Wartime Politics

I admit my own confusion as to modern wartime politics. Kevin Phillips has often noted the transformative power of war on a nation. War brings out new classes, creates new winners and new losers, and reshapes our constitutional and political order. Iraq, if you take both conflicts as parts of a wider conflict, is no different. America in 2005 is a very different place than America in 2001. And both political parties are jumbled up.

For instance, wonder boy Barack Obama just called for a partial withdrawal, party elders Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer disagree, and institutional Democrat Rahm Emmanuel is stuck in paralysis. Meanwhile, the 'stay the course' Bush administration seems to be dancing around the withdrawal issue as well while kind of denying it. And the Republicans at large are starting to push for withdrawal, under cover of blaming Democrats, which is the traditional stabbed in the back argument of any extreme right-wing movement whose base is a professional military-industrial establishment. While the right is separating from its leader, the Democratic leadership class is split from its base and the mainstream of America, a traditional principle-agent problem.

I'm very confused. And whenever I get confused, I try to dig into history.  I wonder if in the comment thread you could dig there with me and analogize the time period we're in.  You don't have to use an American example, or a modern one.  I'm going to jump all over the place here, so bear with me.

One of the subtexts to the Democratic posture in Iraq is the first Gulf War, which is considered an unalloyed success.  John Kerry, for instance, voted against the war, which in many ways wrecked his Presidential chances for 1992.  Sam Nunn had the same experience.  Bill Clinton, by contrast, never had a serious position on that war, and he went on from obscurity to the Presidency. He learned that wartime righteousness makes difficult politics when as a staffer in McGovern's campaign in 1972.

War is always weird politics.  Andrew Jackson's slaughter of Indians made him a powerful independent General, and his victory over the British in New Orleans allowed him to conduct his own personal diplomacy and eventually destroy the Virginia Presidential dynasty.  Wilson won reelection narrowly in 1916 under the slogan 'He kept us out of war' and claimed if you elect the opposition 'you elect war'.  He then went on to become the most abrasive and dictatorial wartime President we've ever had - the ACLU was founded in its aftermath.  Memories of the war and the 1918 flu kept Democrats from regaining the White House and Congress for ten years, and even then they did so only under enormous economic pressure.  FDR didn't serve as a soldier in WWI, but that didn't matter politically because profiteering had made WWI  irrelevant by the late 1920s.  

Abraham Lincoln voted against Polk's war with Mexico, which caused him tremendous political suffering.  A colleague who voted with him said"From now on, I'll vote for war, pestilence and famine." Lincoln and his peacenik brood even recruited war hero Zachary Taylor to run for President as a way of distancing themselves from their anti-war stance.  Then of course he became the most important wartime President ever, even though he hadn't served in wartime.  After the Civil War, the 'Bloody Shirt' cry from the Civil War to 1900 kept reams of veterans voting for the Republicans - pensions were granted to union soldiers and not confederates.

The Spanish American war is probably the most similar conflict to our situation with Iraq.  With no obvious rationale, it was heartily opposed by William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat, while the ascendant Republican Party oversaw a tremendous victory during a time of extravagant warmongering journalism.  It was begun under a ruse, with an accidental explosion of an American ship blamed on the Spaniards being the subtext.  And a 20 year guerilla war in the Phillippines, with brutal behavior by American troops, was the result.

Which brings us back to Iraq.  The first Gulf War gave Democrats whiplash.  While considered a remarkable political and military success, it was fairly evident at the time that Bush Sr.'s failed diplomacy had in fact helped cause the war.  The US had been supporting Iraq throughout the 1980s, and took a neutral position on Kuwaiti border security up until the invasion.  But the cut and dry military victory, which was paid for by other countries, helped send Bush's approval ratings to the high 80s, and scared off Democrats like Maria Cuomo from challenging him (hence Bill Clinton emerged).  There was a great skit on SNL, which showed various candidates competiting not to run against Bush (Cuomo bragged of his mob ties, for instance).  In case history hadn't made the case that pro-war politicians tended to succeed, the first Gulf War was a nice reminder to our political leadership class, which is still largely in power.  They were there.  They faced the attack ads.  They remember.

For Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and much of the 'strategic class', it was a seering episode and a confirmation that the right thing to do in foreign policy is rarely the politically smart thing to do.  For much of the 20th century, after killing/assimilating Native Americans domestically, America granted itself exceptional status abroad.  World War II and its immediate aftermath saw this attitude crystalize in its most munificent form, the other conflicts were less clear cut in moral and economic terms.

One of the reasons we're having such trouble with war politics is that we're in a new century, and both leadership groups are relying on old models. They have no effective framework to understand modern conflicts, and are attaching themselves to old and well-understood formulas.  The Cold War.  Saddam as Hitler.  Terrorism as Naziism.   Iraq as Vietnam.  Iraq II as Iraq I.  Anti-war as hippy.  

So help me out. What works? Where has anti-war politics been good politics? The last time we had a real choice in foreign policy was in 1972, where we had one person - McGovern - as overtly anti-war, and another - Nixon - with a 'secret plan' for victory. America chose the easy path instead of the right one. I'm not sure if we're at a similar kind of crossroads, but it's pretty clear that the challenges we're facing, global warming, energy depletion, and globalization, are different in kind if not degree from what we've faced before. So what kind of political model works to transition us away from isolationist nationalism to progressive internationalism? I realize it's not an entirely coherent question, but if you sense what I'm getting at, and have a historical example that seems relevant, let it fly below. Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?

Tags: General 2008 (all tags)



SNL skit
Sorry not to add anything substantive to this very well-written and thought out diary, but maybe in a way this is substantive, in how media images can embed themselves into our conciousness (both as a society and as individuals).

I was 16 in 1992, and not at all engaged in politics (like most 16 year olds). But I do remember watching that SNL skit, not totally understanding it, but I still remember Mario Cuomo repeatedly saying "I have mob ties!".

Today's equivalent? Maybe "But it's hard...it's hard work."

by LiberalFromPA 2005-11-24 02:57PM | 0 recs
Re: SNL skit
I was 13 at the time, and I had the same experience.  That is fascinating how moments are embedded via cultural symbols.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:52PM | 0 recs
The Hearst Empire was founded on a lie
The Spanish American war is probably the most similar conflict to our situation with Iraq.  With no obvious rationale, it was heartily opposed by William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat, while the ascendant Republican Party oversaw a tremendous victory during a time of extravagant warmongering journalism.

The birth of Yellow Journalism:

Hearst played a huge part in arousing the public's intention to go to war with Spain. This activity reached its zenith after several years of articles concerning the situation in Cuba, Hearst ran a series of articles blaming the Spanish for the sinking of the MAINE with a mine. Hearst's powerful articles pushed many Americans towards war with Spain. Because of his leading role in inciting the war, Hearst was nicknamed the "Father of Yellow Journalism."

The media has always been on the side of warmongers. War sells!

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-24 03:12PM | 0 recs
The M$M & War
From War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning:

The chief institutions that disseminate the myth are the press and the state.  . . . The blunders andd senseless slaughter by our generals, the execution of prisoners and innocents, and the horror of wounds are rarely disclosed, at least during a mythic war, to the public.  
                                   . . .

The potency of myth is that it allows us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-24 04:52PM | 0 recs
Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?

That's a tough question Matt. McGovern lost the election, but you can say that he won the war, because Nixon was finally forced to pull our troops out of Viet Nam. Even at that Vietnam is still America's Longest War.

Vietnam was very popular with the public until the late sixties. McGovern lost the election, but the public disapproval for Bush's war indicates that the public remembers the lessons of the Vietnam war, even if our political "leaders" do not. Public disenchantment with Bush's war has turned around 180 degrees in spite of the reluctance of the M$M to be objectively critical.

Common Dreams had a prescient article in May, On The Brink Of A Cronkite Moment. Sirota tried to spin a statement by Santorum as a Cronkite Moment, but Santorum didn't have the gravitas to fill Cronkite's shoes.

Murtha's opposition is accurately being recognized as the Cronkite Moment for Bush's war. Also here.

