The Associated Press reports: With America embroiled in its longest armed conflict, Mitt Romney became the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party’s nomination without mentioning war.
Three election cycles after the 2001 terrorist attacks, neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had anything to say about terrorism or war while on their party’s biggest stage. The only one who did Thursday was actor Clint Eastwood, who won cheers for suggesting invading Afghanistan was a mistake and calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops — a line that might have earned boos and catcalls four years ago.
The Romney strategy reflects the weak public support for the Afghanistan war, fatigue over a decade of terrorism fears and the central role of the economy in the campaign. But it was still a remarkable shift in tone for a party that, even in times of peace, has used the specter of war to call for greater military spending and tough foreign policy.
Candidates Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon criticized the handling of the Vietnam War. Bob Dole said the way to prevent conflict is to prepare for more, greater wars than a country will need to fight. Ronald Reagan warned that a weak nation would tempt the Soviet Union.
“Four times in my lifetime America has gone to war, bleeding the lives of its young men into the sands of beachheads, the fields of Europe and the jungles and rice paddies of Asia,” Reagan said in 1980. “We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak.”
Even President Gerald Ford, who in 1976, a year after the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, declared that, “not a single American is at war anywhere on the face of this Earth tonight,” went on to say, “A strong military posture is always the best insurance for peace.”
Things are different now, 11 years after President George W. Bush pledged to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or rest.”
Osama bin Laden is dead. The Iraq war is over. Al-Qaida is weakened. The color coded alerts that for years warned of a constant, unseen danger have faded away. None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates for either party has ever served in the military, a first in 80 years.
The only thing that is evident is that in the current climate, war talk doesn’t win votes. But that hardly seems indicative of a fundamental change in mindset, either among Republicans or Democrats.
The opponents of Big Government have yet to call for slashing big defense spending. The president who promised to change the mindset that took America to war in 2003 has himself instead become the leading practitioner of remote warfare. Neither presidential candidate is promising to launch a war against Iran; but neither are they promising to do everything they can to prevent one. In 2011 the U.S. pumped more weapons into the global arms market than ever.
As the longest war in American history continues in Afghanistan, even if no one has much appetite to talk about war, war nevertheless remains the narrow prism that distorts America’s view of the world.