There’s not a “dove” movement of significance on the American Right. But there is a strong sentiment among Republicans toward a Jacksonian view of war and an antipathy toward “nation building,” though. Indeed, George W. Bush campaigned hard on that platform. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were sold in Realist national security terms, with a bit of National Greatness neoconservative Idealism thrown in for flavor. But, over time, the latter overtook the former.
There’s also a significant paleocon wing of the Republican Party, which has no moral qualms about war but nonetheless is very reluctant to intervene militarily. And when they are roused, they tend to want to pursue the enemy hammer and tong with none of the niceties of limited war. ~James Joyner
James is right that there is no “dove” movement on the right, and unfortunately Ron Paul’s primary results showed us how few non-interventionists there were in the GOP, but I can’t completely agree with this description. To take the last point first, paleocons arrive at non-interventionist conclusions for a number of reasons, and our view of how wars should be conducted and how limited they should be is not uniform. Almost all paleocons would agree that wars should be defensive and should be fought only when the national interest, which is usually very narrowly defined, requires it, but once such a war is being fought there is no single view of how limited it should be. Opposition to starting wars may not be universal, but it is close enough that one can generalize about paleocon opposition to aggressive warfare. To the extent that there is consensus among paleocons on this question, there is probably more opposition to total and unlimited warfare than there is support for it. It is common for some mainstream conservatives to invoke mass bombing campaigns in WWII as examples of tactics they find acceptable and would have no problem seeing employed again, and there is an enduring strain of Vietnam revisionism on the right that claims that Vietnam could have been won if the military had been allowed to use everything at its disposal, but for the most part paleocons don’t agree with this and often we find such arguments to be appalling.
It is true that “Jacksonians” on the right lose patience with nation-building, but they also have nationalist convictions that our interventions abroad are always benevolent and initially they are very keen to repeat the propaganda that we are fighting wars of liberation or wars against tyranny (or evil or some new form of fascism). They might support military interventions without the trappings of democratist rhetoric, but they readily re-use this rhetoric whenever they are confronted with arguments that the war in question is unjust or illegal or unnecessary. In other words, they will insist on having national security reasons for going to war, but they will embrace every argument that makes the war appear to be an expression of charity and goodwill. Where they will draw the line is when they conclude that the benevolent, “humanitarian” justifications get in the way of achieving whatever amorphous concept of “victory” they hold.
What makes “Jacksonians” weary of nation-building is not the goal of establishing new political institutions in another country. It is instead the time that it takes to do this and the “ingratitude” of the alleged beneficiaries of our interventions that tend to turn them against prolonged deployments. The charge of “ingratitude,” of course, is inevitable if you believe that you have been doing another nation a favor by invading and wrecking their country. Jacksonians’ instinctive deference to the executive and their belief that criticizing a President in wartime is a kind of disloyalty force them to focus on nation-building and “political correctness” (i.e., refraining from bombing civilians) (as Rep. Chaffetz did) in order to criticize a President and his conduct of a war without suggesting that they lack in support for the military and military interventions in general. This is why “Jacksonians” may be critical of certain details in how a war is conducted, or they might, like Chaffetz, even favor starting a new war that cannot easily be started until the current war ends, but they could never seriously be described as antiwar.
This is how you get critics of the Afghan war plan from the right who want to be more pro-military than the military, and who believe that the rules of engagement that the theater commanders insist on imposing are driven not by military necessity but by “political correctness.” It may be that they cannot imagine why a military commander would want this kind of discipline, which just drives home how instinctive and visceral their “pro-military” views are and how unrelated these views are to actual military needs. This is an echo of that Vietnam revisionist sentiment that insists that the military should have the fewest possible constraints on what they do. Strategy and geopolitical considerations never enter into any of this. Hence you have someone like Chaffetz who says that Iran’s nuclear program should just be “taken out,” as if he thinks this is simply a matter of will and as if there are no costs or consequences to doing this. Even pragmatic considerations that less restrictive rules of engagement could prove to be extremely counterproductive in a counterinsurgency seem to be irrelevant to such “Jacksonians.”
James is mistaken when he writes that “Iraq and Afghanistan will once again remind us of the limits of American power and cause Republicans to be more skeptical of future wars, both in terms of intervening to begin with and in setting realistic war aims.” The wars do remind us of the limits of American power, but it is the Jacksonians who are most averse to admitting that these limits exist. To the extent that most rank-and-file Republicans could be described as Jacksonians according to Mead’s usage, they are not going to become more skeptical of warfare, but will instead become more insistent on an increasingly aggressive and unrestrained posture around the world. Vietnam did not make Republicans less hawkish, and it was by several orders of magnitude a greater debacle than Iraq has been. On the contrary, the aftermath of Vietnam pushed many Democratic hawks into the GOP, and movement conservatives have become accustomed over the last three decades to advocating for both a larger military and for a greater willingness to use force around the world. Skepticism of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions has tended to come from the belief that threats are ubiquitous and the military cannot be distracted by such irrelevancies, but this is absolutely not skepticism about deploying forces overseas and initiating force against a variety of other state and non-state actors. It is actually evidence of the depressing lack of skepticism Republicans have when it comes to entering into or starting wars.
If multiple military interventions are straining the military, the Jacksonian answer will often be that we should increase the size of the military. To the extent that Jacksonians are turning against Afghanistan, it is probably only because they have been led to believe that we need to free up more resources in order to start a war with Iran. The flaw in emphasizing imperial overstretch and strains on the military when arguing against a military intervention is that this part of the argument wins over a Jacksonian audience only insofar as it succeeds in exploiting their irrational fears of another exaggerated or non-existent threat.