Drum and Ackerman have already commented on Matt Continetti’s efforts to divide America into a “peace party” and a “power party” with a focus on the tunnel-vision conception of national power implicit in that dichotomy. I thought, however, that one should stick up on some level for the idea of a peace party and recommend this recent post by John Quiggin.
Wars, as he says, are destructive activities. Something one should seek to avoid: “The starting point the observation that war is a negative-sum game, so the fact that one side loses does not mean that the other wins. If losing a war means coming out of it worse than you went in, then Vietnam is not the first war the US has lost. The War of 1812 ended with the restoration of the status quo ante, but 25 000 Americans were dead, Washington had been burned, and huge economic damage had been done.” An even more telling example, in many ways, comes from one of our classic “good wars” — the Civil War. The Union cause was just and the war was one, but the price was high. The quantity of resources spent on the war would have been sufficient to compensate current slave owners at market prices, give the freed slaves much more substantial aid than what was, in fact, offered them after the war. This, needless to say, would have been expensive, but it would actually have saved Union taxpayers money, to say nothing of avoiding massive loss of life and large-scale devastation of Southern infrastructure.
Given the realities of the situation, it seems unlikely that the Civil War really could have been avoided in that manner. Still, the example merely demonstrates the extent to which war is negative-sum; even when successful it’s an extremely sub-optimal method of achieving policy objectives. As Quiggin elaborates, a strong aversion to war does not imply a policy of blanket pacifism or of massive American retreat from a global role: “The Iraq war showed, yet again, that in conventional military conflicts the US is unbeatable, and, for practical purposes unstoppable . . . the US has a unique capacity to enforce the global law that makes wars of aggression a crime against humanity.”