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 a couple of things that differentiate liberals from conservatives.
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. They are also advocates of funding things like education and the arts. Historically, it is the Democratic Party that has advanced the cause of civil rights for blacks, Hispanics, women and LGBT Americans.
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. 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 and 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 warmongering 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-willed, 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 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 to begin with, but that did not matter. It was time to stand up for America. It led this nation to invade Afghanistan under the premise that the perpetrator, Osama Bin-Laden, was hiding out there. Suspending rationality, the conservatives saw 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.”
We were willfully lied to by the Bush administration when we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that 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 thus was born the amorphous “War on Terror.”
If the “War on Terror” became the most overused phrase in America, then “National Security” became the second most used phrase. Everything the Bush administration did was a matter of national security. This same ideology led our government to excuse itself from the rule of international law (The Geneva Conventions) and indulge in torture, sexual humiliation, and even murder.
There is another element to this conservative pro-war discussion. Conservative Americans (read: non-politicians) who have supported these wars 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 making war we are doing good, and we have honorable reasons for going to war. This might be a 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.
Frankly, most Americans do not realize hour far afield America has gone in that respect.