The War Lovers (Again): What the Foreign Policy Advisers of Presidential Candidates May Tell Us About Future U.S. Foreign Policy

By Elizabeth Sanders and Caroline Emberton
Cornell International Affairs Review
2012, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

Conclusion: Breaking the Habit of War

The use of the Evan Thomas phrase "war lovers" to describe both the late 19th century imperialists and the Bush era defenders of a robust, military-centered foreign policy might seem a bit reductionist, but in fact both groups of empire advocates have revealed little hesitation about war making, or acknowledgement of its costs-in deaths (both to American soldiers and foreign soldiers and civilians), life-changing injuries, forced population migrations, institutional collapse, huge financial commitments, growing national debt, and environmental devastation.

Teddy Roosevelt and the 1898 war hawks embraced war with the enthusiasm of schoolboys. Roosevelt himself delighted in his brief war adventure, and urged his sons to be warriors. He "abhorred weakness, in himself or anyone else," and "craved dangerous adventure in an almost pathological way." He "felt blessed to send his sons to war," remarking that he would prefer that his children "die than have them grow up weaklings."

His son Archie reported, to apparent paternal approval, "the sensation of shooting a German and then, in a rage, stomping on his face, staining his boot with blood up to the ankle," all the while feeling "like a creature ‘of the stone age.'" When his younger son Quentin shot down a German plane in WWI, and was himself wounded, TR delighted that "The last of the lion's brood has been bloodied!" He was not, however, prepared for Quentin to die in the war. When it happened, writes Thomas, "The romance of war, at long last, gave way to heartbreak."43

In the 21st century, war threatens to become an American addiction, despite abundant evidence of the toll that extended war takes on the human mind and body, and the lessons of past occupations.44 The human toll has been tragically underlined in the killings of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, at the hands of Americans who, but for long participation in a war of occupation, would probably have lived normal lives.

Speaking of an Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a small village in March, 2012, a military psychiatrist told the New York Times that "With his multiple deployments and wounds, [he] seems emblematic of bigger problems: an overstretched military battered by 11 years of combat; failures by the military to properly identify and treat its weary, suffering troops; and the thin line dividing ‘normal' behavior in war from what later is deemed ‘snapping.' This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War," Dr. Xenakis said. "The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not."45

Is it not time for the United States to find more positive ways to develop its human resources and exert its influence in the world than in the endless military conflicts envisioned by the war lovers? Should we interrogate our presidents and their foreign policy advisers before elections, to discern exactly how they view the world, the benefits of peace, and the costs of war?