The proof of the pudding is that the Bush administration recognizes the truth and has started talking about withdrawal. Another name for a Cronkite Moment is The Tipping Point. Why on earth would Democrats try to be bigger hawks than the neo-cons? That's the path to insanity both politically and morally.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-24 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
McGovern lost the election, but you can say that he won the war, because Nixon was finally forced to pull our troops out of Viet Nam.

Nixon too campaigned on withdrawal.  Though that's not quite right, he campaigned on a specific type of withdrawal, the type that allowed the military industrial complex to flourish and cover up the problems it caused.  McGovern's message was that America should reexamine how it approached the world, and America said no thanks.

by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
Granted. But if McGovern had not been running against the war, would Nixon have even mentioned withdrawal? The problem with the current "stay the course" policy of the Democratic leadership is not just that it is morally bankrupt, but that it leaves the voters with a choice between warmongers.

Until Murtha spoke up. Now it looks like Bush and the next Republican nominee will be running against Bush's war and the Democratic nominees will be trying to run as compassionate warmongers or more effective warmongers or whatever the frame du jour is that the strategic class experts come up with.

Of course one possibility is that McCain vs. Hillary will be a choice between two warmongers. In that event Bush's war will have an very high probability of becoming America's Longest War. Eight years under Bush and eight years under McCain or Hillary and we will set a new record.

McGovern's message was that America should reexamine how it approached the world, and America said no thanks.

Judging by the polls, America is finally ready to examine how we approach the world. Murtha was spot on about the American people being far ahead of their leaders in opposing Bush's war.

An interesting question. Why are the American people turning against the war? As much as Limbaugh and his dittoheads complain about the media, the M$M has certainly not been leading the charge against Bush's war. Until very recently Feingold was the only Democrat who was opposed to Bush's war.

If Americans are not turning against Bush's war because of the M$M or Democratic opposition, what has been moving the polls? Not Cindy Sheehan or the anti-war demonstrations. Perhaps soldier stories from Iraq to their families back home? There doesn't appear to be a single powerful force that is moving opinion polls.

The resistance to this war is far broader and far deeper than it was even at the tail end of the Vietnam War. The popularity of the Vietnam War did not fade until after Cronkite finally condemned it during Nixon's second term.

Maybe America learned the right lesson from Vietnam after all and we just didn't know it.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-24 05:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
In 1968, Nixon campaigned as being largely against the war - at least, against the way it was conducted.  Nixon said, "Anyone who has had four years and has not produced peace does not deserve another chance." (August 1972) Some of us tried to use this quote of his against him in 1972.
by ignatz 2005-11-24 05:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
And after he was re-elected (or during the campaign?) Nixon used the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel". Troop levels were lowered, but there was a massive escalation of bombing that included secret bombing in Laos and Cambodia.

The American people were deeply and bitterly divided, but "peace with honor" was the catch phrase, with much the same policy inflections as "stay the course" has today. A big part of the psychological problem was the unthinkable idea of America being defeated and losing a war.

I think the American people have a far more sophisticated outlook on war than the neo-cons and the Democratic hawks have been giving them credit for. The old expression about Generals fighting the last war seems to apply. Bush, McCain, Biden, Clinton and Feinstein are all fighting the last war. They are viewing the American people through an outdated historical lens.

I don't see any other explanation for the dramatic movement in public opinion. The lesson of Vietnam may be embedded in the American psyche, a gut level rejection of another fifteen year was. We will tolerate rapid military victories with very low casualties like Grenada and Kosovo. We will not tolerate another incompetently executed fifteen year war.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-24 07:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Morally Right vs. Politically Smart
An historical side-note.  Something that we know now (several sources at the link) that we didn't know then: In 1968 Nixon sent an emmisary to the South Vietnamese government telling them that if they didn't sign a peace agreement being worked out by LBJ at the time, Nixon would get them a better deal if elected.  So it was Nixon keepig the war going while campaigning that LBJ couldn't end the war.

Then, once in office Nixon kept the war going until 1972 so he could "end it" to help get re-elected.  (Sources here, here, here)  In October, 1972, just before the election, with Nixon running against an anti-war candidate, Kissinger announced a breakthrough in the peace talks, saying "Peace is at hand."  Never mind that it wasn't - after the election came the "Christmas bombing" campaign.

by davej 2005-11-25 03:06PM | 0 recs
I don't have a clue.
But when you started on the litany of what other baskets are available to go to hell in, it occured to  me that really the war might be irrelevant by 2008, and even for 2006.

People get it already. The war was a wasteful flop, lets move on.

Remember Clinton came in on "it's the economey stupid". Yea we'll have that one again as well as 'it's global warming stupid" or "it's the end of fossil fuels, stupid." Of course those are the realities and when have the voters voted real politic stuff. Yea, maybe 1932.

by Jeff Wegerson 2005-11-24 04:12PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't have a clue.
Off topic, Jeff.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:49PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't have a clue.
My bad? You were looking narrowly for historical examples where anti-war politics worked? I answered that such an historical need might be irrelevant. Maybe I haven't answered your question, but it still maybe nicks the topic target.
by Jeff Wegerson 2005-11-25 06:50AM | 0 recs
Here's a clue.
Maybe Jeff has a clue and, um, others are missing it.

In 1952 Gen. Eisenhower was elected during the highly
unpopular Korean War. He did not campaign against it
or condemn Truman for getting into it, as I recall.
He simply said that he would "go to Korea" and
thereby implied that he would end the war.

Ike was supremely vague about how or when or
what he would do, wonderfully clear and simple
in a phrase or two -- I will go to Korea -- in
conveying what he would do, end the war.

Meanwhile he campaigned vigorously on other issues.

So maybe the Democrats' path should be Ike's--
Keep It Simple Stupid, we'll end the war and move on.

How? We will figure that out when we take office
and can talk with everybody involved, but we
WILL end the war. It's actually pretty easy to
end a war if you want to. Ike did it, damn,
even Nixon did it.

In this next campaign, we should not bog down in
who voted for it before they voted against it,
or who knew what and when they knew it.

Instead rely on a variation of the clear and simple
statement that "It is time for a change in Iraq."

We should be campaigning about to have Medicare
start at age 50 and cover all kids under age 10,
and on other powerful and forward looking issues.
Talk about what Democrats plan to do AFTER
the end of the war in Iraq. Let us and the voters
take for granted that the unpopular and failed war
WILL soon be ended.

by Woody 2005-11-25 07:04AM | 0 recs
Interesting but tough analogy.
Eisenhower had a lot of advantages in 1952 that we probably won't have in 2008.  He was running against an electorally-weak and politically-"soft" opponent, and he was General Eisenhower.  Stevenson wasn't enough of a threat to force Eisenhower to talk specifics on the record.  Plus his reputation as a Defender of America was absurdly impeccable.  He was trusted with defense and foreign policy implicitly.

Neither our party nor any of our likely candidates will have the immense credibility, nor the weak opponents, that allowed Eisenhower to say little and coast to victory.  If the Bush Administration continues imploding, if Scanlon-Abramoff hits the press in a big way, if a shattered party nominates a weak contender, and if the mainstream power brokers (press, press owners, Wall Street, K street) refuse to lend the Rs any strength, then yeah, HRC can win without ever really saying anything specific, much like Eisenhower or FDR.  But absent that, or in the case of a strong challenge from McCain, we'll need to say something quite a bit more concrete than Eisenhower ever had to.

