War is the Health of the Incumbent

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"War is the Health of the Incumbent"

I noticed something interesting when looking at Ed Kilgore’s trenchant remarks on Joe Lieberman’s recent SAIS speech:

It provides an exceptionally simplistic and mechanical history of partisanship and foreign policy. Democrats were “good” from World War II until Vietnam, and Republicans tended to be “bad.” Democrats were “bad” from Vietnam to the First Gulf War, and Republicans were “good.” During the Clinton administration, and particularly with respect to the Kosovo intervention, Democrats were “good” and most Republicans (excepting Dole and McCain) were “bad,” and that characterization remained true during the 2000 elections (Lieberman’s running-mate Al Gore “good,” the humility-in-foreign-policy Bush “bad”). Both parties were “good” from 9/11 through the Iraq War authorization, but once the war began, Republicans were “good” and Democrats turned “bad” (presumably including Al Gore, who was prematurely “bad” in opposing the war).

One illustration of how dimwitted this worldview is, is that in Liebermanland the “good” political party is pretty much always and everywhere the party that was in power at the time. That’s because in the Joe Lieberman Handbook to Strategy, the test of your foreign policy acumen is just supporting wars. And, of course, presidents tend to only launch wars that they support. Thus at any given time, the incumbent will either be not starting a war (neutral) or else supporting his own policies (good) whereas the loudest opponents of his policies (bad) will be in the other party. The idea that there might be good and bad ways of using force, good or bad circumstances in which to use them, or heaven forbid other kinds of good policymaking (avoiding wars!) is just off the table.

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