Last week, Peggy Noonan noticed the foreign policy aggressiveness of most Republican presidential candidates:
There was no room for discretion, prudence, nuance, to use unjustly maligned terms. There was no room for an expressed bias toward not-fighting. But grown-ups really do have a bias toward not-fighting.
They are allowing the GOP to be painted as the war party. They are ceding all non-war ground to the president, who can come forward as the sober, constrained, non-bellicose contender. Do they want that? Are they under the impression America is hungry for another war? Really? After the past 11 years?
Noonan is right that reflexive hawkishness is both foolish and politically radioactive after more than ten years of continuous warfare. What she misses is that these candidates are not allowing the GOP to be “painted” as the war party. They are declaring and affirming that the GOP is and should always be the war party. No matter how many times Republican hawks reject the label “pro-war,” they don’t seem to mind presenting themselves as the more aggressive and bellicose party. If someone is always agitating for armed conflict, we should assume that this is what he actually wants.
Noonan’s own aversion to using the obvious antonym to war more than once in the column is interesting. Why refer to “not-fighting” and “non-war” instead of just using the word peace? Has perpetual war become so normal and accepted that there is automatic resistance to praising the virtues of peace? Of course, to be taken seriously in foreign policy debate one ought not to express too strong of a preference for peace. “Grown-ups” might be inclined to avoid war, but one would never know that from all of the rote declarations from politicians and pundits that “all options are on the table” in Iran. It tells us a lot about what many “grown-ups” really prefer when a refusal to start the fourth war in ten years is ridiculed as nothing more than politically-motivated dithering.
Most Republican candidates still claim that they believe in “peace through strength,” but I suspect this is mainly because they want to associate themselves with Reagan. Unfortunately, the substance of their policies shows that they place far greater value on making demonstrations of strength through the use of force than they do on the restoration of peace that is the goal of any just war. If it were otherwise, they would not be trying to find ways to prolong, escalate, and initiate conflicts.