Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you’re undoubtedly aware that award-winning director Christopher Nolan has released a new film about Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for leading the group of scientists who created that deadly weapon as part of America’s World War II-era Manhattan Project. The film has earned widespread attention, with large numbers of people participating in what’s already become known as “Barbieheimer” by seeing Greta Gerwig’s hit film Barbie and Nolan’s three-hour-long Oppenheimer on the same day.
Nolan’s film is a distinctive pop cultural phenomenon because it deals with the American use of nuclear weapons, a genuine rarity since ABC’s 1983 airing of The Day After about the consequences of nuclear war. (An earlier exception was Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, his satirical portrayal of the insanity of the Cold War nuclear arms race.)
The film is based on American Prometheus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 biography of Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Nolan made it in part to break through the shield of antiseptic rhetoric, bloodless philosophizing, and public complacency that has allowed such world-ending weaponry to persist so long after Trinity, the first nuclear bomb test, was conducted in the New Mexico desert 78 years ago this month.
Nolan’s impetus was rooted in his early exposure to the nuclear disarmament movement in Europe. As he said recently:
“It’s something that’s been on my radar for a number of years. I was a teenager in the ‘80s, the early ‘80s in England. It was the peak of CND, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Greenham Common [protest]; the threat of nuclear war was when I was 12, 13, 14 — it was the biggest fear we all had. I think I first encountered Oppenheimer in… Sting’s song about the Russians that came out then and talks about Oppenheimer’s ‘deadly toys.’”
A feature film on the genesis of nuclear weapons may not strike you as an obvious candidate for box-office blockbuster status. As Nolan’s teenage son said when his father told him he was thinking about making such a film, “Well, nobody really worries about nuclear weapons anymore. Are people going to be interested in that?” Nolan responded that, given what’s at stake, he worries about complacency and even denial when it comes to the global risks posed by the nuclear arsenals on this planet. “You’re normalizing killing tens of thousands of people. You’re creating moral equivalences, false equivalences with other types of conflict… [and so] accepting, normalizing… the danger.”
These days, unfortunately, you’re talking about anything but just tens of thousands of people dying in a nuclear face-off. A 2022 report by Ira Helfand and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War estimated that a “limited” nuclear war between India and Pakistan that used roughly 3% of the world’s 12,000-plus nuclear warheads would kill “hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions” of us. A full-scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia, the study suggests, could kill up to five (yes, five!) billion people within two years, essentially ending life as we know it on this planet in a “nuclear winter.”
Obviously, all too many of us don’t grasp the stakes involved in a nuclear conflict, thanks in part to “psychic numbing,” a concept regularly invoked by Robert Jay Lifton, author of Hiroshima in America: A History of Denial (co-authored with Greg Mitchell), among many other books. Lifton describes psychic numbing as “a diminished capacity or inclination to feel” prompted by “the completely unprecedented dimension of this revolution in technological destructiveness.”
Given the Nolan film’s focus on Oppenheimer’s story, some crucial issues related to the world’s nuclear dilemma are either dealt with only briefly or omitted altogether.
The staggering devastation caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is suggested only indirectly without any striking visual evidence of the devastating human consequences of the use of those two weapons. Also largely ignored are the critical voices who then argued that there was no need to drop a bomb, no less two of them, on a Japan most of whose cities had already been devastated by U.S. fire-bombing to end the war. General (and later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote that when he was told by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the plan to drop atomic bombs on populated areas in Japan, “I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
The film also fails to address the health impacts of the research, testing, and production of such weaponry, which to this day is still causing disease and death, even without another nuclear weapon ever being used in war. Victims of nuclear weapons development include people who were impacted by the fallout from U.S. nuclear testing in the Western United States and the Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific, uranium miners on Navajo lands, and many others. Speaking of the first nuclear test in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Tina Cordova of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which represents that state’s residents who suffered widespread cancers and high rates of infant mortality caused by radiation from that explosion, said “It’s an inconvenient truth… People just don’t want to reflect on the fact that American citizens were bombed at Trinity.”
