How the anti-war left became just anti-Trump

Where did all the peaceniks go?

An anti-war protest in 2007.
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Where did all the peaceniks go? Aside from the successful bipartisan opposition to bombing Syria in 2013 — a project the White House never seemed wholeheartedly invested in — the anti-war left mostly turned a blind eye to former President Obama's military actions. And so far in the Trump era, it's the hawks in both parties who seem to be benefiting from the new president.

It's bizarro politics. Typically, the election of a GOP president re-energizes the anti-war left. Yet a little over a month into the administration, much of the left is more anti-Trump than anti-war.

Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign is a legitimate subject of public inquiry and Democrats are right to demand answers. But many Democrats are allowing their anger over leaked emails to back them into a much more hawkish position on Russia than they took during the Obama administration — certainly more hawkish than the position they would take today in a different political context.

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"President Trump's kowtowing to Vladimir Putin is endangering our national security and emboldening a dangerous tyrant," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "What do the Russians have on President Trump that he would flirt with lifting sanctions and weakening NATO?"

Weakening the sanctions imposed in response to Russian hacking is certainly a debatable move (though one that has not yet actually been proposed). But do Democrats really think it is a bad idea to get NATO allies to pay their fair share of defense costs? Should we really take on new treaty commitments to defend Moscow's neighbors that we did not assume even at the height of the Cold War?

Did not the Democrats ridicule this kind of thinking about Russia five years ago, when they told Mitt Romney the 1980s called and wanted its foreign policy back? While those jokes look much lamer in hindsight, it is still true that Russia is less of a threat than the old Soviet Union.

Anti-Trump anger has also led the Democrats to cheer for intelligence community leaks against Trump. "Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow after the president tweaked them on Twitter. "So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

"Nobody should crave the rule of Deep State overlords," wrote civil libertarian progressive Glenn Greenwald. "Yet craving Deep State rule is exactly what prominent Democratic operatives and media figures are doing."

That overstates the case, but it is certainly a long way from where mainstream liberals were during the Church Committee or even when then-CIA Director George Tenant was quoted talking about the "slam dunk" case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Long derided as weak on national security, many Democrats seem to relish the opportunity to appear tough. Because Trump has occasionally, though far from consistently, expressed support for a more restrained U.S. foreign policy, the push to characterize everything he says as inherently irresponsible has mostly benefited liberal hawks.

The same is true on the right, where neoconservatives have been among the most persistent Trump detractors, though they have generally focused on the president's blindingly obvious temperamental flaws. They are well positioned to regain whatever influence they lost within the GOP after the Iraq war if Trump's presidency unfolds as they predicted.

By the same token, some anti-war conservatives and even libertarians have cheered for Trump because he offered at least some chance of moving GOP foreign policy in a more prudent direction, even if it doesn't match his tough guy posturing or talk of oil-stealing. The tiny anti-war right of the George W. Bush years didn't have much going for it, but it least it wasn't implicated in any of that administration's failures. That won't be the case in the Trump era.

Maybe the new Democratic hawkishness will never leave the realm of anti-Trump trash-talking, influencing rhetoric but not policy. And given the size of the anti-Trump protests already in the streets, it stands to reason that if President Trump wanted to go to war, the anti-war left would find its voice among "the resistance."

But the last two decades of American foreign policy have certainly seen their share of unintended consequences.

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