national GOP, the Republican Party has openly campaigned on restoring, not pruning, America’s primary role in world affairs.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney—like almost all of his challengers, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Tim Pawlenty—is an Iran hawk, promising to leave “all options open” in the quest to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. “The Iranian leadership,” Romney told Human Events in October 2009, “is the greatest immediate threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union, and before that, Nazi Germany.”

That is not a recipe for the kind of “humble” foreign policy that George W. Bush advocated before the 9/11 attacks. Nor is Romney’s vow to keep military spending no lower than 4 percent of gross domestic product, which would amount to an estimated 42 percent hike during his first term at a time when (as Republicans otherwise like to remind us) the federal government is overstretched and dangerously indebted.

The top of the Republican ticket, including vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, is campaigning as if the post-9/11 Bush foreign policy was coherent, popular, effective, and affordable. It was none of the above.

At the 2012 Republican National Convention in August, the GOP tried to present a unified front, selling this warmed-over Bushism to the assembled delegates and the nation at large. McCain devoted nearly all of his speech to foreign policy, warning (inaccurately) that “we can’t afford another $500 billion in cuts in our defense budget on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making.” (In fact, Obama’s “cuts” were only trims in projected growth.)

McCain pilloried the president for not providing military help to insurgents in Iran and Syria, dubiously claiming: “The demand for our leadership in the world has never been greater. People don’t want less of America; they want more.…If America doesn’t lead, our adversaries will, and the world will go darker, poorer, and much more dangerous.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was greeted at the convention with a hero’s welcome, made a similar (and similarly vague) case for a renewed American exceptionalism. “I know…there is a wariness,” Rice said. “I know that it feels as if we have carried these burdens long enough. But we can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don’t lead: Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”

The last line, based on a quote from an anonymous Obama administration functionary in a May 2011 New Yorker article about U.S. diplomacy and the Arab Spring, has become the Republicans’ favorite snarky put-down of Obama’s foreign policy. It neatly encapsulates the chest thumping that passes for international theorizing within the GOP mainstream.

America must lead from the front! OK, swell, but what’s the limiting principle? Where do busted budgets and backlash fit into the equation? If other countries always look to Washington to take responsibility, will they ever begin to behave responsibly on their own? Does this unbounded vision of American power reflect any awareness that power inevitably corrupts? 

The one Republican who consistently asks such questions is now retiring from politics (see Senior Editor Brian Doherty’s “Ron Paul: Man of the Left,” page 30). At the GOP convention, Paul’s anti-interventionist supporters were repeatedly given the back of the party’s hand, in a series of procedural skirmishes and shouting matches. Dr. No was not offered a speaking slot—understandable, since he did not offer the requisite endorsement of Mitt Romney—but he was granted a four-minute tribute video. The one issue that went unmentioned even once during the montage? Paul’s foreign policy critique, the single biggest engine of his support.

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  • Raven Nation||

    I realize there is some authorial license in opinion pieces, but isn't this a little overstated:

    "We now live in a country where the president asserts and flexes his right to send drone assassins after any human being (including any American) he identifies as an enemy anywhere in the world."

    At least for right now I mean.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, a bit. At the moment it only applies to parts of the world that are fucked up enough and have friendly enough (or paid off enough) governments that no one will complain too loudly.

  • CE||

    So what exactly would stop the president from calling in a hit on someone who really isn't a terrorist? Once you give him the power, all you have is trust, and you know what politicians do with your trust.

  • Raven Nation||

    True. But you would expect some outcry if he launched a strike at a target inside the US, or Canada, or Australia, etc.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Romeny and Obama aren't stealing non-interventionist votes from Gary Johnson, the fools are freely giving their votes away. It's bad enough you may someday be comforting your sister on the loss of her son (or your wife on the loss of yours) but please don't feel guilty too because you voted for one of the s.o.b.s who sent him off to fight.

  • DJF||

    I posted this in AM Links but it fits here too. This is from last week but I have not seen it reported in the USA. Good work Bush and Obama after wasting thousands of US lives and billions of US dollars their policies have brought piece and military cooperation between Iraq and Iran.

    """"Iran and Iraq have signed an agreement of bilateral cooperation in the defense field.""'

    Now whoever is President in 2013 can claim that we need more military spending because Iran and Iraq are working together militarily.

  • wef||

    But we can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don’t lead: Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice.

    So Miss Rice, what you are saying is that the old wilsonian protofascist thug-state is here to stay forever.

