Why do conservatives love war? This is one of those questions that can’t be answered in simple terms. I’ve spent a bit of time researching the plausible answers to this one. I also know people on both sides of the political spectrum and have spoken to them over this past week. There are no simple answers to this question and neither is there a single answer. Let’s just look at several things that differentiate liberals from conservatives for starters.
Liberal: Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress and tolerant of the behaviors of others; broad-minded.
Historically, liberals are seen as the party of the hard-working middle class. They also believe that it’s government’s responsibility to provide for those most in need. They believe in programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Liberals have grappled with and fought for health care reform for years now, seeking to ensure coverage for all Americans. They are also advocates of funding things like education and the arts, as well as public television and radio. Historically, it is the Democratic party (or the ‘liberal’ party) that has advanced the cause of civil rights for blacks, Hispanics, women and LGBT Americans. Liberals take a pretty strong anti-war position, preferring to exercise all avenues of diplomacy before making the leap to war.
Conservative: Favoring the preservation of established customs, values, etc., and opposing innovation.
Historically, conservatives tout their belief in “small” government, which often translates into not helping those in need. In order to balance the budget, they often look to cut social programs, like Social Security and Medicare. Public television, radio and the arts are also popular targets. Many conservatives also believe that welfare, food stamps and unemployment encourage Americans to stay out of work in times of economic distress. Americans simply need to suck it up and share the pain. Many are proponents of the “free market” approach to the nation’s health care woes. In short, conservatives believe that people should fend for themselves. It’s a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. When it comes to waging war vs. diplomacy (or as Dennis Kucinich puts it, “the art of human relations”) the conservatives squarely come down on the side of war.
There is no question that conservatives have a “chest banging” mentality when it comes to international conflict, and that is the reason why they often choose war as a universal solution to international incidents. This mentality goes back decades before George W. Bush’s “Bring ‘em on.” Of course, George W. Bush has never served in a war and his entire stint in the Texas Air National Guard is in question. He is not alone. The majority of war mongering conservatives have managed to stay out of harm’s way. Rick Santorum, who vowed to bomb Iran if elected, did not serve in the military.Mitt Romney, who received a religious deferment and did not serve his country, called Barack Obama “weak” for not attacking Iran over a lost drone and has also vowed to bomb Iran to prevent it from having nuclear weapons.
For conservatives, negotiating with any country or leader perceived as an ‘enemy’ of the United States is an example of the weak-will liberal Democratic culture. Going to war lends a certain element of romance and manliness. It involves passion, not rationality. It is based on patriotic fervor, not adherence to international rules. There’s nothing like a good disaster to get the conservative blood boiling, and September 11, 2001 certainly qualifies as a disaster. The post-September 11 intelligence was as bad as the intelligence that allowed the terrorist attacks to happen in the first place, but that did not matter. It was time to stand up for America. Donald Rumsfeld was in favor of taking liberties with intelligence. He was often frustrated by those in the intelligence community who failed to use their imaginations. Screw the facts. What Donald Rumsfeld wanted was for the intelligence community to look at what was in front of them and then expand that into “this probably means.”
Such imagination led this nation to invade Afghanistan under the premise that the perpetrator of the 9-11 terrorist attack, Osama Bin-Laden, was hiding out there. Suspending rationality, the conservative imagination viewed all Muslims as potential terrorists and all Muslim nations as enemies of the state. As Cory Robin so eloquently points out in his book, The Reactionary Mind, “of all the motivations for political action, none is as lethal as ideology.” The Bush administration certainly used its imagination when it used the echo chamber to convince Americans that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda. Although those in the highest echelons of our government knew this was not true, it did not matter. They wanted to rally national support for the invasion of Iraq. They wanted us to know they were protecting America and avenging the victims of the 9-11 attacks. Thus, out of these lies was born the amorphous “War on Terror.”
If “War on Terror” is the most overused phrase in America, then “National Security” has become the most overused excuse for everything America has done during the war on terror. Everything the Bush administration did was a matter of national security, from invading nations to occupation to torture. This “America is good” ideology led our government to excuse itself from the rule of international law (The Geneva Conventions) and indulge in waterboarding, sexual humiliation, and even murder. As Americans, we’d rather not face the facts. We’d rather forget the disgrace of Abu Ghraib and chalk it up to a few ‘rogue’ soldiers, but that is far from the truth.
Of course, again, sizing up the differences between liberals and conservatives on the issue of war as simply a difference in brain composition is too simplistic. There are also underlying factors at play in America today. There is the need to feed the nation’s vast military-industrial complex, a voracious animal whose appetite is immense. Oddly enough, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower — a decorated General himself — warned us about the danger of the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech.
There is another element to this conservative pro-war discussion, and that’s how conservative American citizens generally support wars. Conservative Americans are not necessarily “pro-war” or believe in imperialism. Rather, they believe unequivocally that our government is good. We are America and everything America does is good. It therefore follows that even when America is waging war, it is doing good. We have honorable reasons for going to war. My brother-in-law falls into this category. He was one of the nicest guys on the planet. He was not rich by any means, but he was conservative. He was a Viet Nam vet who believed in the goodness of America. He didn’t question. He just believed.
The “America is good” mentality would be a perfectly logical position to take if our present government was the government we are supposed to have under the Constitution and a government that followed the principles established by our founding fathers. Corporations buying our election process, the wealthiest 1% and corporations having the lowest tax rate while the working class bears the burden of our fiscal follies, invasion of sovereign nations, and torture are not those principles. Frankly, most Americans do not realize hour far afield of those principles America has ventured.