War Is A Losing Political Issue

Immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, President George Bush, a veteran of World War II, had a 90% approval rating in the polls. Yet, 21 months later, he lost his re-election bid to Governor Bill Clinton, who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War.

Unlike most pundits, the Institute of Election Analysis predicted that Bush was going to lose his re-election bid. War, even a victorious war, is the failure of politics. Peace and prosperity are the two winning issues in politics. Politicians who lead their nations into war are frequently defeated at the polls.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Britain throughout World War II, was roundly and unexpectedly defeated in the first election after Germany's surrender, even though the war in the Pacific was still going on. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office four months before the end of World War II, the opposition Republican Party swept to power in the 1946 off-year congressional elections. The War in Korea dashed any hopes President Harry S. Truman may have had for running in 1952, and the Vietnam War forced President Lyndon B. Johnson from office. And that's what happens if the war is won or a stalemate.

Losing a war often means a change in the nation's entire form of government. Japan had a new constitution and form of government imposed upon it in the wake of its defeat in World War II. Germany was divided for 50 years and had two different forms of government as a result of the war. World War I demolished the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires.

A little noticed trend in the 1970's and 1980's was the change from dictatorship to democracy caused by wars of foreign adventure. After the Greek junta invaded Cyprus, it was thrown out of power and replaced by a democratic government. The same held true for the Argentine junta which was destroyed by it's attempt to wrest the Falkland Islands from Britain.

War is a losing political issue. The famous military strategist Clauswitz wrote, "War is the continuation of politics by other means." War is the ultimate failure of politics.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf