How Much Political Leverage Does the Anti-War Left Have?

This post began as a response to some of the comments on this post. The commenters there believe that the Left will oppose our war against Islamic fascism no matter what. I think that may be true, but I want to expand on it to argue that even if it is true (and I don’t think the other commenters disagree), at worst the anti-war Left will be able to delay rather than stop our war effort.

Here are some hypothetical statistics about the composition of the US population. I made them up, but I assume that the real numbers are not so much different than these as to invalidate my argument:

Group 1: People who want us to do whatever it takes to win the war: 25% of US voters

Group 2: People who will oppose the use of US military power no matter what: 25% of US voters

Group 3: People whose opinion re the use of US military power depends on the extent of the external threat that they perceive: 50% of US voters

So, assuming that our elected representatives are sensitive to voter sentiment (and I think they are), and depending on the actual percentages of voters who fall into Groups 1 and 2, some majority of the swing voters in Group 3 will decide what we do as a nation. Maybe the decisive proportion, as a fraction of all voters, is as low as 20% or as high as 40%. I doubt that it is higher.

Under current circumstances, with a lot of recent bad news, anti-war media and bureaucracies, and an administration that has made a lot of mistakes and is inept at explaining itself, there appears to be enough skepticism among undecideds about the war and/or the competence of our leaders as to preclude new initiatives (e.g., attacks on Iran).

But this current stasis is based on a situation in which most of the variables are skewed in an anti-war direction. Voter opinion could remain marginally anti-war, or become even more anti-war, in the event of, say, a Shiite revolt in Iraq. But other conceivable events — such as a major terror attack in the USA, another attack on Israel or an Iranian/proxy campaign against Allied ships near the Horn of Africa — could flip the domestic opinion balance toward the pro-war side. And anti-war sentiment at home may encourage our enemies and make additional attacks on us more likely. So it seems likely, unfortunately, that majority public sentiment in the USA will eventually swing back towards being pro-war no matter what we do. And the change could come rapidly, as only a small subgroup of voters needs to change its position. (Of course I am assuming that we really do have enemies. I think that’s a safe assumption.)

War with Iran appears increasingly likely since the recent Lebanon debacle. This war will be more destructive the longer we put it off, and especially if we cede the initiative to our enemies. The tragedy is that our big media and many Democratic politicians, for mainly domestic political purposes, have been sowing fears among voters about the wisdom of the overall US war effort, and the Bush administration has been inept in assuaging those fears. Thus we may have to suffer an inevitable second or even third Pearl Harbor (if 9/11 was the first), or something even worse, before we as a society, under Republican or Democratic leadership, regain the political will to defeat our mortal enemies.

7 thoughts on “How Much Political Leverage Does the Anti-War Left Have?”

  1. I’m beginning to think that nothing short of another 9/11 will swing voters and by extension politicians toward the pro-war camp. The situation with Iran dicking us around with the UN could go on indefinitely–until they have nukes. A full-fledged Shiite revolt would probably hasten us pulling out the troops a la Somalia. An Iranian attack on allied shipping? Still too remote.

    I am bitterly disappointed with UN ceasefire in Israel, both for the way the Israelis behaved and for Bush’s agreeing to the travesty that’s being put in place now. Funny, but I think Bush could have put off the ceasefire option indefinitely. He wasn’t getting much flack from the Dems who don’t want to completely alienate the Jewish vote. I suppose Israel’s prosecution of the war is at fault, but I don’t see why Bush couldn’t have told Olmert that this is no time to go wobbly, to coin a phrase.

  2. Iraq is nothing like VietNam, but like they did then, the MSM misreads the polls. In the early 70s, they thought that McGovern had a chance against Nixon because of polling about the popularity of the war. Nixon clobbered McGovern. What the people were telling the pollsters was, we don’t like a war if we are not fighting to win. Patton was right when he said that Americans love a winner.

  3. The political left has considerable political power and influence and it is only growing stronger because of the fiasco in Iraq. The United States rushed into that region on the ground believing that it would be a glorious replay of the first Gulf War (1990-91); that is, short, sweet, and decisive (namely: popular). The current administration was wrong on all accounts.

