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Few Speedbumps for the War Party

Peter Beinart raises the troubling question: Why is the Left good at protesting stupid wars once they begin (and inflicting political punishment on their instigators) but feeble at preventing them in the first place? His concern is raised by the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk “back door to war” legislation, which has already gotten 14 Democratic cosponsors. He doesn’t provide an answer. AIPAC influence may explain part of it, but that could be countered by political opposition at the grass roots. Beinart observes,”despite the best efforts of MoveOnCREDO, that doesn’t exist right now.”

I would like an answer too, though I appreciate that Beinart doesn’t try to supply a glib one. Just the somber fact:

In 2006, Democrats enraged by Joe Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war denied him their party’s renomination for senate. In 2008, Democrats embittered by Hillary Clinton’s support for Iraq helped orchestrate one of the biggest upsets in presidential history. But they were too late; the damage was already done. The American left is very good at punishing politicians for supporting disastrous wars. Its challenge in 2014 is to show that it can stop politicians from promoting those wars in the first place.

Clearly readiness to slip into war without weighing the consequences is more symptomatic of today’s GOP. A generation ago, prominent Republicans who would have objected strongly to legislation designed to tie the hands of the Secretary of State and outsource American decision-making about war and peace to Israel. Today’s party lacks a Dick Lugar or a Bob Dole, a Mark Hatfield, Jack Kemp, or Lincoln Chafee—none of whom were eager bombardiers. I honestly can’t see Richard Nixon backing into a war like this, or Dwight Eisenhower.

One seldom explored sidebar is the salience of politicians of Cuban ancestry in the new hawk consensus. The GOP’s center of gravity on foreign policy now resides with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who have now have found a willing collaborator in New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls the tune in the House. Somewhere Fidel Castro must be having a good chuckle.

about the author

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottMcConnell9.

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