Another crucially important issue has received almost no attention. Neither the film nor the discussion sparked by it has explored one of the most important reasons for the continued existence of nuclear weapons — the profits it yields the participants in America’s massive nuclear-industrial complex.
Once Oppenheimer and other concerned scientists and policymakers failed to convince the Truman administration to simply close Los Alamos and place nuclear weapons and the materials needed to develop them under international control — the only way, as they saw it, to head off a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union — the drive to expand the nuclear weapons complex was on. Research and production of nuclear warheads and nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines quickly became a big business, whose beneficiaries have worked doggedly to limit any efforts at the reduction or elimination of nuclear arms.
The Manhattan Project and the Birth of the Nuclear-Industrial Complex
The Manhattan Project Oppenheimer directed was one of the largest public works efforts ever undertaken in American history. Though the Oppenheimer film focuses on Los Alamos, it quickly came to include far-flung facilities across the United States. At its peak, the project would employ 130,000 workers — as many as in the entire U.S. auto industry at the time.
According to nuclear expert Stephen Schwartz, author ofAtomic Audit, the seminal work on the financing of U.S. nuclear weapons programs, through the end of 1945 the Manhattan Project cost nearly $38 billion in today’s dollars, while helping spawn an enterprise that has since cost taxpayers an almost unimaginable $12 trillionfor nuclear weapons and related programs. And the costs never end. The Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reports that the U.S. spent $43.7 billion on nuclear weapons last year alone, and a new Congressional Budget Office report suggests that another $756 billion will go into those deadly armaments in the next decade.
Private contractors now run the nuclear warhead complex and build nuclear delivery vehicles. They range from Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin to lesser-known firms like BWX Technologies and Jacobs Engineering, all of which split billions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon (for the production of nuclear delivery vehicles) and the Department of Energy (for nuclear warheads). To keep the gravy train running — ideally, in perpetuity — those contractors also spend millions lobbying decision-makers. Even universities have gotten into the act. Both the University of California and Texas A&M are part of the consortium that runs the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory.
The American warhead complex is a vast enterprise with major facilities in California, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. And nuclear-armed submarines, bombers, and missiles are produced or based in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, North Dakota, Montana, Virginia, Washington state, and Wyoming. Add in nuclear subcontractors and most states host at least some nuclear-weapons-related activities.
And such beneficiaries of the nuclear weapons industry are far from silent when it comes to debating the future of nuclear spending and policy-making.
Profiteers of Armageddon: The Nuclear Weapons Lobby
The institutions and companies that build nuclear bombs, missiles, aircraft, and submarines, along with their allies in Congress, have played a disproportionate role in shaping U.S. nuclear policy and spending. They have typically opposed the U.S. ratification of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty; put strict limits on the ability of Congress to reduce either funding for or the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); and pushed for weaponry like a proposed nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile that even the Pentagon hasn’t requested, while funding think tanks that promote an ever more robust nuclear weapons force.
A case in point is the Senate ICBM Coalition (dubbed part of the “Dr. Strangelove Caucus” by Arms Control Association Director Daryl Kimball and other critics of nuclear arms). The ICBM Coalition consists of senators from states with major ICBM bases or ICBM research, maintenance, and production sites: Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. The sole Democrat in the group, Jon Tester (D-MT), is the chair of the powerful appropriations subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he can keep an eye on ICBM spending and advocate for it as needed.
The Senate ICBM Coalition is responsible for numerous measures aimed at protecting both the funding and deployment of such deadly missiles. According to former Secretary of Defense William Perry, they are among “the most dangerous weapons we have” because a president, if warned of a possible nuclear attack on this country, would have just minutes to decide to launch them, risking a nuclear conflict based on a false alarm. That Coalition’s efforts are supplemented by persistent lobbying from a series of local coalitions of business and political leaders in those ICBM states. Most of them work closely with Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for the new ICBM, dubbed the Sentinel and expected to cost at least $264 billion to develop, build, and maintain over its life span that is expected to exceed 60 years.