    Or we could wait and see if chaos ensues somewhere - and why should we care? - or if someone fills the vacuum, sharing "our values" or not.

    she is a political religious fruitcake

  • DJF||

    """"she is a political religious fruitcake"""

    Condi was also one of the many Soviet "experts" who failed to realize that the Soviet Union was collapsing. But in Washington totally screwing up your job is not a barrier to promotion.

  • johnl||

    And who looked like a complete hick praising the Venezuela coup that was in the process of failing.

  • Raven Nation||

    But apparently a pretty good piano player.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I don't know, we could, maybe try to...lead by example? Or are airwars, indefinite detentions, and assassinations the example we've chosen to lead by?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    We do not have a choice between being at war and not being at war. We have a choice between being at war and fighting, or being at war and not fighting. There is nothing we can do while remaining an even slightly free society that will appease the islamic extremists who are making war on us.

    That doesn't mean that the battles that we have chosen to fight are the right ones, or even remotely connected to the real war. But not being at war is not one of the options open to us.

  • johnl||

    And in 2001, the Army was able to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan. So the military spending of 2001 was sufficient. We need to roll it back to that.

  • Calidissident||

    Define "war"

  • Les||

    There is nothing we can do while remaining an even slightly free society that will appease the islamic extremists who are making war on us.

    This is not true. For years we've been asking the extremists why they want to make war on us. And every time they tell us it's because we occupy their countries and because we are violently killing their innocent men, women, and children on a regular basis.

    So, not being at war isn't an option because we refuse to stop enacting policies and tactics that cause people to want to be at war with us.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    They also complain of the way women are depicted in our media, and a score of other things that we cannot do anything about without ceasing to be who we are. In point of fact, throughout Islam's long history there have always been violent fringe elements, and they have always made war on civilized folk unless firmly put down … in which case they have merely made pests of themselves to their immediate neighbors.

    The idea that if we would just abandon Israel, or with draw from "a" or evacuate "b" has long been fondly held by certain intellectuals. The history of it, however, is that any stated conditions that are met result in new conditions being trotted out.

    Radical Islam makes war on civilization because it must. It cannot compete on the basis of its ideas, so it must hope to terrorize. It has been very effective at wiping out moderation in the Islamic world, so it has no reason - yet - to abandon its tactics.

  • Rick Santorum||

    The simple solution is stronger national defense, which would involve cutting a lot of military spending and redirecting our resources to the United States. Of course, our best friend and greatest ally Israel wouldn't be too happy with that, and the military contractors wouldn't like it, either, and the "humanitarian" warmongers and internationalists would be really, really mad that we aren't dropping billions in foreign aid, so I guess it's four more years of bad foreign policy.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The simple solution would be to adopt a policy of gunboat diplomacy; any time an attack is made on American people or interests, target the government nominally in charge of the area the terrorists came from and make it clear that they either clean house or we replace them with someone who will.

    It would be a hugely unpopular policy. Countries like France, who don't care what its inmates do to other countries, would scream bloody murder. Once. The Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive twits who have been playing kissey-face radical chic games with various 'revolutionary' groups would collectively have an aneurism.

    It would also work. And it would be one hell of a lot simpler than the 'nation building' BS we let ourselves be roped into.

  • ||

    It would also be a completely different policy. We would have been out of Afghanistan by 2003 and we would have never gone into Iraq.

    The fact is (you touch on this but never quite get there) that the overthrow of the Taliban was necessary to get the support of liberals who were upset at their persecution of women and gays, and even those who were mad about them blowing up the statues of Buddha.

    Go only knows what kind of military we'd have to have if we attacked every government that was mean to gays and women, not to mention ones that commit religiously offensive vandalism.

  • Lyle||

    Why does Islamist Egypt hate the United States then? What occupation and killing has the U.S. done to Egypt?

  • Lonely Stalker||

    While I agree that a lot of the Muslim Ones are just out to implement their particular paradise on Earth by showing AKs into other peoples' faces (mainly those of their neighbors if NATO wasn't hanging around), this one is easy to answer:

    Continued support for Mubarak (and his predecssors), not of the "particularly reluctant to use a mailed fist" kind, right up to the minute he was booted out. Continued support for the rogue state of Israel does not help, the more so as it is perceived to humiliate Egypt through "peace agreements".

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent," Paul said. "And we must never—never—trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security."

    TEAM Red would sooner swallow their own tongues than ever do either one of those things.

  • Lyle||

    How does one maintain their without some kind of security?