  1. The War Lovers (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010), 188. Warren Zimmerman presents a slightly different cast of characters (though all historical accounts show great overlap in these identifications). For Zimmerman, the Five Americans who "Made their Country a World Power" were TR, Lodge, John Hay, and Elihu Root (the latter two both Secretaries of State under TR; and Root was Secretary of War before, New York Senator after holding that post). Zimmerman, First Great Triumph (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002).
  2. Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); Gregg Jones, Honor in the Dust (NY: New American Library, 2012).
  3. In one example of the controversy around "Wilsonianism," Tony Smith, a prominent historian of Wilsonian liberal internationalism, proclaimed Ronald Reagan a Wilsonian democracy promoter. To most critics, Reagan failed the test of multilateralism and collective security advocated by Wilson, and represented more clearly the unilateralist internationalism that relies on force rather than diplomacy. However, it is true that, toward the end of his administration, Reagan dramatically reversed his early bellicose style in favor of bilateral negotiation with Mikael Gorbachev. (Tony Smith, America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994]). For one critical review of Smith's book, see David C. Hendrickson in Foreign Affairs, November-December, 1994).
  4. Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World they Made (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1997). The group chronicled were Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, and John McCloy, Jr.
  5. On presidents and their Vietnam policy advisors, see in particular Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999; David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (NY: Ballantine Books, 1992); Gordon M. Goldstein, Lessons in Disaster (NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2008); David Milne, America’s Rasputin (NY: Hill and Wang, 2009); John Acacia, Clark Clifford (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009); and Andrew Preston, The War Council (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  6. On the George W. Bush advisers, see, for example, Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (NY: Doubleday, 2008); Justin Vaisse, Neoconservatives: TheBiography of a Movement (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010); Bob Woodward, State of Denial (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2006); and James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans (NY: Viking, 2004).
  7. The Wise Men, 29. See also Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson (NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), chapter 7.
  8. Thomas Langston, Ideologues and Presidents (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), xii-xx.
  9. Ibid, 4-10; see also, Thomas Langston and Elizabeth Sanders, “Explaining Ideological Intensity in the Modern Presidency: The Case of George W. Bush,” unpublished conference paper, 2005, especially tables 1-4.
  10. Langston, Ideologues and Presidents 1-2.
  11. Andrew Rich, Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 4. Rich, writing in 2005, identifies 306 “independent” think tanks not affiliated with universities or government, 81 percent of them formed since 1970 (pp. 13-16).
  12. This discussion draws on John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); Langston, Ideologues and Presidents; and Langston and Sanders, “Explaining Ideological Intensity.”
  13. Ibid., 20.
  14. Andrew Rich, “War of Ideas: Why Mainstream and Liberal Foundations and the Think Tanks they Support are Losing in the War of Ideas in American Politics,” Stanford Social innovation Review, Spring 2005, 18-24. “Think tanks on the left tend to be organized by issue area – around women’s issues, poverty, or the environment – rather than taking on the broad range of issues with which Congress and the president deal,” the author writes (22). A research director at a new progressive think tank told Rich, “If you’re on the left, you have to go to the foundations and say you’re neutral, unbiased – not politicized. You’re certainly not liberal. If you’re ideological, they don’t want to support you. It’s frustrating – because, by contrast, if you’re on the right, the foundations will only fund you if you toe the ideological line, if you want to do battle for the conservative cause.” (24).
  15. Foundation for Public Affairs, Public Interest Profiles, 1988-89, and 1998-99 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1989, and 1999). Henceforth cited by year of publication and page number.
  16. Donald E. Abelson and Evert A. Lindquist, “Think Tanks in North America,” in James G. McCann and R. Kent Weaver, Think Tanks and Civil Societies (Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction), table 46-47.
  17. Fred M. Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983). AEI has a 12th floor conference center named for Wohlstetter.
  18. Langston and Sanders, table 4. By our calculations, using data from Public Interest Profiles, conservative think tank net assets were about $480 million in 2002, compared to 350 million for the liberal think tanks.
  19. Langston, Ideologues and Presidents, xi-26.
  20. Thirty two members of the CPD (including the president himself ) served in the Reagan administration. Lawrence Wittner, “Reagan and Nuclear Disarmament,” Boston Review, April/May, 2000.
  21. Frances Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (New York: Touchstone, 2000), 108-109, 156-57.
  22. The remarkable story is told compellingly by Beth Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000); Francis Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue, 416-17; and Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Warriors: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002). The extreme hawks who left the Reagan administration in 1987 were Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, and Frank Gaffney. Among the “relieved pragmatists” were Secretary of State George Schultz, National Security Adviser
