A Political Opening For Non-Interventionism

The American public is increasingly skeptical of foreign adventurism. Why aren't our political candidates reflecting that?

This week’s CBS News/New York Times poll showed that the public has pretty much soured on America’s mission in Libya:

As NATO forces escalate the intensity of their air strikes against pro-government forces in Libya, six in 10 Americans do not think that the United States should be involved in the conflict within that country. Just 30 percent of Americans think the United States is doing the right thing by taking part in the current military conflict in Libya now.

The same poll also shows that Americans are pretty much done with the mission in Afghanistan and ready to see the troops come home:

As the Obama administration prepares for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, Americans are increasingly ready to see U.S. troops brought home, according to a new CBS News poll.

Sixty-four percent of Americans think the number of troops in Afghanistan should be decreased, according to the poll, conducted June 3-7. That’s an increase of 16 points from last month and a record high for that question in CBS News polls. Twenty-two percent said troop levels should stay the same, while 8 percent said they should be increased.

Half of Americans – 51 percent – think the U.S. should not be involved in the war in Afghanistan, while 43 percent think the U.S. is doing the right thing by continuing the decade-long fight. Public opinion has slowly shifted against fighting the war in Afghanistan since the fall of 2009, when 51 percent thought the U.S. was doing the right thing by fighting that war.
The numbers on Libya are largely identical in a new Fox News poll:
According to a Fox News poll released Thursday, 30 percent of voters favor U.S. military involvement in Libya. A majority — 58 percent — opposes the action. That’s little changed from early April when 30 percent were in favor and 62 percent were opposed. 

Opposition to U.S. military involvement is widespread, as over half of men (58 percent), women (58 percent), Democrats (58 percent), Republicans (57 percent) and independents (57 percent) are opposed.

Numbers like these lead Conor Friedersdorf to wonder if there isn’t a political opening for a Republican willing to exploit it:

What does it mean for a president seeking reelection to have launched a wildly unpopular war without congressional approval? That his Republican challengers should run to President Obama’s left on at least some aspects of national security. It might’ve been awkward to do so given that much of Obama’s national security strategy is identical to the one that Republicans praised under George W. Bush. But this affords a surprisingly easy opportunity to win support from an electorate that is tiring of expensive foreign wars: The GOP nominee need not disavow conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan that rank and file conservatives defended for so long. He or she need only rail against the expense, execution, and questionable strategic value of fighting in Libya.

The problem I forsee with this idea is that there are really only two candidates in the field right now who could credibly make this argument — Ron Paul and Gary Johnson — and both of them are generally viewed as outside the mainstream of the GOP. The rest of the actual or potential candidates, especially people like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachamann spent much of the time in the run up to the UN/NATO intervention in Libya calling for the U.S. to do “something” and accusing the President of not acting fast enough. Once he did something, they started criticizing him once it became clear that it really didn’t have much public support, but the criticism reeked of political opportunism, especially since the President had pretty much done what most of them had said he should be doing, establish a no-ly zone. Sure, one of these candidates could pick up on the Libya issue to bash the President but it wouldn’t have any credibility to it.

More importantly, though, just criticizing the action in Libya misses the point. The action in Libya is just one piece of a larger puzzle of foreign military intervention that extends to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. Poll after poll is showing that the public is growing weary of endless war, and growing even wearier of paying the bill for it when our allies aren’t contributing their fair share. A candidate who advocates a more restrained foreign policy than anything that’s popular now in the GOP or the Democratic Parties, one that is concerned primarily with protecting Americas vital national interests and willing to look at eliminating unnecessary “trip wire” deployments like the U.S. forced in South Korea could potentially find a public willing to listen. More importantly, in an era when we all know we need to re-evaluate the things the Federal Government is spending money on, there’s no better place to start than unnecessary, expensive, and entangling foreign commitments that aren’t serving our national interest.

So, where is that candidate?

 

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    No money in it?

  2. ponce says:

    So, where is that candidate?

    There are powerful forces supporting the military-industrial complex’s perpetual war machine.

    Why cross them if you don’t have to?

  3. Southern Hoosier says:

    Like they said in the 60s. War is a good business. Invest your child today.

  4. Graham says:

    @ponce:
    There’s a great opportunity for a candidate to have it both ways. Get elected by promising to reduce pentagon spending, and appease the military industrial complex by not meaning a word of it.

  5. ponce says:

    Get elected by promising to reduce pentagon spending, and appease the military industrial complex by not meaning a word of it.

    I think we have already had those.

    Richard Nixon was a big anti-war candidate when he was running for office back in 1968.

    A sample from his 1968 nomination acceptance speech:

    And I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next Administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. We shall not stop there — we need a policy to prevent more Vietnams.

    http://www.4president.org/speeches/nixon1968acceptance.htm

  6. CB says:

    War is a good business.

    period.

  7. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    The rest of the actual or potential candidates, especially people like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachamann spent much of the time in the run up to the UN/NATO intervention in Libya calling for the U.S. to do “something” and accusing the President of not acting fast enough.

    I can hear it now: “I was for it before I was against it.”

    As to your question, rare is the politician who actually cares what voters think. They care a lot more about what donors think.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Sorry to break this to you, Princess, but the idea of a Republican candidate making foreign policy a major campaign item from a restraint and isolationist standpoint is politically naive to the point of fatuousness. Next year’s election is about the economy. To the extent foreign policy is germane it’ll be about the administration having sold out our friends and allies (Israel, Poland, Britain, etc.). It won’t be about obsessively counting the money we’re spending on forces that already have been committed to action. Nor should it be.