That being said, your argument is still interesting.  We certainly need to have a robust non-Iraq platform, need to run on that centrally in 2008, and then, if challenged by someone who's strong enough to force us on the record, say, "look, you've exiled us for 40 years, we know how to run things now, we promise to run them right."  And if a 60 point victory and a couple houses of Congress come along, we'll have the breathing room to govern sensibly without fearing our own shadow and the Scary Republicans.

by texas dem 2005-11-25 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't have a clue.
It reminds me of the native with one bind eye that wandered into the jungle and discovered a
large elephant.The creatures' name was liviathan.
For pulling up tree trunks and carrying large numbers of natives,the creature was useful. The enterprising native felt around the beast, until
he reached the trunk. His task was to feel every part to discover its whole. The natives' excursion ended at the trunk. The elephant made no accomodation for the natives' need for enlightenment Only an impatient assualt concluded the relationship! That is where our problem begins and ends.Whether it is noble to
suffer the slings and arrows of outragious fortune or by opposition, end them!
No Sunshine patriot  
by northwest 2005-11-28 11:57AM | 0 recs
A questionable strategy
Your simple question has what is perhaps a simple answer.  The reason that the peace vote has never been politically successful is that it has never been framed correctly.  Perhaps I am thinking too high mindedly, but it seems that most politicians that are unwilling to go to war are also unwilling to frame a vote for peace for political gain.

Upon inspection however, I am only half right.

After all, the most successful campaign advertisement in the history of campaign advertisements is in fact an anti-war one.  Barry Goldwater was too hawkish and he got slammed on it.  It's something the DNC has done before, but to do it today would really require one of two things.

  1. Democrats must really, truely, and honestly believe in an anti-war platform.

  2. Barring condition one, then Democrats must be willing to accept that a massive, completely negative campaign could both backfire, and depending on morals/ethics, give them problems sleeping at night.

It is impossible to argue against war logically;  Americans simply have too many basic assumptions and posit too much about American military might.

To put that another way, the vast majority of Americans believe we can win any war short of nuclear, if we would just really, really put our minds to it.  For reference, consider Vietnam.  Reports of daily body counts worked well because America was viewed as sending a very technological force to wreak havoc on primative peoples.  Honestly, how could we lose, right?

Perhaps this is why we use war as such a catch-all term.  We have a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on racism, etc.  Somehow I imagine that this term is not as popular in other mass democracies.  Either way, I think that we tend to percieve the broad notion of "war" as an often costly struggle leading to eventual and redeeming victory.

What then, are American voters, as a majority, willing to accept about an anti-war position?

Firstly, they will accept that while our ultimate victory is exceedingly likely if we expend enough resources, they accept that this can be very costly in terms of both resources and human lives.

Secondly, as a corrolary to the first, they will accept that perhaps the people in power are simply too incompetent to prosecute the war correctly.

This leaves the Democrats with two alternatives.  The first is to be more hawkish than the hawks, but that strategy only makes sense if you feel committed to resolving what we've already messed up in Iraq.  The other alternative is to make a very emotional case against American intervention in general and the war in Iraq specifically.

I suspect that this will be the cause of a split in the Democratic party that will (if it hasn't already) weaken it in the midterm elections and in the following presidential cycle.  After all, reasonable democrats can disagree about whether or not we have an obligation to Iraq now that we've entered it.

However, if you want to take the second path, which I suspect you do, well, politically, that faction of the Democrats must slit a wrist and hope it isn't theirs.  It requires a sustained media campaign not unlike the advertisement I mentioned previously.

It will have to show bodies.  It will have to show pictures of soldiers who are now dead.  It will have to present the Republicans as killers. It will have to tug at the heartstrings, because tugging at the cerebral cord simply will not work on this issue.

by Shanoyu 2005-11-24 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: A questionable strategy
"Democrats must really, truly, and honestly believe in an anti-war platform."

That is why the vote is congress for immediate withdrawal was so important.  If they "really, truly" believe in the anti-war platform they would have vote for it.

The fact is, they took the vote as a trap.  They believe politically they can't take the risk.  It shows the mix of politics and policy there by reducing the effectiveness of the movement.

by Classical Liberal 2005-11-25 03:19AM | 0 recs
Wartime Politics
William Lloyd Garrison, in opposing slavery wrote:  "I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."  We may or may not have reached a tipping in point in Iraq--after Murtha, I believe we have.   I think we have to commit oursleves to a a reasoned and careful withdrawal.  Let's declare victory and get out.  The Democratic leadership has the cover of Murtha's position to rally around.  McGovern was principled; Nixon was elected.  Let history judge who was correct.
by MD in MA 2005-11-24 04:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Wartime Politics
You didn't answer the question.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:51PM | 0 recs
No Loyalty for War Presidents
As you point out, Bush I's success in the first gulf war did not translate into durable political capital.  He lost re-election.  

Truman oversaw WWII victory celebrations, and the successful defense of South Korea, and he became a pariah in 50's era politics.  

The great Winston Churchill, who led Britain as it stood alone against the Nazi war machine, the man who mobilized the English language and sent it to war against the Germans, led his party to defeat in the election of 1945.  "I could hardly accept His Majesty's offer of the Garter when his people have given me the Order of the Boot."

When people weary of war, they toss out the war-mongers.  The people are tired of the Bush war, and have turned against him.  If the Democratic party had been able to articulate a coherent mainstream opposition to this vicious extremism, we would be in a position to take congress and impeach Bush, but oh well, we will see what happens.  

by Winston Smith 2005-11-24 04:36PM | 0 recs
Re: No Loyalty for War Presidents
interesting - I'll have to read up on Churchill in 1945.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:51PM | 0 recs
Strategic Error
Wes Clark in the 04'election pointed out the fatal flaw in the Bush policy of the neocons in Iraq, that it is based on ideology and not on facts or reality based strategic vision. The result is historical failure. The elections of 06' and 08' will be about Iraq and the theme that we must take care of America first. The Katrina failure highlighted the Iraq failure. We cannot sustain empire and we must live in a world where we take care of America within America's boundaries and America's needs.

Democrats need to talk about priorities. It must be a progressive version of Buchanaan's "America First" slogan. When we speak of foreign and military policy, when we speak of trade, when we speak of accesss to health care, education and economic security, Democrats must speak about priorities for Americans. What's more important, occupying foreign countries and chasing illusions of empire, or rebuilding our national infrastructure of well-being?

by cmpnwtr 2005-11-24 04:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Strategic Error
off topic
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-24 04:49PM | 0 recs
that post was great -- esp. the last paragraph
"voting for peace" is the wrong way of looking at it. if i was voting for peace, i'd vote green party. although i hate it that there's only two national parties that can win in our two party system, i still vote for the democrats (nationally) and hope they can get past this "iraq: good or bad?" question and start asking "terrorism: where can we agree on policy and frame it to make political sense to the public?"

the framing thing, although overemphasized lately, is important. if we can get rid of the cold war-style approach to going after states for what they might harbor (and get rid of cold warriors like rumsfeld and his crew), then we'd be on to something.

i think reframing the debate around the crime model would be the best bet for dems. as shanoyu said, it's not like we're going to out-hawk republicans, and being anti-war is an option either ... the public wouldn't stand for an anti-war party right now, as much as I'd support it. so -- maybe we have to stop focusing ONLY on going after terror once it's happened, but talking about what causes it, as we do with crime.

democrats stress being tough on criminals once they commit crimes, but also want to do things to prevent crime in the first place. obviously the country's a little tired of the us policing the world, so I think the only way for the dems to succeed in foreign policy now is to talk about the un constantly.

it'd go something like...
"we need eyes around the world to prevent terror, but republicans under george bush forced the un out of iraq and alienated the world. when the world can't work together against terrorism, we all lose."
"throwing terrorists in secret camps doesn't get to the problems about why they're there in the first place -- the un should be building up these countries and helping these people, so we never have another taliban"
"republican and democrat presidents have always shunned the un for their own power; we now must lead the un to stop genocide and terrorism before they start"
any opposition would be challenged with "well, do you want this nation to become the next afghanistan?"

and with china and asia on the rise, we need our allies more than ever. it's tough to get americans to think internationally but if we talk about terrorism as a method, of people in failed states and theocratic governments, we can argue that the un is the only way to exert enough pressure on these governments to change, or "nation build" to get them where they need to be.

or no?

