Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

James Peron Headshot

Meet the New Consensus, Same as the Old

Posted: Updated:
Getty Images
Getty Images

One of the most bizarre opinion pieces I've read in a long time was one by David Ignatius in the Washington Post. Ignatius says that the recent presidential debate gave us a "glimpse" of "an emerging bipartisan consensus on foreign policy." What is truly bizarre is America has suffered from such a "bipartisan consensus" for most of my life.

While Democrats and Republicans have each had a minority against American interventionism and war, leadership of both parties have been hawks since FDR.

In the Republican Party, Robert A. Taft argued for non-interventionism and sought the presidential nomination, but was shut out by Wendall Willkie in 1948 and Thomas Dewey in 1952. His policies never had support of the party elite. George McGovern ran as an anti-war candidate, but people sometimes forget that he ran against policies of his Democratic predecessors. McGovern's won the party's nomination but was unable to change the pro-interventionist policies of his Party.

Democratic leaders in Washington have lined up in support of virtually every armed conflict since then.

Obama talked peace before being elected. After winning he was granted a Nobel Peace Prize, having actually done nothing for peace, and turned into a hawk almost immediately. In the New York Times, security analyst Peter Bergen wrote that Obama "has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades." One shouldn't be surprised then when Obama used his Nobel speech to outline his philosophy of war, not peace. Whatever the reasons for awarding Obama this prize, they weren't because of his efforts for peace.

Bergen wrote:

If those on the left were listening, they didn't seem to care. The left, which had loudly condemned George W. Bush for waterboarding and due process violations at Guantánamo, was relatively quiet when the Obama administration, acting as judge and executioner, ordered more than 250 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2009, during which at least 1,400 lives were lost.

Ignatius tells us the drone killings are "part of the new American consensus," even claiming the new consensus was obvious when Romney said, "We can't kill our way out of this mess." So, in other words, the way we stop killing "our way out of this mess" is through killing by new methods. Mr. Ignatius is so adept at doublethink he could have been the speechwriter for George Orwell's 1984 character Emmanuel Goldstein.

Orwell's novel depicted an England dominated by a surveillance state involved in perpetual war. In other words, it bears more than a passing resemblance to what the United States is becoming.

Support for American interventionism, while up and down to some degree, is more down than up. In 1964, only 18 percent of the public thought the U.S. should "mind it's own business" internationally. Today 46 percent of the public support non-interventionism. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) want to reduce overseas military commitments. Among independent voters, support is 72 percent. What major leader, of either party, has voiced support of this policy -- though almost half of Americans are on board?

Ignatius is a textbook example of why we have perpetual war. He says we are united "in not wanting another war," but then wants to know "how the United States will shape an Islamic world in turmoil, remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria and keep Afghanistan from a civil war -- all without using U.S. troops." That's just the point -- in the end, we can't.

War is the inevitable result of global interventionism, but neither Obama nor Romney wish to put that issue on the table. While Ignatius says the country is not divided on wishing to avoid war, he neglects to mention that it is divided on foreign policies that lead to war.

While there is no consensus on that issue among the public, there is one in Washington. That consensus is not an "emerging" one, but rather one that has gone without serious challenge for more than half a century.

This is not to say that no one challenges the foundations of perpetual war, but, those who do are frozen out of the discussion by political elites in Washington. This is just as true of the Democratic Party as the Republican Party; just as true for Obama as for Romney.

This very old "consensus" has tried to remake the world for decades. All it managed to do is end one conflict by creating seeds of another. American foreign policy, as Jonathan Kwitny put it, creates endless enemies.