Here’s what the 1972 candidate for President, the late George McGovern, said on the Senate floor in 1970, during the debate over the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to End the War in Vietnam:
Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land-young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.”
There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.
And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: “A contentious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”
There weren’t any debates in 1972, but if there were, the differences between a candidate who would make that speech and what we had on display last night would be so stark it would seem to come from two different countries.
While Mitt Romney hid behind Barack Obama and displayed about as much independent thought as a college student who didn’t cram enough the night before the test and spent the whole time looking at his neighbor’s paper, his neighbor Barack Obama reflected so strongly the smoldering wreck that is this nation’s foreign policy consensus.
It’s amazing that the Republican Party, once associated almost totally with a “strong national defense,” would give up so completely on foreign policy, to the extent that they have no identity whatsoever on the issue. Romney agreed with every Obama position but said the nation needed a “comprehensive strategy” to deal with the world, the equivalent of Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons, a signifier without anything behind it.
But it’s also amazing to me that anyone would call the Republican candidate Peacenik Mitt, since on the one area by which we wage war in the 21st-century world, Mitt agreed “completely” on the use of drones. That’s increasingly the only way America and the west fights wars these days. So agreement on drones means agreement on the war strategy for the world powers over the next several decades.
We’re exporting our drone strategy throughout the world. Britain just bought a cache of Reaper drones to fly combat missions in Afghanistan. And that new hotspot, Mali, that many in America just heard about last night? France plans to send drones there:
France is planning to send drones into Mali as part of an international intervention to free the west African country from al-Qaida-backed insurgents who control large swaths of its territory, according to reports.
A French defence official said the country was moving surveillance drones to the region as part of secretive plans with the US, amid increasing fears that, if left unchecked, the crisis could serve as a launchpad for terrorist attacks on its own soil.
Speaking to the Associated Press, the official said on Monday that France was discussing plans with the US for drones, intelligence-gathering and security in Africa’s Sahel region. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Germany would be prepared to train Malian security forces and would consider providing “material and logistical support”.
When war policy gets reduced to “send flying robots overhead to strike,” eliciting no sacrifice on the part of the general population, it becomes much easier to make these calls, to sign off on interventions in Libya or Somalia or Yemen or Mali or wherever else.
I think it’s telling that this BBC World Service poll of 21 countries found President Obama ahead for re-election in all of them except for Pakistan, the country most brutalized by drones. Seems that the people who have bombs rained down on them from flying machines in the sky tend not to appreciate the individual who authorized it. Romney would authorize the same missions, but presumably the Pakistanis don’t have that level of understanding of US policy. But it will become clear soon enough. The new American way of war is to use flying machines and special forces to circumvent the actual processes by which war is supposed to be authorized, and to turn foreign policy into a unilateral dictatorship. Here’s Charlie Pierce:
The rough consensus on foreign policy, to which Willard Romney spent most of the evening appealing, is a truncated, dismal thing, a grim march through a universe of bad options and worse choices. “Harvey Cox said once that not to decide is to decide,” former senator Bob Graham said after it was over. “The only option not worth taking is the one where we do nothing.”
Unfortunately for Graham’s theory, there is no “we” in these questions. There was no “we” in the final presidential debate this year. In no area have we as a self-governing nation so abandoned our obligations as we have on foreign policy. In no area are we so intellectually subservient to expertise, and to the Great Man Theory of how things should be run. In no area are we so clearly governed, rather than governing ourselves. The president, at least, occasionally seems to be aware not only that this is true, but also that it puts the whole experiment of self-government in mortal peril, just as the Founders knew it would when they lodged the war powers in the Congress, which has spent the last 225 years giving them back, in one way or another, to the Executive, which is presided over, always, by One Great Man. He at least seems self-aware enough to appear troubled by the power he nonetheless wields.
Outside of reading the President’s mind to decide that this foreign policy architecture he helped build troubles him, I approve this message.