by jessev 2005-11-24 04:55PM | 0 recs
My only advice about the new century
 and the politics of war and concepts like these is that this century is where we once and for all stop trying to create politics by idealogical catch-all utopias. Maybe it's just me- or mabye it's just that I have watched the fall of communism, heard about Nazism, watched the excess of the religion that is present free market crony capitalism, seen from a far the problems with theocratic regimes and watched the imperfections that exist even in liberal democracies, but I am tired of theories. I will take a concrete solution that improves peoples lives over a romantic theory any day. My theory, if you want to talk about international progressivism, is that I would rename this century, if I were inclined to label it what would be my utopian idea- it would be renaming this the century of pragmatism where the thing we promise is that we will do the best that we can even if it's not perfection to make the total of people lives better.  From there, once you try to start to do more than this- and try to come up with some specific theory that is going to be a catch all for everyone- I think you start to get into trouble.
by bruh21 2005-11-24 05:05PM | 0 recs
Re: My only advice about the new century
In the spirit of the holidays, I should point out that this theory of life was provided to me by my great grandmother whom I am thankful for having known
by bruh21 2005-11-24 05:09PM | 0 recs
Re: My only advice about the new century
Why anti-war messages candidates don't work in the american electorate is several things. 1. The avg. Americna do not want to look weak. 2.The anti-war candidates tend to hold a number of other views a lot of  Americans don't agree with. 3. one issue candidates don't tend to win. 4.Americans want a strong leader and anti-war candidates tend to look week. 5. The activists that tend to follow a candidate like this usually are counter culture and are seen as threatening to the General public and that threatening sense is transfered onto the candidate.    
by orin76 2005-11-24 06:12PM | 0 recs
Once a country is whipped into a jingoistic frenzy
It's very hard to stop things.

Just look what happened to the socialist parties in the summer of 1914. All the declarations about the brotherhood of the proleratiat went out the window.

And the few brave voices, like Jean Jaures, were eliminated.

by Cyt 2005-11-24 06:37PM | 0 recs
A candidate for his time...
It has always interested me that the British voters "gave the boot" to the great Winston in the aftermath of WWII. I think the analogy of GHWB after the Gulf War is less instructive; there were other factors, i.e., he pissed off his base, perot, Buchanan's convention speech, etc.

Clinton was a credible candidate in '92 and given the lay of the land, he just happened to be what a plurality of voters were looking for.  I suspect many of the voters who voted for Perot eventually came to support Clinton in '96 over Dole.

I think the problem with being pro-war/anti-war and trying to figure out where you, as the candidate, stands is the problem.  You have to have a credible position.  It can not be a position arrived at for political convenience.  This may be the strength of Murtha's position.  Not many people believe he has changed his position for political gain.

It is evident where the voters are today with respect to the Iraq war. It seems little risky to assume where they will be in 12 months time.  That was not the case in 2002 but in 2004 the case was trending to the position we now find ourselves in.

I actually suspect that the voters are so damn tired of war, war, war all talk, all the time, that they'd like it just find if someone would come along and say, "It's the economy, stupid."

Or, more to the point, "can we talk about something else already?"  The position of the voter is clear on Iraq.  Embrace that position and PIVOT immediately to what the voter wants to talk about now.  

So, PointGuard, as a candidate for the Senate of the United States, what's your position on the Iraq war?  "Thank you, Tim, for asking that question.  On this point, I am in total agreement with the American People. I think we're about finished over there and it's time to wrap things up and come on home. We need to focus our efforts on rebuilding the gulf coast, fixing the health care debacle, strengthening our education system and infusing new vigor into the clandestine fight against these outlawed extremist groups."

But, Mr. PointGuard, won't Iraq deteriorate into just another alfghanistan?  "I don't think so, Tim."  "Seriously, I have faith that the Iraqi people will demand from their leaders law and order. They deserve that chance. I believe they will succeed and we will offer assistance as they make requests. Meanwhile, our primary focus needs to be on reinvogorating our job growth engine here at home, creating good jobs for our citizens, addressing the immigration issue, protecting the civil liberties of our citizens from the demagogues in our own midst as well as ridding our government from the K-street criminal gangs."

Good Luck and Good Night,

by PointGuard 2005-11-24 06:53PM | 0 recs
War protest politics
   I'm as confused as Matt Stoller about wartime politics, as expressed in his excellent original post. But here's what I think is true: If a majority of the American people believe a war is ill-conceived or badly executed or stupid or futile, that opinion will find a political voice. It may or may not be smart politically (see: Geo. McGovern) but it is absolutely inevitable that someone will come along to give voice to what people are thinking.
   People may or may not know that Bush lied us into war. They may or may not have thought, six months or a year ago, the war was okay and Bush knew what he was doing. But right now, in my view, they want out. Period.
   Someone is going to come along to say that. And he or she will have my vote.
by John Hyde 2005-11-24 07:00PM | 0 recs
From an aging hippie
Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?

That's an easy one. War is always wrong if you are not attacked or coming to the aid of another who is under attack. I think the American people are finally getting it.

So what kind of political model works to transition us away from isolationist nationalism to progressive internationalism?

 WWJD? Would we be able to use the religious feelings of our so called Christian nation to promote peace on earth good will toward men? Is there a voice out there who could explain the benefits of listening to and understanding our "enemies"?

If we had done that after 9/11, we never would have invaded Iraq. People will understand that if there is a clear voice to remind them of what happened, ie-inspectors were on the ground, Bush pulled them out, Bush refused to wait for them to finish.

Can we get back to the Coca Cola song "I'd like to teach the world to sing"? I know I'm showing my age and perhaps my naivete but I think people are sick of the death and destruction. Maybe they're ready to listen to the voice of reason. Killing only begets more killing.


by mpower1952 2005-11-24 07:07PM | 0 recs
Re: From an aging hippie

See, this is exactly what I am talking about.  It is a misread to ascribe to the American People more nobility than they actually possess.  I, for one, do not believe in the idea that this is a Christian Nation, nor are a significant number of voters, including the hard right hypocrites, inclined toward the honest teachings of Jesse.  Forget about it.  

We are what we are and one thing that we most assuredly are is a people that don't like being wrong or being had.  If you are going to tell us that we are wrong about ourselves, you better have planned your escape in advance.  

We want someone who agrees with us.  Period.  We are saying "enough of the war already".  Candidates who go soft in the spine, and start singing, "we are the world" will not pass muster with the voters.  If you're going to sing peace and love songs, you're best advised to confine your singing to the showers.

Just because we are tired of this war, war, war shit, doesn't mean we won't be ready when the next one comes along.  Sorry, if you're looking for the Kingdom of Heaven, you won't find it in the good ole U.S. of A.

Again, embrace as fact that we're pretty much needing to just wrap things up militarily in Iraq and move on to the issues that voters are concerned about.  It is likely to be a mistake to let Iraq continue to crowd out all other issues that are important to the voters.


by PointGuard 2005-11-24 07:23PM | 0 recs
Still crazy after all these years
I, for one, do not believe in the idea that this is a Christian Nation, nor are a significant number of voters, including the hard right hypocrites, inclined toward the honest teachings of Jesse.

Remember, I said "so called" Christian nation. I agree with your take but I guess I wanted to use Jesus to shame them into doing the right thing.

The position of the voter is clear on Iraq.  Embrace that position and PIVOT immediately to what the voter wants to talk about now.

I read your first post after I wrote mine. I liked your Mr. Pointguard responses. Your PIVOT was perfect. I guess I'm too idealistic and really want to do something to help make the world less full of hate. Bush has done so much to turn people in other countries against us that I think an honest effort at understanding our "enemies" would turn back the clock to our pre-Iraq image.

Do I think enough Americans would allow it? No, not really.

by mpower1952 2005-11-24 07:57PM | 0 recs
Another reason to avoid pro/anti politics
Think of America as a great ship.  Trying to turn the ship 180 degress just ain't going to happen.  It is a very gradual process.  Those who advocate the 180 degree turn are not viewed as credible by anyone not inebriated on the same kool-aid. So the first thing to do is recognize where we are at in the turning process.  

Obviously, in 2002, there was not a winnable position to take for the anti-war crowd.  Why? Because, like it or not, americans are easily moved to war.  We don't like the consequences of war, but we don't think about that until the chips are down, hence the effort to hide the body bags, etc.

