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Essay: The End of Interventionism

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:58 PM
ADA Today >>

By John Isaacs

United States involvement in the Libyan war may turn out to be the straw that broke the political and philosophical back of the military interventionists.
Most of the country having long turned against George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, President Obama has been continuing the process of withdrawal from that (at least tenuously) pacified country. Disaffection with the Iraq war hurt the Republicans at the polls in 2006 and 2008.
As for the Afghan war, many on the left and right were willing to reserve judgment on President Obama’s actions early in his administration because he had inherited a weak position from his predecessor.  Besides, Afghanistan—in contrast to Iraq—was the “good” war, one directly related to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
But the effort to oust long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi means the United States is engaged in three military conflicts at the same time, to say nothing of predator drone strikes in other countries. While liberals are split on the Libyan conflict, the expanding wars are widely perceived to be military interventionism run amuck.
The largest and most expensive conflict is Afghanistan, already the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War. The Kabul government has little legitimacy, and the political and economic situation remains dismal. Thousands of American and allied personnel have been killed or gravely wounded. President Obama’s decision to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012 is a start, but only a start.
U.S. military involvement in Iraq is supposed to end this December although some military officials are pressing to extend our stay.
Then came Libya.
What is interesting is that the opposition to both Afghanistan and Libya is now bi-partisan.  Ever since the Vietnam War, Democrats have been labeled the anti-war party and the Republicans pro-war. Now the differences have become blurred.
When the House of Representatives narrowly defeated an amendment by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) to require a plan for exiting from Afghanistan, 26 Republicans joined 178 Democrats in support of the amendment.
And 70 Democrats joined with 225 Republicans on June 24 to oppose an authorization for American military engagement in Libya.
Republican candidates for President have joined the anti-war crowd—at least on occasion. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman have raised questions about our continued involvement in Afghanistan, while Michele Bachmann has complained about the President’s Libya policy.
This new political positioning does not mean there is a majority in Congress to cut off funding for the wars.  There is an obvious reluctance among members to be blamed for possible bad outcomes: Gadaffi remaining in Tripoli, the Taliban returning to Kabul or anti-government forces seizing Bagdad.
When the House considered the Defense appropriations bill the week of July 5, it refused to vote to cut off funding for either Afghanistan or Libya. That was apparently still a step too far. But the more Republicans oppose the wars, the easier it will be for Democrats to take that position without fear of being labeled “anti-defense.”
And the more members of both parties garner the courage to oppose the nation’s wars, the easier it will be to ditch the policy of military interventionism and at the same time reduce the military budget.

John Isaacs is executive director of Council for a Livable World and a former ADA staff member.