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Tipsheet

Liberal Writer Highlights One Issue Where There Is an Appalling Bipartisan Consensus

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

While it’s usually true that today’s Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much regarding domestic policy, it’s an entirely different matter on foreign affairs. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one issue—a bipartisan consensus on an international venture can be both dangerous and potentially ruinously expensive. Observers cite the 2003 Iraq War as a failed project of the Republican Party’s neoconservative wing. What people forget is that it was also rubber-stamped by the Democratic Party. Then-Sens. Hillary Clinton(D-NY) and Joe Biden (D-DE) both voted in favor of the authorization of force resolution that preceded the war. When it comes to blowing up stuff, you tend to see that both parties support it. The only difference is in the application. 

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Republicans are marked by the mass deployment of ground forces and expanding democratic ideals. Democrats opt for small-scale engagements, drone strikes, and ongoing funding of proxy wars—both cost blood. The former is akin to severing a limb while the latter is more of a death by a thousand cuts, but both spill the same amount of blood. It’s akin to spending on the Hill. The GOP wants to go off the fiscal cliff at 45mph, while Democrats would instead do 80. Two presidencies executed their strategies to wage war on terror, and it's exhausted the American public. While our ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the point of decline for the Biden presidency, the political class decided to hurl us into another expensive venture in Ukraine. 

That’s where liberal writer Michael Tracey highlights talk of a fractured Congress that can’t get anything done. There are indeed fissures, but only because the Democrats’ far-left contingent keeps gumming up the works on feasible things this term. No, Tracey isn’t buying the forever-divided split between the parties because he sees how both sides not only don’t blink an eye when doling out aid like n4eedle exchange but also the issue of NATO. Our aid to Ukraine has not reached $7 billion, which observers note is a sounding error with congressional spending, but the key phrase here is ‘so far.’ This endless stream of military aid to the beleaguered nation won’t end anytime soon; Joe Biden declared so earlier this year. It also carries the risk of nuclear war, so in the scheme of things—this is a catastrophic policy to have bipartisan support (via Tracey SubStack):

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...if you’re one of the vanishingly few Americans who’d like to think that your vote this year could meaningfully alter the course of US foreign policy, you’re bound for disappointment. Because even as both parties tried to make it seem like the “Inflation Reduction Act” vividly demonstrated the intractable differences between them, they were simultaneously demonstrating the exact opposite: that at least in regards to another set of issues which genuinely are “existential,” in that they impinge on such matters as whether you’re likely to get incinerated in a large radiation blast anytime soon, there is almost no meaningful distance at all between Democrats and the GOP. Over time, if anything, whatever distance might have previously existed has meaningfully shrunk. Because with limited and marginalized exceptions, both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly functioning as a unified bloc on the questions which most centrally bear on America’s posture as a global military and economic hegemon. As that posture becomes more fraught and antagonistic across multiple theaters, the two parties have become more and more ardent in constricting the range of acceptable debate. Democrats may spend the bulk of their time on social media or in front of TV cameras piously shrieking that the empowerment of Republicans would guarantee the implosion of “democracy,” and Republicans may make funhouse-mirror versions of the same argument. But this phony baloney two-way theater obscures just how much their worldviews have converged.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO by a vote of 95-1 — formalizing the process by which those two countries have opted to repudiate their historic doctrines of military neutrality. (Finland is abandoning the precedent it adhered to throughout the entirety of the Cold War, while Sweden is abandoning the precedent it has adhered to since the reign of Napoleon.) Speaking from the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) joyously declared how “glad” he was that NATO enlargement is something “we can all pretty much agree on.” In a touching moment, Carper noted that he had both the “same initials” and the “same views” on the subject as his colleague Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) — perhaps the most ideologically zealous interventionist in the Senate. Cotton also happens to be one of the few remaining US political figures of any notoriety who’s still refused to budge in his conviction that it was a really great idea for George W. Bush to invade Iraq. And unless he just happens to have an unusually specific fondness for Iowa and New Hampshire, Cotton is clearly preparing to run for president — so it should bring Democrats great pleasure that someone they’re in such fundamental agreement with is gearing up to throw his hat in the ring.