The turning of the ship was already in process but went unnoticed until Howard Dean stepped to the microphone in the 2004 election campaign.  All along the way, up to that point and continuing, there have been many brave sacrifices that have given their efforts to turning the ship.  The vast majority of those sacrifices will never be rewarded, not in this life.  They rarely, if ever, are.  It's the nature of the beast, of which we are all a part.

In 2005, the ship has virtually completed the turn, we just need someone (like Murtha) to acknowledge that and we'll give them the helm.  We don't need convincing that it's time to turn the ship, it has already been turned.  We just need someone to acknowledge that and move on.

Part of the moving on had better be couching the turning process as consistent with our illusions. Hence, we are just about finished there and need to wrap things up and come on home.  

The administration set out with a grand illusion for Iraq.  They staffed the CPA with campaign hacks and sought to build the new Iraq into a panacea of conservative utopia.  None of it worked.  Today, we're lucky if we don't eventually end up with another Iran in the vast part of Iraq (Shite South).  The mission we signed up for was regime change.  The old regime is gone and on Dec 15th, for good or bad, a new regime will be in place, elected by the people of Iraq. That's probably the best we can do.

We cannot, nor should we, ask our brave young sons and daughters, to be the Iraqi police force.  The country has a sincere desire to be rid of foreign occupation forces.  We've done what we set out to do for the most part, albeit in perhaps the most clumsy way imaginable.  It's time to let the Iraqi's be Iraqi again.

* * * * *

There are some things to take note of here in regards to the original post.  First, the anti war/peace now crowd are necessary but they'll never carry the day in american politics.  It's just not in the blood and I'm highly doubtful that it ever will be.  

Second, timing is everything.  So finding the right time for the right message (articulated by one credible leader) is the key to taking the helm.  Now, there are a lot of folks who want desparately to take the helm, but alas, they were sacrificed in the turning of the ship, and therefore, have limited credibility remaining.  

What? That don't make sense, does it?  I mean, they were proved right. Right?  Well, it all depends on what your definition of right is.  Being the leader isn't so much about the leader as it is about those who follow.  If you look at the "guys down south with the confederate flags in their pickups", they would argue that you were wrong no matter whether you were right or not.  Why? Because, they ain't about to say they were wrong when it means they've got to go along with some namby, mamby, sissy.  Secretly, deep down, they may agree with the left, but that's like latent liberalism or something, best avoid that kind of shit. I mean, what would the guys think?

Politics is psychology. I don't know who has the best claim on the american psyche but if you're position is we lost in Iraq and just need to get out, then I think you'll lose.  If, however, you articulate something of the above philosophy, then I think most people would jump at the chance to agree with you.


by PointGuard 2005-11-24 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Another reason to avoid pro/anti politics
Obviously, in 2002, there was not a winnable position to take for the anti-war crowd.

I don't agree.  In 2002, there was no issue of turning 180 degrees, because the country hadn't embarked on its course yet.  In 2002, opposing the Iraq invasion altogether was very smart politics for Democrats.  Unfortunately, too few of them could see that.  See my comment further down for more on that.

by cos 2005-11-25 05:36AM | 0 recs
all wars the same??
The problem you are having, Matt, and the problem that the Democratic leadership had in 1990, was the idea that one is either 'pro-war' or 'anti-war'.  In fact, the American 'mob' is a bit more sophisticated than that.  

Iraq War I was popular for a number of reasons, but one that seems to be ignored a lot is this: Saddam Hussein actually invaded another country.  Americans are far more willing to help repel a foreign invader than to get mired in what is essentially a civil war.  There are moral arguments to be made here, but also practical ones.  Repelling a foreign power has a much greater likelihood of earning the adoration of the people in the land where fighting is occurred, as opposed to merely walking in and toppling a government.

When is anti-war politics good politics?  Well, pro-war politics are only good politics either when a nation is being menaced by another power (which is certainly not the case for the US today) or when the population has sunk (yet again!) into a memory-free zone where the prospect of war is associated with victory and glory, as opposed to death and destruction.  Sadly, the negative lessons of war appear to need be relearned by every generation.  

I have no idea why McGovern was clobbered in 1972; I was only 4 at the time.  But it's myopic to think that an anti-war policy cannot win an election.  Focusing only on the US and only on the past 50 years is your problem.  Gerhard Schroeder won an election a couple years back in Germany by opposing the Iraq war.  

The problem with the 'models' that you cite is that they are typically based on one or two historical events and then fall apart when the underlying variables change, as they always do in history.  They're really not 'models', per se.  

Rather than think 'pro-war good, anti-war bad', why not think about what the psychology involved is?  With the so-called 'war on terror', it appears that the motivation, at least for the public, is fear of terrorism.  If you are anti-Iraq invasion, as I have been, the problem is that invading Iraq brings us no closer to stopping terrorism.  Indeed, it may well have made the goal harder to reach.

So if this is your position, then the challenge is conveying the pointlessness of the war to the public.  To do that, you'll have to weather withering comments from the self-interested warmongers.  But it can be done.

And consider this: the public may be 'cured' of the Iraq warmongering far more quickly than we were of the Vietnamese warmongering.  This change is itself a sign of progress, though the existence of the invasion itself is a sign that the US is very far from being ideal.  

by RickD 2005-11-25 04:30AM | 0 recs
Pro war wasnt politically smart for LBJ
Being pro-war didn't work out for Lyndon Johnson. The Vietnam War was already a catatrophe, and he recognized that, when the time came for him to announce his re-election plans. He saw that he needed to retire.
by De Re Rustica 2005-11-25 05:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Pro war wasn't politically smart for LBJ
It is not correct to say that the Vietnam War
was "popular" before 1968. It was "supported"
by LBJ and most American voters at the time
who were trapped in a belief system based
on two important lessons.

From Munich we learned a bitter lesson that
appeasement did not stop a war. The give-away
of Czechoslovakia at Munich only made Hitler
stronger and bolder and greedier.

From the post-World War II response to Soviet
empire building, we learned the value of
containment. Let them take Hungary and
Bulgaria and they will try to take Greece.
But draw the line, say "do not pass" and
"no more", build a network of alliances
to stop them from picking off first one
weak country then another, and the empire's
expansion can be stopped.

Later most of us came to see that these valid
lessons did not really apply to Vietnam. It was
not an attempted takeover of one country by
another. It was not empire building by the
Communist regimes in China or Russia. It
was essentially a civil war. We had no business
being there. ( Indeed, after we got out, no
string of dominoes fell. )

When Americans saw that Vietnam was a civil war
that WE could not win, they were ready to get out.

In Gulf War I, the lessons of Munich seemed to
apply again. Do not let an empire builder snatch
one weak country or he will go after another one
until war is inevitable, so stop it sooner than later.
So that war was supported, then and now I'd say.

( BTW. Why Kerry voted against Gulf War I bothered me
much more than that he voted for this one before he
voted against it. That vote did suggest a muddle on
the lesson of Munich. )

Bush 41 lost on other issues, because the war
was over. Job well done, GHWB, but let's move on.
Now it's the economy stupid. Neither Perot nor
Clinton ran against the war -- because  Gulf War I
was fought under the lesson learned at Munich.

Bush 41's situation was similar to Churchill's --
Thanks for a job well done, but we are moving on,
and you are not the man to lead our country
in a post-war world. The voters then did not care
how England got into the war against Germany.
They cared about how their country would be
managed in peacetime.

Now again voters are recognizing that Gulf War II
does not follow from the lessons about appeasement
and containment. This war is another mistake. And
they are ready to get out and get on with issues of
a post-war world. We do not need a backward looking
campaign of blame and investigation. We need
a campaign that assumes an end to a war that
Americans do not support, and looks to the issues
that will affect their future.

by Woody 2005-11-25 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Pro war wasnt politically smart for LBJ
Actually, LBJ ran as the more peace-seeking candidate in 1964.  The hawk was Goldwater who wanted to add troops in Vietnam.
by Raenelle 2005-11-25 08:08AM | 0 recs
Where has anti-war politics been good politics?
Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?


