Political polarization is worse than ever; never in modern politics have left and right been so far apart. Apparently, every topic is a political battleground; topics that previously enjoyed a banal consensus – as if we should have police departments or how many genres are there are – are now fervent rallying points. The most obvious practical result of our polarized society is a blocked Congress. The elected officials, representatives of voters increasingly distant from the center, do not seem to agree on much. The result is a powerless Congress, unable to legislate. FiveThirtyEight predicted that a “more divided government is likely imminent” in “our long era of ‘partisan gridlock’.
And yet, despite the historic chasm separating America’s two political parties, one issue draws the poles closer, creating an unlikely partnership between progressives and populists on an extremely crucial issue: war.
In America, the political center – or, the establishment – is zealously attracted to foreign intervention. Both right and left, however, would prefer the United States to intervene less frequently. The US military’s foreign intervention statistics are staggering; no country on Earth comes close to the frequency with which America deploys its troops.
Let’s look at the numbers:
“If we look at the distribution of the 392 U.S. military interventions since 1800 reported by the Congressional Research Service in October 2017 in fifty-year increments, the data shows a dramatic increase: from 1800 to 1849, there were thirty-nine interventions; forty-seven from 1850 to 1899; sixty-nine from 1900 to 1949; 111 from 1950 to 1999; and 126 from 2000 to 2017 – a period of only seventeen years compared to fifty years in the other periods,” explained Monica Duffy Toft, a professor at Tufts University, wrote.
Political support – or perhaps political apathy – fueled America’s accelerated rate of intervention; politicians would not commit American troops, and resources were so easy that there were political consequences to doing so. Above all, there are no political consequences. The center-right still worships President Bush 43, despite his misguided interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center-left still reveres President Obama, despite his unprecedented use of drone warfare. President Biden has so far lack to close Guantanamo Bay, and that’s just not a pressing political issue right now. Yet on the political poles – right and left – a narrower foreign policy agenda is gaining traction. Curiously, two groups of citizens — who are viscously at odds on everything from the economy to abortion, crime and immigration — find themselves in harmony regarding the reduction of American military intervention.
At first glance, the progressive-populist union on foreign policy seems pretty odd – kombucha-drinking-Prius-driving-San Franciscans aligned with Bud-drinking-monster-truck-driving-Floridians – but on closer inspection, the union seems more logical.
For starters, even though progressives and populists agree that the United States should intervene less frequently, the two groups generally use different logics to employ a more restrained foreign policy. On the left, contention-based groups typically employ a “world peace” logic. Take CODEPINK as an example. “CODEPINK is a grassroots, women-led organization working to end America’s wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars to health, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs,” the company’s website States. win without war offers another great example from the left: “We believe that by democratizing American foreign policy and providing progressive alternatives, we can achieve more peaceful, just, and commonsense policies that ensure that all people – regardless of race , nationality, gender, religion or economic status – can find and enjoy opportunities equally and feel safe.
On the right, contention-based groups typically employ a “strategic interests” logic. Take the example of Defense Priorities. “Our mission: to inform citizens, opinion leaders, and policy makers of the importance of a strong and vibrant military – used more wisely to protect America’s narrowly defined national interests – and to promote a realistic grand strategy prioritizing restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to keep the United States secure,” the Defense Priorities website States.
Where progressives and populists alike rationalize is with regard to resource allocation. Both factions believe that the United States spends too lavishly on foreign intervention. The two groups may disagree on precisely how that money would be best spent — but they agree it should be spent domestically for American citizens. Hopefully, the budding union between progressives and populists on foreign policy opens the door to collaboration on other issues, allowing our “partisan gridlock” to ease and a functioning government to return.
Harrison Kass is the senior defense writer at 19FortyFive. A lawyer, pilot, guitarist and minor professional hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a trainee pilot, but was discharged for medical reasons. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.