Is Partisanship in Foreign Policy Increasing or Decreasing?

Foreign policy was expected to be a major issue in the 2008 campaign, but interest quickly fell with Wall Street's decline. During the 2000 campaign American's ranked foreign policy as being 23rd in importance.

Foreign policy was expected to be a major issue in the 2008 campaign, but interest quickly fell with Wall Street

It is definitely increasing.  I really should not complain because from my perspective the situation is better than in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. Partisanship did not disappear, but foreign policy and national security issues were ignored in those years.

This is also not a new phenomenon. This was one reason George Washington was opposed to the formation of political parties. Washington’s recommendation was quickly brushed aside, but even when the parties were formed, the founding fathers always emphasized the importance of maintain the spirit and bonds which had been formed during the revolutionary struggle. Thomas Jefferson alluded to this in his first Inaugural address when he said “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

I have recommend to students Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s A Patriots Handbook. She emphasizes that patriotism is neither liberal nor conservative, and both parties should implement her father’s desire for increased national service. It was her father (Editor’s note: President John F. Kennedy) who told us “Ask not what your country can do you, but what you can do for your country.” Mrs. Schlossberg says Ronald Reagan described what she is seeking when he spoke of an informed patriotism that starts at the dinner table.

Unfortunately, it has been difficult to maintain that spirit in Washington, D.C. which is intensely partisan. Members of one party have an unfortunate tendency to oppose foreign policy initiatives simply because they are being promoted by the other party.

Some intensely partisan Republicans opposed initiatives against genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo because they did not want to assist a Democratic president. In the same vein, some intensely partisan Democrats opposed President Bush’s initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq because they did not want to assist a Republican President.

The problem of these partisan blinders were addressed by Jonathan Chait, a senior editor of The New Republic:

“Perhaps the most disheartening development of the Iraq war at home, anyway is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I’m against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie. ”

There opposition to Bush has made liberals embrace principles such as the notion that the United States must never fight without U.N. approval except in self defense which the Clinton Administration never adhered too (see Operation Desert Fox in 1998, or the Kosovo campaign in 1999).

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