Does Presidential Election Signal a Revolution in U.S. Security Policy?

Does Presidential Election Signal a Revolution in U.S. Security Policy?
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz during a campaign event, Portsmouth, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016, (AP photo by David Goldman).

The 2016 presidential campaign has not yet reached peak intensity, but one thing is already clear: The American public is angry and dissatisfied. As Marc Thiessen wrote in the Washington Post, the big loser in this week’s Iowa caucuses was the political establishment. But although signs of unease in the electorate are stark, it is not yet clear how far this will go.

While most of the anger and dissatisfaction focuses on domestic issues, it is also spilling over to national security policy. Support is weakening for the foundational ideas of American strategy that emerged after the 9/11 attacks. As Patrick Porter of the University of Exeter pointed out, Sept. 11 convinced Americans that their security depended on conditions in the far-flung parts of the world where extremism takes shape. Hence, policymakers reasoned, the United States was obliged to project power, particularly military power, to these places and “tame the world back into order.” When the Bush administration made its case for this expansive, military-centric approach in the months after Sept. 11, there was little debate or pushback. Most Americans quickly accepted the idea. Now, though, they are less certain.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton represents the orthodox position. While Sen. Bernie Sanders is challenging her from the left, he has not yet focused on national security. But he may soon, particularly on the military-centric aspect of current American strategy. As Michael Cohen wrote in his WPR column this week, progressive Democrats have already targeted Clinton for her support of the Iraq War and Libya intervention, without any effort to examine the differences and distinctions between the two. That suggests that in its internal divide between liberal interventionists and doves, the Democratic electorate is now leaning toward the latter’s reflexive rejection of the use of U.S. military force.

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