  23. The role of conservative think tanks in providing a home and income for ideologues when the times are not propitious for them calls up Verta Taylor’s term, “abeyance structures,” in her article, “Social Movement Continuity: The Women’s Movement in Abeyance,” American Sociological Review, vol. 54, no. 5 (Oct. 1989), 761.
  24. White House release,
  26. On the fatal errors made by Defense Department ideologues in Iraq, see, for example, Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco (New York: Penquin Press, 2007).
  27. Josh Rogin, “Romney Creates Shadow National Security Council,” The Cable, October 6, 2011 ( posts/2011/10/06/romney_creates_shadow_national_security_council); “An American Century: A Strategy to Secure America’s Enduring interests and Ideals.” A Romney for President White Paper, with a Foreword by Eliot Cohen, October 7, 2011; Stephen M. Walt, “Romney Flunks Foreign Policy—Again,” Foreign Policy online , November 1, 2011 (;
  28. Rogin, “Romney Creates Shadow National Security Council.” Conservative think tanks are among the strongest voices in opposition to cuts in the defense budget, according to Josh Rogan. See his “Conservative Think Tanks oppose Republican Efforts to Trim Defense Budget,” Foreign Policy, Oct 4, 2010.
  29. (Transcript) NPR Staff, “Is It Time to Clip America’s Wings?” Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate at New York University, April 5, 2011. On the left in the debate were Peter Galbraith and Lawrence Korb. Elliott Abrams, one of the most controversial of the Reagan hawks, was convicted in 1991 of two misdemeanor counts for withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra investigations; he was pardoned by the first president Bush, and went on to serve in the administration of George W. Bush. Abrams was apparently too controversial for formal inclusion in the Romney team, but he has contributed to the campaign with an aggressive, and (other conservatives claimed), misleading, attack on Newt Gingrich in the National Review. (Jeffrey Lord, “Elliott Abrams Caught Misleading on Newt,” The Spectacle Blog,
  30. Jonathan D. Tepperman, “Salvador in Iraq: Flashback,” Foreign Affairs April 5, 2005 Writes Tepperman, “During El Salvador’s bloody twelve-year civil war, which ended in 1992, the United States had used American trainers and vast amounts of cash to strengthen the Salvadoran military in its battle against leftist guerrillas. It hadalso allegedly supported the use of right-wing paramilitaries and death squads to liquidate the leaders of the rebellion. And it was this latter policy, the [New York Times] articles claimed, that was now being contemplated for Iraq: the creation of elite commando units, trained by American Special Operations Forces, and made up of Shia militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga, to hunt down leaders of the Sunni insurgency. When asked, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stopped short of categorically denying the Salvador option, but refused to comment further.”
  31. Ibid, 2.
  32. Eliot Cohen, “Obama’s Coin Toss.” AEI, December 6, 2009.
  33. Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “Pentagon finds Perils for U.S. if Israel Were to Strike Iran,” New York Times, March 19, 2012.; John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “Why Mr. Obama Must Take a Stand Against Israel over Iran,” Financial Times, March 5, 2012.
  34. After Moammar Gaddafi announced in December of 2003 his willingness to negotiate, “inspectors from the United States, United Kingdom,and international organizations worked to dismantle Libya’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its longest-range ballistic missiles. Washington also took steps toward normalizing its bilateral relations with Tripoli, which had essentially been cut off in 1981,” Arms Control Association, “Chronology of Libya’s Disarmament and Relations with the United States,”
  35. Gerald Pomper, with Susan S. Lederman, Elections in America: Control and Influence in Democratic Politics, 2nd Ed. (New Yok: Longman, 1980).
  36. Rahul Desai, “Midterm Loss: Examining the Relationship between Presidential Agendas and Midterm Election Outcomes.” Unpublished Honors Thesis, Department of Government, Cornell University, 2010.
  37. One of the most comprehensive and persuasive studies confirming this sort of political war making is Benjamin Fordham, “Partisanship, Macroeconomic Policy, and U.S. Uses of Force,1949-1994,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 42 (August1998), 418-39.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Dan Balz, “Rove Offers Republicans a Battle Plan for Elections,” Washington Post, January 21, 2006. According to the Post, the same war-focused campaign was planned for the 2006 midterms.
  40. Stephen Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997).
  41. Mark Kesselman, Rally Around the Calendar, unpublished honors thesis, Department of Government, Cornell University, 1993.
  42. Jonathan Steele, “Israel asked Bush for Green Light to Bomb Nuclear Sites in Iran,” The Guardian (UK), September 25, 2008. http://www.
  43. Thomas, The War Lovers, 404-6.
  44. David M. Edelstein, Occupational Hazards: Success and Failure in Military Occupation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008). Edelstein finds only 7 successes in 26 military occupations by single or multiple nations since 1815.
  45. James Dao, “Town Asks How ‘Our Bobby’ Became War Crime Suspect,” New York Times, March 18, 2012 (Quoting Dr. Stephen Xenakis).

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Table 1. Romney Foreign Policy Advisers: Positions and Affiliations (think tanks in bold)

Table 1. Romney Foreign Policy Advisers: Positions and Affiliations (think tanks in bold)

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