Home/Daniel Larison/Still Waiting for That New Antiwar Right

Still Waiting for That New Antiwar Right

Obama has launched an unconstitutional war that serves no discernible American interest. This wastes military resources on a conflict that poses no threat to the U.S. at a time when U.S. forces are stretched in two other wars, and it commits U.S. forces to the enforcement of a U.N. resolution without any meaningful debate here at home. The public was not clamoring for this. This is the epitome of policy made by establishment figures without regard for American public opinion. If ever there were a time for populist American nationalists who can’t stand Obama and claim to venerate and narrowly interpret the Constitution to protest, this would be it. Of course, this is not what’s happening. Weigel explains:

There are individual Tea Party leaders, like Williams or Rand Paul, who wince at a military intervention undertaken like this. The Tea Party is libertarian in plenty of ways. But if it has one defining characteristic, it’s that it’s nationalist. If there’s a way to remove Qaddafi decades after he aided the Lockerbie bombers, then that’s more important than a debate over the deep thoughts of the founders. In a Saturday interview with Fox News, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., one of the most popular politicians to win the support of the Tea Party, explained that his problem with the intervention was about grit, not the Constitution.

If there is a war that American nationalists ought to find undesirable, it would have to be one undertaken for the sake of something called “the responsibility to protect,” which is a doctrine premised on the ability of international institutions to overrule national sovereignty in certain cases. Back in the ’90s, anti-Clinton conservatives didn’t have much in the way of a consistent foreign policy critique, but one thing most of them could agree on was that they couldn’t stand the idea of sending U.S. forces on missions for the U.N. Evidently, as long as the U.S. military gets to fire missiles at a dictatorship, many of them seem to have overcome their aversion to globalism.

The standard attack on many of Clinton’s interventions back then was that they seemed to be chosen on the basis of how little they had to do with U.S. security interests. This was actually reasonably accurate. Conservatives were hardly non-interventionists in the ’90s, but they would at least object to many of Clinton’s interventions as distractions from “real” threats. They may not have been any less hawkish and usually complained that Clinton was too “weak” on Iraq and Iran, but most could agree that Clinton used the military in conflicts in which the U.S. had no stake.

I didn’t expect a great outpouring of antiwar sentiment from Tea Party-aligned Republicans in Congress, but opposing the Libyan war is a fairly easy call. It doesn’t require a full embrace of Ron Paul’s foreign policy views. It just requires some minimal adherence to their professed beliefs. The Libyan war represents everything Tea Partiers are supposed to dislike about Obama and Washington, and it should offend their nationalist and constitutionalist sensibilities. The first real test to see what a “Tea Party foreign policy” might be is here, and with some honorable exceptions Tea Partiers and the members of Congress they have supported have proved that they are indistinguishable from the hawkish interventionists that have dominated the GOP’s foreign policy thinking for the last decade and more.

Update: Sen. Mike Lee has criticized the Libyan war as unconstitutional, and has questioned the underlying policy as well, so we can add him to the small (but growing?) group of Tea Partier critics of the war.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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