War Fever

WAR FEVER….Why did support for the war seem so monolithic during the runup to the invasion of Iraq? As a conversation starter, I’d toss out four separate dynamics:

  1. The American foreign policy community has a bias in favor of military action — or, maybe more accurately, a bias against analysts who have a consistent history of skepticism toward military action. For obvious reasons this bias was amplified after 9/11.

  2. A lot of AFPC members, both liberal and conservative, supported the invasion of Iraq for principled reasons. It wasn’t a matter of being cowed into agreement by an all-powerful foreign policy collective. They just flat out thought it was a good idea.

  3. Of the ones who didn’t support it, many chose not to speak up. The reasons for this are probably varied and muddy: some were afraid of being wrong, some were afraid it would hurt their career aspirations, some were genuinely unsure if they were right, etc.

  4. The ones who did speak up were disproportionately ignored by TV and op-ed editors.

So what happens here? Say the normal hawkish split in the AFPC is 60-40. After 9/11, ten of the liberal internationalists become liberal hawks, making the split 70-30 in favor of war with Iraq. Not great, but still not that bad. But of the 30 dissenters, only half choose to speak up, and of those, only half get significant exposure. In terms of what the public sees, then, it’s not 70-30 in favor of the war, it’s more like 70-7 in favor. It’s overwhelming.

Obviously all four of these dynamics added to the problem. And to some extent they fed off each other. Still, they’re different things, and it’s worth looking at them separately if we want to understand who and what was responsible for the post-9/11 war frenzy. Feel free to add to the list in comments.

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