Explaining the GOP’s Silence on (Current) Wars

At Time’s Battleland blog, Mark Thompson notes the relative dearth of discussion – on what was supposed to be foreign policy night at the Republican National Convention – surrounding the wars that the nation is fighting (correction: that the troops are fighting at the behest of the politicians). It is a good piece, but the GOP’s reluctance to focus on these wars is less puzzling than he suggests.

He cleverly tweaks Ryan, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, and Rand Paul who collectively mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq one time each, but managed to work in seven references to Iran and three to Syria: ”Didn’t they learn as kids that you have to finish your vegetables (in this case, Afghanistan) before dessert (Iran and Syria, at least the way some in the GOP are salivating)?”

And he singles out Sen. Paul’s sensible statement “that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent,” as “the night’s lone provocative line.”

Thompson concludes:

it is amazing that after more than a decade of war, and 6,593 American dead (2,107 in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom; 4,487 in Iraq), the political party that spearheaded both wars is so silent on them now.

I don’t think it is amazing at all (and I sort of doubt that Thompson does either). The wars that McCain, Rice, and other Republicans championed are unpopular, even the war in Afghanistan that garnered strong public support before it morphed into a quixotic nation-building mission. Some polling suggests that Afghanistan is now even less popular than Iraq, and that was before the spike in attacks by supposedly friendly Afghans against U.S. troops.

The public is equally unenthusiastic about new wars. In contrast to McCain et al’s complaint about the Obama administration’s “reluctance to lead” in Syria (or Iran or some other as-yet-to-be-named country), the American people display little enthusiasm for having U.S. troops broker civil wars in distant lands. In one recent poll (see Q47 here), fewer than one in ten support intervention in Syria without reservations (“no matter how many military deaths the United States suffered”) whereas 42.2 percent refuse to support U.S. military intervention under any circumstance (“even if the United States suffered no military deaths.”) See also the Pew Research Center’s polling on intervention in Syria. Americans’ retrospective judgment on the war in Libya, despite the fact that it was relatively short, and resulted in no U.S. fatalities, is that the U.S. “should have stayed out” (49 pct vs. 37 pct who approve of the war).

GOP leaders can read these polls as well as I can. They understand that talking about new wars (or even the old ones) is a political loser.

(Now if only they would learn that starting wars is equally stupid.)