It seems more and more evident that the war in Iraq has given rise to a growing anti-war movement that might eventually parallel the kind of social upheaval we witnessed in the 1960s. The major difference, it seems to me, is that the anti-war movement in the 1960s was fueled by the very real presence of a draft system. All of this begs the question of what kind of foreign poliicy we really want for the future of America.
Personally, I believe our democracy is strengthened by honest debate about important issues like foreign policy and war. I think there have been enough mistakes made in this present military action to trouble almost everyone who thinks about the subject. (Consider the number-one bestseller this week, Fiasco, written by war-correspondent Thomas Ricks. Ricks paints a very bleak picture of how much we have messed up this entire effort.) Having said this I am still amazed at the seeming lack of serious foreign policy coming from many of those who oppose the war. It is one thing to oppose the war in Iraq. It is another thing to have a coherent and serious approach to the problem of terrorism in the modern world. George Soros, for example, seems to think that merely redefining our terms about how we speak about terrorism will make a huge difference. The idea sounds like “fiddling while Rome burns” to my mind.
Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee for the U. S. Senate seat from Connecticut, who beat Joseph Lieberman a few weeks ago in the primary, appears to be the new standard bearer for many who want to drive strong pro-defense leaders out of the Democratic Party. In his victory speech Lamont said he wanted to “fix George Bush’s failed foreign policy.” Well, good. Again, I have my real doubts about much of the Bush approach to foreign policy but what do Lamont, and similar anti-war Democrats, offer as a way to fix this mess? I am waiting to discover a compelling answer.
Charles Krauthammer recently noted that “Anti-Vietnam sentiment left a residual pacifism, an aversion to intervention that proved very costly to the Democrats for years to come.” He adds, “Lamont seems to think that we should sit down with the Iranians and show why going nuclear is not a good. This recalls Sen. William Borah’s reaction in September 1939 upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided.”
Krauthammer rightly referred to this approach as both naïve and “endless accommodationism.” I am not sure what this means for the long term. I think people will eventually realize that they are not being adequately protected by such approaches to international affairs. In the end, one of the most important functions of government, if not the most important in the light of Romans 13, is to protect its citizens. Ordinary people seem to understand this, though it might take a back seat for a period of time, at least until the next attack on America occurs. Everyone knows it will happen. Then what? More blaming and second guessing is sure to follow. That’s the nature of a foreign policy debate and American history reveals that it always has been so. Not a lot is new except that we still seem to have very little clarity from either party and we do not seem to understand our enemy at all.
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One of the interesting aspects of this post has to do with the draft. I’m sure much of the anti-war sentiment in the 1960s was motivated by a fear of being drafted. And men of my generation who attended college were able to escape the draft.
The difference now is that foreign policy goals which the government decides must be accomplished by military action can be begun (although perhaps not sustained) without worrying about the problems of a draft.
My point is that the flesh and blood costs of these armed interventions, whether ultimately seen as justified or not, are borne almost entirely by the young men who have volunteered. The rest of us are not asked to bear much at all. We are asked to shop, borrow and spend more money to support the economy. That is our measure of sacrifice while others die.
Perhaps one benefit of the draft is that it forces the nation to decide what price it is willing to pay to achieve a national goal.