Partisan Differences on Military Force

Matthew Continetti writes at The Weekly Standard that the parties are polarized over foreign policy:

The great divisions in American life–between low- and upper-income voters; those who attend religious services weekly and those who do not; people who are married and people who are single; voters with a postgraduate education and those without–are often less predictive of voting patterns than one’s stance on the use of American power abroad. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press concluded in 2005 that “foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters.” Together, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq seem to have accelerated a shift begun some 30 years ago: The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power.

The Iraq war has resulted in considerable polarization over foreign policy, but not entirely how Continetti characterizes it. While true that the Republicans are quicker to advocate force, regardless of whether it actually serves our national interests, it is erroneous to characterize Democrats as being opposed to using military power. After all, there was bipartisan support for going to war against Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Both Howard Dean and John Kerry, who opposed the invasion of Iraq, also stated they would support military action if we were proven to be threatened by WMD.

The difference is not whether Democrats support use of military power, but that Republicans have a single minded approach to foreign policy while Democrats are more realistic. Republicans are quick to see force as the solution while Democrats consider a variety of approaches, including diplomacy and international cooperation along with force. During the 2004 election campaign Bush attacked Kerry’s assertion that fighting terrorism is more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation, with Kerry having been proven to be right.

Supporting the use of military force when it is the best option, and opposing it when its use is both unnecessary and counter-productive as in the case of Iraq is not a pacifist position as characterized by Continetti. The difference between the parties on foreign policy and use of military force is not one of being for against the use of military force, but a difference of supporting an insane versus a sane foreign policy.

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1 Comment

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    Probus says:

    Every president must consider the use of military force depending on circumstances. But they must only do so if it is the last resort and the only option available. This was not the case in the circumstances surrounding the Iraq war. We went in too soon without giving the UN inspectors a chance to finish their work. Also Bush didn’t make the coalition of Allies he pledged to make before he went to war. He said he would not go it alone and did so. It contributed to our loss of our moral authority in the world.

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