So what are we rejecting? As Chait would say this election serves to “intimidate other hawkish Democrats”. Unlike him I think that’s a good thing. I don’t belong to the school of thought which says that being a hawk – advocating aggressive policy on foreign relations – is equal to being strong on defense. It depends on the situation. Currently, the hawkish position is a weak one and that may be why Democrats are polling higher than Republicans on issues like Iraq and terrorism.
This article lays it out well. During the cold war hawks were probably the purveyors of the most dangerous, most destabilizing, least secure foreign policy in America. Nowadays the same is true though for different reasons. The cold-war hawks were unserious because they didn’t accept the limits imposed by the nuclear stalemate; the current hawks are unserious because they don’t appreciate the limits imposed by modern asymmetrical warfare. Though realities have decreased the usefulness of war, the hawks continue to indulge their emotional predisposition to to solve problems though war, insisting that they have a way to make it work.
Bush assumed he could solve the problem of Al Qaeda by invading Iraq (though to be fair he thought it would solve a whole lot of other problems as well). Rumsfeld assumed could escape the limits of asymmetrical modern warfare by waging blitzkrieg with a tiny ground force. When that didn’t work some hawks suggested putting the State department in charge (what they were supposed to do differently wasn’t even explained). Some are suggesting we “get tough” with Iran or Syria though as of now few of them are brave enough to come out and say what exactly they mean.
In all cases the underlying assumption is the same:
- The pre-war situation was intolerable
- A tolerable situation is achievable
- Therefore there must be some kind of war we can wage that will make the situation tolerable. It’s only a matter of figuring out what war that is. QED
I'll discuss the alternative - standard liberal internationalism - later.