In today’s Washington Post, Robert Kagan writes of “a broad bipartisan consensus emerging in one unlikely area: foreign policy.” Half right: there is agreement across the aisle that American security depends on leveling Afghan villages and hectoring Iran. Much as “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” would like to give Republicans a franchise on clueless crusading, the left hand is at least as bloody. President Obama’s promised change is basically Bushianism with more intelligible captions.
But had Kagan polled beyond his friends at the Project for a New American Century, he would have found as much contention as consensus. On the Right, with the impulse to support a Republican president gone, dissenters are no longer automatically “unpatriotic.” And the Left is splintered between old school antiwarriors and Obamaphiles who would cheer any intervention given enough humanitarian gloss.
Whatever consensus Kagan finds between the moderate Left and neocon Right—a predictable coupling—isn’t nearly as broad as he supposes, for it neglects the principled portions of both parties. The odds of noninterventionists of both stripes forming some coalition of their own are slight. But they don’t need to. Between them they speak for a far larger swathe of the country than The New Republic and Weekly Standard subscriber lists.
As for Kagan’s contention that a consensus is “emerging,” to the degree that one ever existed, it’s evaporating. Find any congressman running for re-election on a promise to work our Iraq magic on Iran. As the long war drags on and increasing numbers of Americans feel the squeeze of a contracting economy, they’re growing disinclined to invest in op-ed utopias. When Kagan speaks of a “stable, increasingly democratic Iraq,” many either disbelieve him or don’t care. His calls for “confronting Iran,” for “a firmer stand toward China,” and “a more balanced [read: belligerent] approach to Russia” send up no rallying cry across the country.
Not that Kagan needs the American public for anything more than recruiting quotas. Everyone knows that foreign policy isn’t set by public will but by think-tank hacks who went to boot camp at Harvard. If they agree among themselves and can call a president to heel, that’s consensus enough to keep us in the war business. It’s hardly a mandate, but maybe those who think democracy is spread by drones can’t be expected to tell the difference.