“Southerners are a military people. We were back then, still are today,” says a North Carolina Civil War enthusiast in 1998’s "Confederates in the Attic."
That's why the Republican Party is piling on President Obama as he seeks a diplomatic peace in Ukraine. The United States is acting like a nation in decline in its dealings with Russia rather than projecting strength, say former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, while Sen. John McCain has criticized Obama’s diplomatic efforts on so many occasions in a way that suggests if we don’t start bombing Russia in the next 72-hours, the senator from Arizona will chew through a lamp post.
On Tuesday, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that even a “trained ape” has better foreign policy skills than President Obama. Mind you, Rumsfeld also said in 2002, “That even a trained ape knows Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” Just kidding, but that's the guy we're dealing with here.
The Republican Party is the party of the South. The Republican congressional delegation is disproportionately southern, and unsurprisingly a majority of the party’s leaders talk with a southern accent. If you want to know why there has never been a war the Republican Party didn’t want another person’s kid to fight, it’s the Republican Party’s slavish devotion to the monolithic South. In Better off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, Chuck Thompson writes, “The southerner’s enthrallment with war and bloodshed, his veneration of defeat and disaster, his zeal for religious crusade, and easy compliance with the corporate profit motive, has repeatedly dragged the nation into unnecessary wars.”
The GOP and the South can’t stand the fact that Obama seeks diplomacy, or occasionally walks back from his own self-imposed “red lines.” They view his hesitancy to use military force as weakness, while at the same time forgetting the blood and treasure this country has forfeited in its previous rush to war; an invasion and occupation that cost 186,000 Iraqis and 5,000 Americans their lives. While also not forgetting that misadventure came with a $3 trillion pricetag and an immeasurable moral cost.
Interestingly, a 2003 Pew Research Poll showed that Southerners were by far the most supportive of the Iraq invasion, with 77 percent believing it was the right choice, as opposed to barely half of Americans in general. In fact, Southern whites expressed the strongest support for military action in Iraq with 83 percent saying it was the right decision.
Going back further, C. Vann Woodward noted in The Burden of Southern History, “Not only had the strongest support for the Vietnam War come from the South, but so also had the President and the Secretary of State who led the crusade.”
The Republican Party’s new attack line is to blame the world’s woes on a weakened America. With the slow but steadily growing success of the Affordable Care Act, it appears the GOP is readying to roll out its old timey “Democrats are weak on national security” tagline for 2014 instead of attacks on the President’s signature legislation.
Obama, according to likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz, endeavors "to alienate and abandon our friends, and to coddle and appease our enemies." Former Vice-President Dick Cheney said it’s Obama's weakness that encouraged Putin to trample into Ukraine and seize Crimea, while simultaneously forgetting he was the Vice-President when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. You know, when President Bush did nothing.
This neo-con language is designed specifically for the GOP’s Southern base. University of Georgia history professor James Cobb observes, “The long standing determination of so many southerners to show their ‘Americanness’ through ostentatious professions of patriotism and an aggressive ‘my country right or wrong’ attitude has typically translated into historically high levels of military participation and enthusiasm for military action.”
Certainly the loudest pro-war voices in the Republican Party are those who chose to avoid military service through the good fortune of deferment or family fortune. The chickenhawk phenomenon cuts across all regions of the U.S., but its pathology is most prevalent in the South, along with a handful of other pro-military industrial complex districts like Southern California’s Orange County and the Sunbelt states. Chickenhawk advocacy finds a reliable home in think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, while also consistently splashed across the opinion pages of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard and the Washington Post. Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Republican in Congress and is author of The Party Is Over, writes, “If you ever wondered how the United States came to be embroiled simultaneously in two major wars and a half dozen covert ones in the past decade, the cheerleading of Washington’s laptop commandos, with their disproportionate influence in major media, has been a major factor.”
These “laptop commandos” give the GOP base its foreign policy cues. Today’s Republican Party is effectively nothing more than a pro-Southern, pro-corporate sound machine. Other than tax cuts for the rich, the party does not possess a single coherent policy, domestic or foreign. When it comes to dealing with Russia, the GOP offers nothing that can be confused for an actual solution. Mitt Romney is doing the talk show circuit purely to remind Americans it was he who said Russia is our number-one geo-political foe. Not only was he wrong then and is wrong now—Russia poses no immediate threat to U.S. security—he offers nothing in terms of how he’d manage the Ukraine crisis differently than Obama.
Republicans criticized Obama for not having the nerve to carry out his threat against Syria, but when the President threw the decision to a congressional vote, House Republicans balked. They balked because a majority of American voters, faced with a lingering economic crisis at home, are uninterested in fighting another country’s crisis abroad. But history has proven that the nation’s mood on issues changes quickly, and it’s fair to conclude that the nation’s appetite for war might easily be renewed, so long as the Republican Party plays its military adventurism whistle—a tune heard mostly clearly by Southern voters.
“How depressing that we already know that the next Republican warmonger to sweep into power will do so on the same tarnished epaulets of military fanaticism enabled by the outsized influence of the southern polity on electoral America,” writes Chuck Thompson. As the Civil War enthusiast said, “Southerners are a military people. We were back then, still are today."