  • Lyle||

    ... maintain their liberty

  • Rick Santorum||

    Second Amendment and militias.

  • CE||

    No matter who wins? What if Gary Johnson wins?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    If Gary Johnson wins, he will have to decide between withdrawing our military to our own borders and waiting for the next attack on the U.S., or deploying the military outside the U.S. and hoping that will minimally have the effect of focusing the attacks there.

    He won't have an opportunity to end the war without further bloodshed because there isn't anything we can do that will stop the attacks - other than making the barbarians sufficiently afraid of us that they leave us alone.

  • Lyle||

    It just sucks that war is so oft a requisite of liberty.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Intellectual types are fond of the saying that force is the last resort of the incompetent. They entirely fail to notice that this is so largely because the competent use force earlier, when it might do some good.

  • Lonely Stalker||

    the competent use force earlier, when it might do some good.

    Comptent and initiating hostilities? ... Not many occurrences spring to mind.

    ... Poland attacking Lenin's KONNARMIA through Ukraine in 1920? Maybe.

    Anyway, I think you misunderstand the saying. It is about self-defeat.

  • bluesky||

    This is not an era of peace

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Can you NAME an era of peace?

  • Rick Santorum||

    Look, guys, I'm anti-war as they get. I protested a lot during the Bush administration, and I voted for Obama so we could bring the troops home. But things are complicated, okay? Obama has to make some tough decisions. You can't possibly understand the hard decisions he has to make. We just want peace in the Middle East. It's not an easy path, especially when we have to balance women's rights and LGBT awareness in a country full of religious fundamentalists.

    Obama's doing the best job he can. Don't be so hard on the guy.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    He asked for the job, and got it by promising certain things. Bush may or may not have realized that the United States has been made war on by Islamic Radicals for decades when he ran for office. In any case, the escalation happened AFTER he ran for President in 2000 and he wasn't the one who escalated. Obama doesn't have any excuse whatsoever. He knew, or should have know, the issues well before he arrived at 1600 Penn.. The very best that could be said for him is that he made promises he know he would not be able to keep in order to trick gullible people like you into voting for him. It's either that, or he has an naive imbecile who had no business running in the first place.

    *sigh* pinch bridge of nose.

    It occurs to me that the post I'm replying to with this vitriol might have been intended to be sarcastic. If so, I apologize. I have run into pretty much the same excuse, for real, from too many people I once thought had working brains.

  • Rick Santorum||

    Satire. I think we should start calling it O's Law.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    It's nearly impossible to satirize the Liberal Left because satire depends on people recognizing a line between the real and the ridiculous.

  • Lonely Stalker||

    Philip Giraldi has this to say at

    "But perhaps the unkindest cut of all is the betrayal by Sen. Rand Paul, who has clearly set himself up as the heir apparent to his father’s legacy. He now has a fundraising mechanism called Randpac, which is sending out hard-hitting emails asking for money. I do not doubt for a second that Rand understands at least some of what his father stood for and is willing to take some unpopular positions to support what he thinks to be right. But his father never endorsed Mitt Romney, and, while it is understandable that loyal Republican Rand would stand behind the GOP candidate for president, his full approval of Romney’s foreign policy and his willingness to serve as Romney’s vice president were unforgivable. Romney stands for everything that Ron Paul abhors, including unrestricted overseas intervention and chest-thumping militarism."

  • Thane Eichenauer||

    I would counter that Rand Paul, very much like his father, is a very shrewd political operator. His father was elected and re-elected to the US House several times and did a fine job attempting to capture the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2008 and 2012.
    I think Giraldi's claim that Rand has offered full approval of Romney's foreign policy is incorrect.
    As for being willing to serve as Romney's vice president I don't see the problem. Many US Senators consider being a vice president to be a more influential position than US Senator. A VP has the ear of the President where even a US Senator has to call for an appointment. Mitt Romney publicly opposes abortion. Mitt Romney publicly calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve. The fact that Romney is also lacking in other areas may disappoint Giraldi and other folks but being a Republican US Senator who may wish to run for President in 2016 (as a Republican) means that he may not be able to freely thumb his nose as Ron Paul can.
    Rand Paul isn't everybody's perfect candidate but in reality neither is Ron Paul (at least in my eyes). Both of them are a darn sight better than 99.5% of the elected officials in Washington, DC today. If Rand Paul were running for US Senator in Arizona I would be very tempted to vote for him over the Libertarian running for that position.

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