    The biggest misstep was that the U.S. entered the region without a ideological/theological/philosophical component that parrelled the military aspect of warfighting. Without psychological underpinning to the current military operation the enemy was given the upper hand – the sole hand – in defining the justness of their fight and unjustness of the American presence. The American are fighting a War on Terror, the Iraqis are fighting for Islam. The explaination is overly simplistic but that describe the current situation better than most analysis. Better yet, the Americans are playing a game of Texas hold’em and the Iranians and Iraqis are playing chess – shortterm advantage versus longterm startegic thinking.

    The current military adventure is costing the United States dearly in money and blood. At a time of War this is the firsttime the United States has not increased the phyiscal size of its’ military. All the hype about smart bombs and superweapons from the first Gulf War has disappeared and the lesson we should should have learned from that war was quantity has its own quality.

    The Bush Adminstration now knows that it must fight with an increasingly tired military establishment and they also know that any expansion of this war will send them into the political wilderness for the nest generation. The only thing they can do is more of the same ole, same ole, and pray for a miracle knowing that the American Left will profit from this bundoogle.

    I used to believe that Republicans could bring about balanced budgets, lower taxes and less intrusive government. It will probably never happen in my lifetime again. We Americans will soon learn that diplomacy, persistence and patience is far better than military force. It is time for Republicans to come back to their political senses before it is too late!

    Danny L. McDaniel

  4. We Americans will soon learn that diplomacy, persistence and patience is far better than military force.

    Perhaps. Thanks to the feckless Omlert, Peretz and Halutz we are about to get the kind of real world experiment social scientists dream about. The forces of diplomacy, persistence and patience Mr. McDaniel lauds will soon be arrayed in Southern Lebanon. We shall see how well they fare in dealing with a domestic insurrection by religious fanatics with dreams of political victory through terror, supplied and encouraged by an external power; exactly the same challenge the U. S. faces in Iraq.

    The United States is easily capable of continuing the effort in Iraq indefinitely if it has the will. The challenge is how to maintain the will with out waving the bloddy shirt. This is a fine balance and one history will show the Bush administration to have maintained fairly well.

    The alternatives are the withdrawal the Democrats favor that will lead to the second 9/11 that will precipitate a total war effort on America’s part or the invasion of Iraq the hawks are circling for. Neither has the favor of the bulk of Americans in the middle as Jonathan points out. So we will continue to muddle through as we have and watch as the EU makes its effort in Lebanon. After we have some comparative results, it will be much easier to opine conclusively about which strategy is superior.

  5. I honestly thought that ‘El Chicago Boyz’ would have something useful to contibute. Patton might have been right when he said Americans love a winner. The problem here is that Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran have exposed US limitations.

    This is, at best, a bloody ‘score draw’.

    El Chicago Boyz better get used to it.

  6. I thought the motivation (Wilsonian perhaps, extraordinarily difficult perhaps) was laid out relatively early June 24, 2002. It may not work, but I’d like us to give it a try. And I hope the reason we don’t isn’t because a majority of Americans are opposed because they haven’t the vaguest idea what “it” is. Pragmatic hesitations, reservations & even “No, we shouldn’t go” are sensible – but making a pragmatic deicision requires an ability to weigh the consequences with the efforts to get there. It’s great & fine to say Bush has neither faced those pragmatic hurdles nor communicated – but I’d also like some sense that he wasn’t trying to speak through stone walls. (And what that quote at the end is doing there.)

  7. Paul Mooney,

    The problem here is that Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran have exposed US limitations.

    No, it has exposed that far to many people think they are watching a movie and don’t understand why the director is dragging things out. Unfortunately, people like yourself who got their military history education from Hollywood labor under the delusion that successful wars are usually short, sharp and decisive because that is what makes an emotionally satisfying story.

    Meanwhile, grownups who have cracked a book or two labor on with the pedestrian and boring long-term work that it actually takes to make the world a better place. We just have to hope that people like yourself won’t joggle our arm so bad that Iraq ends up like Cambodia.

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