Most people thought that voting for the Iraq force authorization was the politically safe thing to do, because polls showed a majority of Americans supported the war.  They were wrong.  If you looked more closely at the better polls, you could see support for the war was shallow, opposition was deep.  Among people who said Iraq was likely to be their #1 issue, or very likely to affect their vote for Congress, an strong majority opposed invading Iraq.  But among the significantly larger set of people, for whom Iraq was a less important issue and not likely to be the key to their vote for Congress, support for the war was very high.

We would have seen this enter the national discourse if Paul Wellstone hadn't died.  He'd been locked in a 50/50 race with his opponent until he voted against the Iraq war, and suddenly his poll numbers shot up to a lead of 7%-9%.  And then he died, before the nation really had a chance to notice.  If he'd actually won the election by a solid 55+ to 44- , which is where he was heading, the sudden jump right when he voted against the war would have shone brightly.

As it was, there were only a handful of Representatives in competitive races who voted against invading Iraq.  Without exception, they saw jumps in their poll numbers, and they were re-elected.  But Wellstone was the only Senator in that position, so the story got lost.

by cos 2005-11-25 05:16AM | 0 recs
Re: anti-war politics been good politics
"As it was, there were only a handful of Representatives in competitive races who voted against invading Iraq.  Without exception, they saw jumps in their poll numbers, and they were re-elected."

Could you give me some examples of names of these Representatives you cite?

by jgarcia 2005-11-25 05:47PM | 0 recs
Historical comparisons
My first comment - I'm a writer mainly on British politics.

I would first separate off two categories of war - total wars and engagements. A total war (such as 1914-18 or 1939-45) changes everything. It throws social structures, the economic system and demographics into new alignments,accelerates technology, poses a physical threat to tthe survival of huge numbers of people and raises new political issues. The electoral consequences of total wars are not, once they're over, so much about the conduct of the war itself but in realignment to new issues caused by the immense social and economic changes that result from the war.

Hence it is perfectly comprehensible for Churchill to have been ousted in 1945. Attention in that election focused on what was to come in the post-war world, and Labour's strong support for the welfare state was popular. Although many Conservatives spoke in favour too, the party was not trusted for several reasons - unemployment in the 1930s, the failure of previous grand promises in 1918 to be implemented, and also the fact that the Conservative Party leadership had despised Churchill and rejected his advice in 1931-39. There was a clear gap between Churchill the great wartime leader (under whose leadership Labour and Liberal ministers served) and the idea of a postwar Conservative government.

Engagements are different. They have fewer ramifications for society and the economy, the average citizen's life is not affected much if at all, and their importance is in what they say about the nature of the governmental system and foreign policy - they are treated as a political issue, albeit very important among political issues. (A war may be an engagement for one side and total war for the other - as Vietnam was for the US and the Vietnamese respectively.)

A short, successful, low-casualty engagement is generally nothing but good news for the regime that sponsors it - crude feelings of national pride may be stirred up, and there is an image of competence and decisiveness. Classic cases are the first Gulf War and the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina. History is littered with such examples - the 1900 'khaki election' in Britain and the German 'Hottentot election' of 1907 are early cases.

However, if an engagement drags on, produces mounting casualties for little gain, or produces poor results, it questions the image of national pride and also the executive competence of those who engaged in it. The British expeditions in South Africa and Sudan in the 1870s and 1880s are an example. An interesting example is the Australian intervention in Vietnam. The Labor Party (ALP) opposed the war in 1966 when it was popular, and were trounced in the election. By 1969 the ALP had a more equivocal phased withdrawal policy, the war was unpopular, and the ALP nearly won. The right-wing government started to scale back troops. In 1972 the ALP won and pulled out.

Australia in 1969-72 is a rare example of peace politics working. Another marginal example is 1922, when the coalition under Lloyd George in Britain collapsed. One of the issues was LL.G's adventurism in foreign policy which had seen intervention in Russia and the Baltic and risked confrontation with Turkey. The Conservatives pulled out of the coalition and won the election on the basis of a more conventional foreign policy.

Unless a war involves a real social revolution, I'm afraid that the electoral consequences are more about competence than morality.

I've been very interested by the discussion on this thread.

by Lewis Baston 2005-11-25 05:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Historical comparisons
Great comment, Lewis.  Very helpful.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-25 05:52AM | 0 recs
Where has anti-war politics been good politics? II
Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?

Yitzchak Rabin

Unfortunately, another case where the hero of the story died, but in this case, he certainly lived long enough to show that peacemaking can be politically smart.  It made him tremendously popular and powerful, and had he lived, he would have continued using that power and prestige to really build peace, and I doubt anyone could have challenged him seriously at election time.

In an unfortunate series of events, the next chance came with Ehud Barak, who won a landslide election on a platform of peacemaking, but turned out to be fairly incompetent at actually governing, and alienated an important part of his base (Israeli Arabs) by treating them with severe disrespect.  In the next election, new Labor party head Mitzna should have been the next example that peace politics is smart politics, but he just wasn't given enough time, and when Labor lost the election, even though it was entirely the fault of policies he had opposed, he had to leave.  But now, Labor is once again being revived from obscurity by a peacemaker, it seems: Amir Peretz defeated Shimon Peres (who was largely responsible both for failing to carry on after Rabin, and for Mitzna's defeate) for party leadership two weeks ago, and his first act was to pull the party out of coalition with Likud, which suddenly resulted in Likud falling apart, and Labor strengthening in polls.  I don't know if he'll pull it off, but it is clearly smart politics, and there's a very good chance.

by cos 2005-11-25 05:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Where has anti-war politics been good politics
I thought Barak lost the next election.
by Matt Stoller 2005-11-25 05:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Where has anti-war politics been good politics
I thought Barak lost the next election

Yes.  As I wrote:
In an unfortunate series of events, the next chance came with Ehud Barak, who won a landslide election on a platform of peacemaking, but turned out to be fairly incompetent at actually governing, and alienated an important part of his base (Israeli Arabs) by treating them with severe disrespect.

Then his government fell (because he was not good at running a government) and he lost badly (because Arabs mostly did not turn out, and those who did did not vote for him).  In his first run, he won by a landslide - that's when people were voting for the ideas of peace.  In his second run, people had seen how Barak, the individual, ran a government, and many of them didn't like it.  It still fits into the narrative of peace being smart politics, it's just that this chapter of the narrative involves an otherwise very flawed Prime Minister.

by cos 2005-11-25 11:03AM | 0 recs
Where has anti-war politics been good politics? 3
Howard Dean and John Kerry

Howard Dean's strong opposition to the Iraq war was clearly very smart politics (though that's not why he did it), and was a significant factor in making him one of the only 2 candidates who had a chance at the nomination (Edwards had zero chance, but that's a topic for another post).

John Kerry thought voting for Iraq resolution was politically smart.  In fact, the day he did it, that was my immediate thought: "He's doing this because he thinks voting against it will hurt him when he runs for president".  He was very very wrong.  Not only did it nearly torpedo his bid for the nomination, but once he got the nomination, it severely weakened his ability to run against Bush.  I have little doubt that a John Kerry who had voted against that resolution, would have won that election.

by cos 2005-11-25 05:29AM | 0 recs
Different Parallels
The Spanish American War was a quick, relatively painless response to a perceived attack on Americans (the sinking of the Maine).  The parallel to this 400 casualty war is Afghanistan.

The quagmire of Iraq has its own parallel, the messy little warcalled the Phillipine Insurrection (over 4,000 dead) that followed.

Just Remember, Democrats channel their inner FDR.  Republicans channel their inner Nixon.  It is all conspiracy and spin and lies.

by David Kowalski 2005-11-25 05:29AM | 0 recs
Democrats: "War as a last resort"
Hey Matt,

Good to see you here on MyDD after helping Corzine win in NJ.

You posed good questions:

--"Where has anti-war politics been good politics?"

--"What kind of political model works to transition us away from isolationist nationalism to progressive internationalism?"

Regarding the first question:

"Anti-war" politics has never been good politics.

