Steve Chapman

The narrative of this year's GOP campaign will follow the theme of Obama the Wimp. They compare him to Jimmy Carter, who suffered the humiliation of the Iran hostage crisis. Obama, they argue, is rushing out of Afghanistan, letting Iran pursue nuclear weapons, gutting the defense budget and "apologizing for America." He is simply not warlike enough.

The spectacle involving Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng gave Republicans the chance to shift attention away from the killing of Osama bin Laden to an alleged example of mortifying capitulation. Mitt Romney pronounced it "a day of shame for the Obama administration."

Never mind that U.S. diplomats actually helped Chen reach the sanctuary of the American embassy in Beijing, and that they had no way to prevent Chinese agents from threatening retribution on his family. The particulars of the new controversy don't really matter. What matters is that the default response of American politicians to foreign disputes is breathing fire and belching smoke.

This is partly a cause and partly an effect of a reality that Americans generally manage to overlook. As University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer puts it, "We're addicted to war."

When the Cold War with the Soviet Union ended two decades ago, many people expected to bask in the warm sunshine of lasting peace. The optimism was unwarranted. Every president is a wartime president. Since 1991, notes Mearsheimer, we have been at war in two out of every three years.

Military considerations increasingly shape -- and warp -- our entire system of democracy and law. Despite the absence of any major threat to our safety and independence, we have become a garrison state, permanently mobilized for incessant intervention. It's a safe bet that whoever wins in November, we will be embroiled in a new war sometime in the next four years.

Romney and Obama may pretend they represent stark differences in America's approach to national security and world affairs. But in this realm, there is no Democratic or Republican party. There is only the war party.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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