One of the easiest ways to confirm that there is no difference between (mainstream) Republicans and Democrats is to compare the latter’s vision of perfectible economic meddling with the former’s right-wing dreamworld of international democracy and low, low oil prices.
Now, even a statement this general requires caveats. In the last two weeks, Democrat prez Barack Obama sent 750 troops, plus drones and Apache helicopters, back to Iraq. (And his dialing up the Afghanistan conflict, not to mention his putting drones all over the damn map long ago confirmed he was not even close to being a peacenik.) Not to mention, many (perhaps most) Republicans take rhetorical support for free markets to mean support for tariffs on imported goods, or at least plenty of handouts to favored businesses.
Nevertheless, let us for simplicity contrast support for a (vaguely left-wing) interventionist economic policy, such as the $850 billion stimulus, with an (arguably right-wing) intrusive foreign policy such as…well, most of what America has done for the past 100 years. The overriding similarity between these two daydreams is pure arrogance – a belief in the power of governments to not just know better than individuals about how their lives should go, but in their inhuman ability to predict outcomes. Advocates for international intervention make the same dead-certain claims about end results as do those who scorn markets and individual choices. But instead of your wallet or your freedom to work being on the line, in the latter case it’s the homes, health, and lives of millions of people.
Liberals believe that a regulation passed is magic – it can make people into robots. There won’t be any unpredictable consequences, no black markets, no noncompliance, or surprise costs. The warmongerer believes he has this power, but on an international scale. William Kristol of The Weekly Standard has made it his life’s work to learn nothing from his arrogant declarations on how Iraq (or Iran) will improve after a good dose of American might. Next time will be better. Next time we will not stop until a billion people, a 1500-year-old religion, and various theocratic societies bend into a pleasing, America-friendly shape.
The war in Iraq, you will hear, was only a problem because it didn’t go on long enough, nor was the fighting hard enough. Hell, even though Vietnam is now filed under the mistakes column in American history, it is still easy to find right-wingers convinced that the problem was that the US didn’t have the will to go all-out. Sixty thousand dead Americans, at least a third of whom were drafted, was not enough. And two million dead Vietnamese gets barely a mention, since those people didn’t even have the decency to be Americans. Just…intervene more! Bomb more! Then it would have all worked out. How can you prove peace couldn’t have been won if we had just gone to war a bit longer or tougher? How can you disprove the magical arrogance of "it would have been worse if we hadn’t intervened"? You can’t.
Whatever was done abroad is good, because had it not been done, things would be even worse than they are now. It’s a perfect, airy argument – a bubble impossible to pop, because it is grounded in nothing. And neither body count, nor fiscal cost will dissuade its supporters. There’s almost no point in doing anything but a softball interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney because he is so unflappable in his confidence that no mistakes were made in Iraq. There is no gotcha to be had when that much blood on your hands means nothing to you. If you are that confident in your half million lives, trillion dollar adventure, how can anyone begin to argue?
One would expect the magical incantation of intervention to lose its appeal eventually, but it doesn’t for its most enthusiastic supporters. And there are always variations on a theme! That moldy old slur that to be opposed to the war in Iraq was to be pro-Saddam Hussein is still fresh to hawks like former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who recently leveled it at the libertarians of the Fox Business show The Independents. That’s a lunatic argument – like accusing someone of supporting a wife-beating neighbor just because they haven’t burned down his house.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remains convinced that we must aid the so-called moderates in Syria in their fight against the brutal dictator Bashir Assad. No possible lessons can be learned from any sort of history of the US aiding Muslim rebels fighting against a nasty country, right? Though there are countless civilians caught in the middle of the Syrian hell trusting the US to successfully find and fund sympathetic, non-extremist groups is either incredibly naive or downright scheming. Regardless, it’s a bad, impossible idea.
Recently, a 17-year-old libertarian who supports intervention in Syria also took issue with a piece I wrote for Rare about not going back to Iraq. This is an alarmingly misguided, unlibertarian viewpoint, but it’s to people like him that this column is really addressed. Perhaps that’s foolish. Perhaps all war supporters are sociopaths and cannot change their minds, and that’s the end of the discussion.
It can’t be. Powerful politicians and the Kristols of the world may be lost to all real argument. But there are many good, decent people in the world who accept the myth of the necessity of war. There are too many libertarians and conservatives who pride themselves on their skepticism towards government, and then grow deaf to all questions the moment the war drums start. They’re dangerously, unforgivably wrong – but minds can always be changed. And they must be. But it’s awfully hard to sound convincing when the hawks have decided that war’s only drawback is when there isn’t enough of it to go around.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.