  9. CB says:

    To the extent foreign policy is germane it’ll be about the administration having sold out our friends and allies (Israel, Poland, Britain, etc.)

    im not sure if you are expressing agreement with that sentiment, but if so, leave the bull**** at the door.

    i agree with your general idea. its the economy, stupid. i dont totally think it should be, but thats the cold political reality.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Part of the reason foreign policy never gets much play is that Americans are ignorant to a degree that would humiliate the citizens of any other developed nation. Exhibit A: Tsar above. I mean, how is a politician supposed to address the subject in a meaningful way when the average American has his head full of porridge when it comes to foreign policy? Or for that matter, simple geography.

    We are a status quo power. We like stability because we’re the only superpower and stability is good when you’re on top. Of course stability is also good for business. So the core foreign policy of the US, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, (and even before to a great extent) has been: how can we keep everything calm and quiet? Almost every US foreign policy move can be seen in that light.

    Even the Iraq war was an attempt at stability. An ambitious madman (Saddam) with unlimited oil money was bad for stability.

    Why are we going after Gaddafi and not Assad? Why are we worried about Saleh falling but less so when it comes to Mubarak? Why do we turn a blind eye in Bahrain? Why are we trying to push Israel to negotiate? Why do we back democracy in one place and not the next? Why do we like free trade agreements? Stability. We want the boat not to rock.

    But how do you run a campaign on something as un-sexy as maintaining an even strain? In order to campaign you need to draw sharp distinctions. You need to wave some sort of bloody shirt under the nose of one kind of idiot or another. Exhibit A: still Tsar, above.

    Our FP isn’t really very Republican or very Democrat, it’s rich superpower brand foreign policy. It’ll stay roughly the same so long as we remain a rich superpower.

  11. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Sorry to break this to you, Princess, but the idea of a Republican candidate making foreign policy a major campaign item from a restraint and isolationist standpoint is politically naive to the point of fatuousness. Next year’s election is about the economy. To the extent foreign policy is germane it’ll be about the administration having sold out our friends and allies (Israel, Poland, Britain, etc.). It won’t be about obsessively counting the money we’re spending on forces that already have been committed to action. Nor should it be.

    Michael, with the exception of the part I have bolded, I find little to object to in Tsar’s sataement.

    Consider the dominant thread in political foreign policy discussion the last few decades: “Republicans STRONG!!!…. Democrats WEAK!!!!….”

    It has nothing to do with reality (“Should we spend another hundred billion here ??? or there?????”)

    “Stability” is what they are searching for, but “stability” is not near sexy enuf to sell in an election.

  12. A voice from another precinct says:

    Forgive my naievity, and possibly my fuzzy recollection of employment history in the immediatre post Viet-Nam era, but when Johnny comes marching home, exactly WHAT is he going to do for a living? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t bring this thing to as swift an end as possible, but unemployed service people, most of whose extended deployments have probably outlived the “you gotta hire ’em back” statutes, returning to an already high unemployment environment is just the other shoe dropping.

    Of course, returning vets can go to school…wait, the Bush administration cut veteran education benefits–with courageous Senator McCain’s hearty support–so that they would not be able to afford to leave the army near the end of that administration’s time for looting and swindling. I guess, they can’t go to school after all,.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Ozark:

    You agree that we’ve sold out our allies?

    In what way?

  14. george says:

    Our FP isn’t really very Republican or very Democrat, it’s rich superpower brand foreign policy. It’ll stay roughly the same so long as we remain a rich superpower.

    Sadly, this seems to be very true.

  15. Wiley Stoner says:

    I am shocked.!!! I thought you and Reyolds would be busy reading emails. Bet all they find is a person who took there job seriously and treated staff well. They also like tanning beds and were excited when McCain asked Sarah to be his VP. I think she is setting traps and the media is stepping right in them. She is a hunter and a woman. I think this woman has tasted morre victory than defeat. That will continue.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    WTF are you talking about, Wiley?

  17. ponce says:

    I think he’s talking about the Palin email dump.

    Dump, what an appropriate word.

  18. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Not long ago, I went back through Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations…” to see how well his ideas were holding up 15 years after he sent them off to the printers. Toward the end of his tome, there was a little gem, which seems to have been unremarked upon recently. Mr. Huntington seemed to think that involving one’s country in internecine Muslim conflicts was largely unintelligent. I guess the Obama and his administration just haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet.

  19. Jib says:

    I cant remember a time when so many political openings have been left unexploited. The disconnect between the politicians on both sides and the people is enormous. Polls show wide spread support for taxing the rich but no one pushes that. Anti-Wall Street feeling is very high, the original Tea Party rant was a call to dump MBS’s into Lake Michigan. It was the Wall Street bailouts that fueled most of the anger in the early Tea Party until Fox News and the boys took over the propaganda and redirected it to health care.

    Tea party anger elects people on pledges to cut the deficit and the ‘brave’ plan they come up with is to actually increase the deficit in order to give tax cuts to the rich.

    Mean while all the effort in recovery goes to pump up Wall Street and the banks while no one, NO ONE, talks about how we can increase jobs. Of course the rich dont need jobs but they do need the stock market to boom. So guess what happens post-crash? Stock market booms while unemployment stays high.

    Crazy times. Some one, on the right or the left, it wont matter which, will finally take these issues and run with them. You can build a right wing or left wing campaign around these issues, either can work. Eventually some one will do it.

    Please, some one, do it.

  20. War is not good business and has bankrupted many a government throughout history. This is just boilerplate nonsense.

    Meanwhile, this is interesting.

  21. CB says:

    of course war bankrupts the nations buying the arms.

    the people selling the arms, though? i believe they would beg to differ.