That's because the phrase "Anti-War" implies that you won't go to war under any circumstances. For many Americans, that's a non-starter. It seems wimpy. You won't fight for what you believe in. You won't fight for what's right. You won't fight for the common good like Grandpa did in WWII.

We should describe the Democratic position as "War As A Last Resort." The phrase encapsulates what we believe in, while ringing true with most Americans. It's consistent with the "we don't start fights, we end them" attitude that most Americans hold.

"War as a last resort" also clearly distinguishes us from Republicans. Q: Why are you against the Iraq War? A: Because it wasn't waged as a last resort. In fact, war was the Bush Administration's first resort. Republicans started a fight that could have been avoided.

Then, to forestall any accusations that we're "soft," we support our position by citing MILITARY reasons why fighting isn't a good idea if you can avoid it:

1. War is unpredictable.
Once you unleash the dogs of war, the outcome is always uncertain. You may want a U.S.-friendly Constitutional Democracy; you may get an Iranian-backed Islamic Theocracy.

2. It lets your enemies find ways to beat you.
In the first Iraq War, Iraqis didn't know what to expect. They'd never encountered our AirLand battle doctrine before, and got crushed. In the second, they chose to fight an urban guerilla war on their terms, not an AirLand battle on ours. Consequently, they're winning.

3. It creates coalitions to thwart you.
When you use power aggressively, this makes your neighbors feel insecure. As a result, they band together to counterbalance your power. Europe sells arms to China. Venezuela cozies up to Brazil.

This last point also describes how Democrats differ from Republicans on foreign policy. "Isolationist nationalism" doesn't really describe the Republican position. "Aggressive domination" is more accurate. The Republican Party believes that by using power aggressively, the U.S. can prevent any rival from emerging, and use its unrivaled power to remake the world in its image.

Unfortunately, like so much Republican dogma (supply side economics, privatized health care, "starving the beast" fiscal policy), it just doesn't work.

Republican leaders conceive of the world as a wolf pack, where one Alpha Male can keep his position until a stronger wolf can best him in combat. But human society doesn't work that way. Our world works more like a chimpanzee troop, where a leader who is too aggressive gets his nuts ripped off by a gang of individually weaker but collectively stronger chimps.

Democrats can best describe our position of progressive internationalism with this phrase: "A Community of Nations."

"A community of nations" is what we believe in, and what we're working to build. Let's say you see China as a threat. What's the best way to deal with it?

Do you spend hundreds of billions a year on a huge military to intimidate China? Do you attempt to secure vital oil supplies by military force before the Chinese can?

Or, do you build strong international institutions without which China can't function efficiently in world markets, an international Rule of Law that it must observe, or diminish its power and clout within the Community of Nations?

An easy way to support this position is by citing the example of our own Federal government. Massachusetts may not be able to stand Mississippi, but it doesn't invade it to gain access to Gulf oil ports. Instead, the states work out their differences and pursue mutual advantage in a Federal system.

Working to build a similar Federal system worldwide, among nations, is what Americans have been doing since 1917, with excellent results since World War II.

Democrats (and Bush I Republicans) want to build on this system and improve it. We want to establish a Community of Nations in which countries work out their differences peacefully and pursue mutual advantage. For example, setting up systems to share international oil supplies ensures that the U.S. will never monopolize them. But it will be a lot less expensive and bloody than fighting for them. This will take a lot of time and effort to establish, but it's a worthy goal to work toward.

Republicans want to junk all our previous work and success in building international community, and replace it with an old-fashioned, unstable Balance of Power system that our contry can never dominate. Described accurately this way, Republican foreign policy of "aggressive domination" will be just about as popular with the public as Bush's Social Security plan.

by charuhas 2005-11-25 05:45AM | 0 recs
When Peace was good Politics
Many commenters have pointed to 1972 as the year a "peace candidate" rose to prominence -- and got slaughtered on election day.  The truth is, however, that the 1968 election produced not one, not even two, but three major party anti-war candidates.  And one of them was elected President.

I hear astonished gasps.  But it's true.

Sen. Eugene McCarthy based virtually his entire candidacy on immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.  Sen. Robert Kennedy included Vietnam withdrawal in his broader platform.  And former Vice President Richard Nixon (as noted elsewhere) famously said, "Those who have had four years to end a war should not be given another chance."

In the 1968 Democratic primaries, the only victories went to candidates who supported withdrawal from Vietnam (Kennedy won them all, except Oregon -- which McCarthy won).  And Nixon won the Republican nomination.  Had Kennedy survived, and translated his primary wins into victory at the Chicago convention, BOTH major party nominees that fall would have been campaigning on "anti-war" pledges.

Alas, RFK did not survive.  President Johnson rigged the convention in favor of Vice President Hubert Humphrey (who privately opposed the war but refused to break publicly with his president).  And Nixon won a squeaker, took office and was exposed as a liar and fraud -- long before Watergate.  (He wasn't anti-war, as it turned out, but "pro-victory", whatever that meant.)

Not since 1968 has there been such resounding public antipathy for a U.S. war.  That year, successful politicians were those who tapped into the public sentiment.  Peace, in 1968, was good politics.

by wallyw 2005-11-25 05:59AM | 0 recs
There's a point being missed here
I'm talking from memory here so my details may be off but . . .

Last year, there was a poll taken talking about Vietnam; 1/3 of Americans still believe Vietnam was a justified war and that the US could have and should have won except for treason here at home by anti-war activists, Jane Fonda, and the media.  This 1/3 of Americans are the Republican base - it is an article of faith among this group that America can and will win every war it ever fights unless internal traitors make us lose.  The Vietnam war is at the root of Neo Con foreign thought.  Vietnam is seen as a tragedy, a lost opportunity, a mistake that must be set right.  Taken not much further, for the right wing of American politics, Vietnam is seen as a surrender to the forces of evil.  Bush's blather about Saddam Hussein being evil was not accidental.

Conservatives thought Reagans Grenada invasion was the best thing ever because it "proved" we were the winning side.  Gulf War I was a huge disappointment to the right wing base - we had a chance to destroy evil and we didn't take it.  Vietnam was still not avenged.   For conservatives, "Vietname syndrome" is very real.  They NEED a victory in Iraq in a way that the 2/3 of Americans who believe Vietnam was a mistake cannot comprehend.  

When the inevitable occurs and we withdraw from Iraq, conservatives are not going to be happy.  They won't have their clear cut victory.  The unspoken expectation throughout the Iraq Debacle has been victory - and each time the Administrations predictions proved to be wrong, they had to come up with another one that could give victory over evil.  When we weren't greeted in the streets with flowers, when democracy didn't magically emerge, when the resistance to our occupation became mroe and more deadly, conservatives faced the awful reality of defeat in their battle against evil.  

Finally, there is another important subtext here - Baby Boomer feelings of inferiority; some baby boomers have wanted a World War Two to prove their greatness.  All the happy images the Administration created about Iraq mirrored Europe at the end of World War Two.  Bush and people like him have been hungry for their moment of greatness - their time to prove themselves Churchills, FDR's (I suspect they'd accept Stalin if it meant greatness for themselves).  History is denying it to them.  It was the WWII generation that fought and won that war, and then the Cold War and GWOT was supposed to be their moment of greatness.  Its turning to ash and the dreams of greatness are too intoxicating for them to want to wake up.

by glendenb 2005-11-25 06:34AM | 0 recs
What about the wars that never started?
Does anti-war politics have to be direct opposition to a war that's already started or could it be preventing a war from starting in the first place?  There are a lot of possible wars that never got started.  The most public example I can think of is the Cuban Missile crisis.

I personally was involved with an incident while serving in the Army back in '78 in Korea.  Some US Soldiers supervising a work detail got clubbed to death with axe handles by North Koreans while clearing brush in the DMZ.  We had B52s doing fake bombing runs towards North Korea along the DMZ.  Additional troops were moved into Korea.  That could have ended up as a shooting war but didn't.