“Probably one of the easiest votes I’ll ever make in the United States Senate,” announced Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), who seemed particularly appreciative that he barely had to give the Finland/Sweden issue more than a moment’s thought. “John McCain, I wish you were alive today to celebrate,” chimed in Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). And indeed, there’s little doubt that McCain would have reason to celebrate from beyond the grave: the US political class, whatever their surface-level partisan or factional disagreements, is barreling toward unshakable “unity” on the expansion of US hegemonic power, now arrayed with growing fervor against the reviled tandem of Russia and China. One of McCain’s favorite themes was always “unity,” but a peculiar kind of “unity” whose purpose was mainly to facilitate wars.

[…]

It wasn’t always this way. In 1998, 19 senators voted against the accession to NATO of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic — not enough to prevent the proposal from obtaining the required two-thirds majority, but enough to at least prompt a reasonably robust debate, one which far exceeded the pittance that accompanied this month’s vote. Figures as high-profile as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Hillary Clinton’s predecessor, argued against NATO expansion on the floor of the Senate in extremely stark terms: Moynihan declared his opposition stemmed from a keen wariness about “the dangers of nuclear war in the years ahead,” and said NATO expansion needlessly “put ourselves at risk of getting into a nuclear engagement, a nuclear war, with Russia — wholly unanticipated, for which we are not prepared, about which we are not thinking.”

Moynihan’s primary sparring partner during that 1998 debate was none other than Joe Biden, then the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appointed himself point-person for the entire process of shepherding NATO expansion through the necessary procedural formalities. In fact, Biden’s conviction in the eternal virtue of NATO expansion seems to be one of the few positions he’s held consistently over the course of his comically long, decades-spanning career. That first round of expansion in 1998, Biden declared at the time, would mark “the beginning of another 50 years of peace” — a prophecy that today some might quibble with.

Though he didn’t succeed, Moynihan’s opposition showed it wasn’t an automatic career-ender to be associated with skepticism of this particular strand of US military expansionism — nor was raising concerns about the specter of nuclear war considered contemptibly “cringe.” Moynihan remained a highly revered figure among his colleagues; a new expansion of Penn Station in NYC was even just named after him last year. With a hot war raging today in Ukraine, in which the US is effectively the leading co-combatant against Russia, the risk of nuclear war is much more acute than when Moynihan warned about it 24 years ago. But almost no political figure of any prominence even appears to be “thinking” about the matter anymore. Indulge in such “thinking,” and you’re liable to be denounced as a Putin agent for your trouble, and/or field a barrage of angry accusations that you’re somehow in league with right-wing “insurrectionists.”

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It's a different take, but when you look at both parties and their penchant for exercising military power—there isn’t much difference. Whether we’re throwing pebbles or boulders into the pond, both create ripples that have thus far led to more blowback than dividends in foreign affairs. Neoconservatives grossly underestimated the reach of American power by thinking we could export the American Revolution into a region of the world with no history of liberal democratic principles. Obama and the Democrats favor smaller-scale engagements, like targeted drone strikes, some of which killed led to extrajudicial killings. Obama had kill lists with the names of American citizens on them. A Republican would have been impeached. Both sides are good at making messes, and we could be in the initial stages of a particularly chaotic one.  

In general, blasting our enemies into the stone age might align with our national interests. Still, I’m sick of war, and it also doesn’t help that we’re giving tons of munitions to Ukraine while China is re-arming and re-asserting itself in East Asia. We cannot commit to some parts of the world right now because of a lack of manpower, training, and other resources. The COVID vaccine mandates and the ‘woke’ nonsense that’s engulfed the Pentagon has not helped our national security situation at home. 

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