At the Wall Street Journal, conservative opposition to the war in Afghanistan is just part of the “out of power” grudge against a President of the opposite party. Here’s the argument:

The weakening public support for continuing the counterinsurgency campaign is not surprising. In the midst of an economic crisis people are tempted to draw inward. Add to that a general war weariness in the U.S. and the fact that the Afghanistan war is not going well right now—violence in Afghanistan is already far worse this year than last—and you have the makings of an unpopular conflict.

But the case of conservative opposition to the war in Afghanistan—as well as increasingly in Iraq—is symptomatic of something larger: the long history of political parties out of power advancing a neo-isolationist outlook. For example, Democrats were vocal opponents of President Reagan’s support for the Nicaraguan contras and the democratic government in El Salvador, the U.S. invasion of Grenada, the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe, and the forceful stand against the Soviet Union generally.

Many Democrats were also uneasy with or outright hostile to the policies of President George H.W. Bush. That included strong criticisms of the U.S. liberation of Panama and widespread Democratic opposition to the first Gulf War, which only 10 Senate Democrats voted to authorize.

Partisanship, not principles, in this view, influenced opposition to the conflicts.

Except that: The Contras were murderers and terrorists; the government in El Salvador was anything but democratic and employed death squads against citizens; we invaded Grenada illegally to destroy an airport that, according to a Congressional investigation, posed no military threat ; Panama’s Noriega was certainly a brute, but the U.S. invasion inflicted civilian casualties “at least four-and-a-half times higher than military casualties in the enemy, and twelve or thirteen times higher than the casualties suffered by U.S. troops.”

And the Gulf War – where to begin? Eck, I won’t.

Today the NYTimes reports that a NATO strike in northern Afghanistan inflicted heavy casualties. Not surprisingly, there is dispute about the civilian percentage:

The village, which is on the border of the districts of Ali Abad and Char Dara, is controlled by Taliban commanders, said the Ali Abad governor, Haji Habibullah. Putting the toll at “80 to 90,” he said, “Some of them were civilians and some of them were Taliban fighters.”

But public health officer for Kunduz Province, Dr. Azizullah Safar, said a medical team sent to the village reported that 80 people had been killed, and that “most of them were civilians and villagers.”

It was clear that some of the dead were militants, he said, noting that the site was scattered with remnants of ammunition vests and other gear carried by insurgents.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, civilian casualties rarely factor into American debates over the decision to go to war, as if the lives of others were negligible. And to be fair, aggressor states throughout history show little to no regard for civilian lives; but that, as I tell my children, is no excuse. Yet to ascribe opposition to military action as mere partisanship trivializes the serious concerns opponents have for the lives of civilians and soldiers thrown into the conflict, for the social costs at home, for the contribution trillions of dollars spent on questionable wars makes to our national debt, and for higher standards of morality, sovereignty and human life.

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