The wars that got prevented don't make the big headlines and fade into history.  Anti-war politics should be focused on preventing war and not opposing war.

by Paul in NH 2005-11-25 07:13AM | 0 recs
Perception of Success or Failure/Strategic Error
My previous post was deemed "off topic." That is puzzling to me. The point about the politics of war is this: morality has little to do with the politics of war, it's the perception of war as "gaining much but costing little." Americans are a not a moral people. Do Americans feel "bad" about the Indian wars of extermination, or the colonial wars of conguest? Do they feel good about the wars that ended genocide in Bosnia or Kosovo? Gulf War One was seen as a "success" for that reason. Gulf War II is seen as a failure when it became clear that it would cost much and gain little or even have a large deficit gain, a war that is now correctly perceived as bringin less, not more safety to U.S.A.

It was a strategic error which has brought untold suffering. This leads to the political truism that perceived "success" has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan. For that reason dems must disassociate themselves from this failure and offer the alternative direction of a party that is committed to the true priorities and needs of America. Biden, Clinton, Lieberman must go and a new generation of leadership who are connected to the new vision must take their place.

The strategic error of the Bushevik neocons in Iraq offers a strategic opening to the Dems to offer a new policy paradigm to supplant the American Imperium.

Maybe one day it will be "politic" to perceive no morality or success in the organized violence and murder of war and construct those arrangements of collective security and the rule of law that were hoped for in the U.N. charter.
Bill R.

by cmpnwtr 2005-11-25 07:32AM | 0 recs
Wartime politics
Good topic, Matt!

You asked,

 "So help me out. What works? Where has anti-war politics been good politics? . . .  
Why does voting for peace today feel so right, even though there isn't a case in the last 50 years where it has in fact been the political smart thing to do?"

This has been an issue with me, as I have a major problem with the DLC's hawkish attitude, and Al From's insistance that the formula for victory must be to be more of a hawk than the Republican opponent. But neither Carter nor Clinton ran hawkish, did they?

You asked, "Where has anti-war politics been good politics?" I think we have to distinguish between Anti-War and anti-war. I think it is probably correct that Americans won't elect someone who is against war in general. But as your own data shows, it is possible to be anti-war if the question is over tactics (e.g., Nixon).

For example, while not being Anti-War, one could argue (quite truthfully, IMHO) that Bush has made so many bad post-invasion decisions that the war in Iraq is just not winnable any more, and that Bush has blown it so badly that the only thing to do is follow Rep. Murtha's process for an orderly withdrawal. At the same time, one could sound hawkish about how little Bush has done to actually shore up our homeland defenses (the Homeland Security Dept is a badly run joke.) In other words, don't promise to be more hawkish than Bush, but attack Bush for being, in essence, a crazy hawk whose extravagant international adventures have left us weaker at home and abroad.

As for your second question, I would suggest that there's a difference between "voting for peace" and "voting against a badly run war"

Bob in HI

by Bob Schacht 2005-11-25 01:14PM | 0 recs
What next after leaving Iraq?
Matt - I think RickD might be on to something in his "All wars the same?" reply.  "Anti-war" and "peace" are simplistic ways to look at and define this, evoking Vietnam and the 60's mostly as re-framed by the Right in the decades since.  And this "framing" gets us immediately into trouble with much of the voting public.

On the positive side, much of the country is coming to understand and react to the way the Iraq war started.  And they are starting to realize that it is a terrible diversion from (and possibly even causing a loss of) the "war" against the people who really attacked us on 9/11.  

But taking the "anti-war" framing to the next step that it seems to demand - do we really want to just withdraw our forces from Iraq, as if that fixes everything?  I don't think the public thinks it through that far.  I think the public is just starting to want to get the horror out of their faces.  Great, but then what?  We all know the public can be fickle and we should look to where they will go next.

Of course we all want the Iraq war to end.  But we need to be ready to state and define what's next.  How do we END the Iraq war (which also means preventing civil war, chaos, and a terrorist state allied with Iran?) And how do we pursue the war against those who DID attack us and win that and end that?  THAT is what I think the Dems must be ready to explain to the public because that is going to be the issue of the next step in this.

And we need to do that not just for the politics of it but for the policy of it.  There is a huge policy vacuum now, and it endangers us and the world.  For example, we say that by going into Iraq Bush has made us less safe.  But that's also the truth:  Bush. Has. Made. Us. Less. Safe.  So we have a political opportunity but also a responsibility to clearly state how we will make us safe.  The political opportunity comes because people are starting to realize that Bush has not made us more safe, he is NOT protecting the country, instead he has endangered us.  The responsibility comes because these are not JUST political slogans but because we ARE in danger, and ARE less safe now.

Getting out of Iraq is great.  But then what?  I think the party that can go from here and tell the public convincingly how to make the country and the world more secure is the party the public should and will trust.

You wrote about "voting for peace."  I don't think that has meaning here.  With Vietnam no one attacked us.  But we were attacked on 9/11 so there won't be peace if we leave Iraq (which did not attack us), there will be an opportunity to more realistically pursue a solution to the terrorist threat from those who did attack us.  So parallels here are a trap.  "Peace" and "anti-war" are just the wrong words to be using.  Leaving Vietnam didn't threaten the region's security, didn't lead to a potential civil war with hundreds of thousands killed, didn't threaten to leave a terrorist state like Iran in possession of vast oil resources and in a position to threaten Saudi Arabia as well.

That's not on the mind of the public now but it probably will be later.  Let's get ahead of things and not just show how Bush is messing all of this up but also start talking how we will fix things is good politics because it is good policy.


Charahus makes some goreat points, but it feels like it's an Adelai Sevenson approach that is very complex for the general public.  How can it be expressed as a simple narrative with a very brief sumary?

by davej 2005-11-25 04:01PM | 0 recs
The only time anti-war politics is good politics is if the war is going badly. Korea is the best example of a candidate subtly hinting that he will end the war (Eisenhower vowed to "go to Korea"). Americans were sick and tired of the stalemate in Korea and wanted to get out. Truman was blamed for mismanaging the war and firing a popular general along the way. More importantly, he was blamed for bungling the US position vis-a-vis the Communist menace. Eisenhower pledged to end the Korea business at an acceptable draw and move on to other issues. Stevenson was left defending Truman's failed war policies. The personalities involved obviously helped Ike too, but his demand that the war in Korea end - an anti-war position - was exactly what the public wanted to hear.

Is that a parallel with Iraq? Probably not, because there is no acceptable stalemate yet. The possibility of total and complete collapse is still very real. An openly anti-war position a la Murtha would work in 2008 (and this is about the President, not Congress) only if the Iraqi government is doing reasonably well and the US troops are just getting in the way at the time.

by elrod 2005-11-25 08:51PM | 0 recs
Vietnam is tricky
The reason Vietnam is tricky is because JFK started it at the recommendation of his cold war warmonger advisors. People seem to forget that the neo-cons initially came out of the Scoop Jackson Wing of the Democratic Party. After WWII both parties were filled with Cold War Worriers.

Peace has never been a politically popular stance since Joe McCarthy demonized American communists and the RED MENACE.

We have to change America's political mindset.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-11-26 08:32PM | 0 recs
3 Things
  1.  To the author who seems intent on keeping this discusion 'on topic.'  Maybe you missed this, but this is an internet message board and a political one at that, and as the final kicker to screw the pooch we're Democrats too.  Would you like to try holding back the tides while you're at it?

  2.  The author says in his post : "Then of course he became the most important wartime President ever, even though he hadn't served in wartime."  Which isn't really true.  Lincoln served as a Captain in the Illinois militia and was mobilized during the Black Hawk 'War' of 1832 (?) he later called being elected Capt. one of the most fulfilling things that had ever happened to him.  This is really just a technicality, but being factual is important.

  3.  "Memories of the war and the 1918 flu kept Democrats from regaining the White House and Congress for ten years, and even then they did so only under enormous economic pressure."  BS.  Democratic incompetence kept Democrats from regaining power.  In 1924 we faced a Republican party disgraced by some of worst scandals ever in America, but the Democratic party torn apart by bitter infighting shot it's self in the foot and then cut off its nose for good measure.

by SeanBroom 2005-11-27 04:48PM | 0 recs


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