GOP suddenly goes antiwar
Are Republicans channeling their antiwar forefathers?
With GOP presidential-nomination aspirants questioning President Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan and congressional Republicans voting en masse against authorizing involvement in Libya, it’s starting to seem that way.
Gone are the days when Republicans equated antiwar dissent with treason and unwaveringly backed President George W. Bush: The stridently antiwar Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is now viewed favorably. Few question North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones’ commitment to country, despite his fierce opposition to the Afghan war. And mainstream Republicans such as Jon Huntsman look askance at continued involvement in Afghanistan.
On the whole, this is a good thing. For decades, the United States has intervened abroad with alacrity — often disastrously. Any force that militates against such hawkishness is at least somewhat beneficial; I welcome discussions among GOP caucus-goers on the merits of militarism and intra-party arguments about empire.
But motivations matter, too. And there’s a huge difference between principled doves and opportunistic critics of foreign intervention.
The principled Republicans include people such as Paul and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who oppose reckless foreign intervention regardless of which party occupies the White House. They were critics in the Bush years, and they remain unnerved by military interventionism in the Obama years.
In some ways they are modern-day iterations of past party figures. Hard as it is to fathom, there was a panoply of principled antiwar Republicans in the first half of the 20th century. These included both progressive giants such as Wisconsin Sen. Robert La Follette — in that era, not all Republicans were right of center — and conservative luminaries such as Ohio Sen. Robert Taft.
But the anti-interventionist voices began to disappear with the advent of the Cold War and the calcification of an aggressive anticommunist consensus. Anti-militarists were regarded as either cowards or pollyannas. Noninterventionism was tantamount to defeatism; unhindered, the Communist Menace would continue to spread.
Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed a similar phenomenon: Hawks raise the specter of terrorism in order to justify foreign intervention (or the curtailing of civil liberties), squelching serious discussion. Democrats, petrified of being perceived as weak on national-security issues, meekly assent.
Johnson and Paul have been courageous iconoclasts, bucking the party line on national security issues.
More beneficently, the electorate’s mounting desire for extrication has prompted the re-examining of foreign-policy positions. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, for example, 56 percent of respondents said we should get out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible.” A plurality of participants in a Gallup poll conducted this month opposed the U.S.’s involvement in Libya.
Public antipathy and budgetary constraints are substantive, justifiable reasons to oppose foreign wars. But I’m unconvinced that the rise of antiwar Republicans is anything more than vacuous partisan posturing. Michele Bachmann, for instance, is no principled noninterventionist.
And as Democrats’ relationship with the antiwar movement illustrates, vacuous partisanship is a neutering force. (Two scholars have proven as much — Democrats’ enormous gains in 2008 eviscerated the antiwar movement.)
Shifting to a humbler, less militaristic foreign policy will require a resolute group of anti-interventionists, not an ephemeral bloc of partisans willing to switch their stances on a dime.
Principle should be the motivating factor in politics — not cynical, Machiavellian point scoring.
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