A columnist for my local paper is looking for a “peace candidate” who has no desire to build other peoples’ nations for them and who would be willing to reassess our “military intervention throughout the world.” She reaches the conclusion, however tentatively, that instead of having so many of our troops bogged down thousands of miles from our shores, “we could have strategically targeted every one of al-Qaida’s leaders. And we could have skipped everything else in between and just done that.”
The U.S. has carried out a missionary foreign policy in recent decades under presidents from both national parties. Enough is enough, even for those of us who wouldn’t go quite as far as my friend Ron Paul, who seems not to recognize that we do have enemies abroad and that their hostility is not exclusively our fault. But Paul is in no way responsible for Republican derailments. Ever since the Reagan administration, Republican foreign policy has been increasingly under the control of hysterical visionaries, who want to convert the world, if necessary by force, to the current American democratic model.
In the 1980s these advisors and journalists proclaimed the need for a “global democratic revolution” and with the arrival of George W. Bush in the presidency they got their way. It was these shapers of Republican foreign policy who pushed us into prolonged efforts at nation-building in Iraq. They also manufactured Bush’s ineptly delivered speeches about bringing human rights to every soul on this planet; and they drove their eager pupil into monetizing an expensive invasion and occupation, which resulted in creating the highest government debt in our history. (The American people are right to believe that Bush did as much as Obama to bring about our present runaway debts.)
Obama now has these yappers going after him; and even when he intervened in Libya to push out the Kaddafi regime, they were complaining, with their friends John Bolton and John McCain, that Obama wasn’t making enough of a military commitment (this with two other wars going on); and besides the Dems weren’t getting tough enough with Russia, Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and every other government the neocons want us to shake up in the next ten seconds. Although hardly a fan of this administration, I sometimes wince with discomfort listening to the usual suspects scolding Obama for being “weak on human rights.” It is even more painful watching GOP candidates pledging their support as “Christians” for the construction of further Israeli settlements on the West Bank. In return for trying to curry favor with the neocon media and a relative handful of American Jewish voters, these hacks are surrendering any possibility they may have of being peace negotiators in the Middle East.
Because of such disinformation, rank-and-file Republicans believe that running a vast welfare state as an army is a “conservative” policy. Moreover, since Republicans are by definition “conservatives,” or so I am astonished to hear, anything the party advocates must be “conservative.” And wars that are fought to make the rest of the world look like our society are all patriotic. After all, aren’t we sending young people to Asia to have their heads blown off?
It might surprise these party loyalists to learn that for decades the Democrats condemned the GOP as an isolationist party. It is not the Right, but the liberal internationalists in the center and on the left, who pushed for military intervention abroad. The American Right has generally not been militaristic, and it was the neoconservative takeover of the GOP and the conservative movement in the 1980s which produced the present state of affairs.
In the 1940s and even later Republicans criticized any proposal to plunge young men and American earnings into foreign wars. Although some Republican Congressmen were blind to the extent of the threats represented by Nazi and Soviet tyranny, Republicans understandably wanted to avoid a repetition of the fiasco of World War I. Then Americans had been pushed by a pro-British government into a European bloodbath that ended in a vindictive peace. (A sincere American attempt to negotiate a peace could have avoided this and the rise of brutal dictatorships in Germany and Russia.)
Significantly, it is the example of this intervention and the Democratic president who arranged for it, the global democratic idealist Woodrow Wilson, whom the neoconservatives celebrate as the architect of their foreign policy. Now Republicans have totally turned their backs on the tradition of being the party of peace. They talk about restoring fiscal sanity while planning to make perpetual war. Indeed it seems impossible for Republicans to admit that Bush was a disastrous president, who left us in protracted war and dangerously indebted. Where is the “peace candidate”? I’ll give him my vote as well.