The biggest point of leverage the nuclear weapons industry and the arms sector more broadly have over Congress is jobs. How strange then that the arms industry has generated diminishing job returns since the end of the Cold War. According to the National Defense Industrial Association, direct employment in the weapons industry has dropped from 3.2 million in the mid-1980s to about 1.1 million today.
Even a relatively small slice of the Pentagon and Department of Energy nuclear budgets could create many more jobs if invested in green energy, sustainable infrastructure, education, or public health – anywhere from 9% to 250% more jobs, depending on the amount spent. Given that the climate crisis is already well underway, such a shift would not only make this country more prosperous but the world safer by slowing the pace of climate-driven catastrophes and offering at least some protection against its worst manifestations.
A New Nuclear Reckoning?
Count on one thing: by itself, a movie focused on the origin of nuclear weapons, no matter how powerful, won’t force a new reckoning with the costs and consequences of America’s continued addiction to them. But a wide variety of peace, arms-control, health, and public-policy-focused groups are already building on the attention garnered by the film to engage in a public education campaign aimed at reviving a movement to control and eventually eliminate the nuclear danger.
Past experience — from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament that helped persuade Christopher Nolan to make Oppenheimer to the “Ban the Bomb” and Nuclear Freeze campaigns that stopped above-ground nuclear testing and helped turn President Ronald Reagan around on the nuclear issue — suggests that, given concerted public pressure, progress can be made on reining in the nuclear threat. The public education effort surrounding the Oppenheimer film is being taken up by groups like The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Federation of American Scientists, and the Council for a Livable World that were founded, at least in part, by Manhattan Project scientists who devoted their lives to trying to roll back the nuclear arms race; professional groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility; anti-war groups like Peace Action and Win Without War; the Nobel Peace prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; nuclear policy groups like Global Zero and the Arms Control Association; advocates for Marshall Islanders, “downwinders,” and other victims of the nuclear complex; and faith-based groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The Native American–led organization Tewa Women United has even created a website, “Oppenheimer — and the Other Side of the Story,” that focuses on “the Indigenous and land-based peoples who were displaced from our homelands, the poisoning and contamination of sacred lands and waters that continues to this day, and the ongoing devastating impact of nuclear colonization on our lives and livelihoods.”
On the global level, the 2021 entry into force of a nuclear ban treaty — officially known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — is a sign of hope, even if the nuclear weapons states have yet to join. The very existence of such a treaty does at least help delegitimize nuclear weaponry. It has even prompted dozens of major financial institutions to stop investing in the nuclear weapons industry, under pressure from campaigns like Don’t Bank on the Bomb.
In truth, the situation couldn’t be simpler: we need to abolish nuclear weapons before they abolish us. Hopefully, Oppenheimer will help prepare the ground for progress in that all too essential undertaking, beginning with a frank discussion of what’s now at stake.
This piece has been republished with permission from TomDispatch.
Somali National Army soldiers march during the 57th Anniversary of the Somali National Army held at the Ministry of defence in Mogadishu on April 12, 2017. AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed. Original public domain image from Flickr
On February 15, the U.S. government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Somalia to construct up to five military bases for the Somali National Army in the name of bolstering the army’s capabilities in the ongoing fight against the militant group al-Shabaab.
This is a troubling development that not only risks further militarizing Somalia and perpetuating endless war, but comes with the potential of exacerbating geopolitical rivalries at the expense of the needs and interests of ordinary Somalis.
According to statements by U.S. officials, the bases are intended for the Danab (“Lightning”) Brigade, a U.S.-sponsored Special Ops Force that was established in 2014. Funding for Danab initially came from the U.S. State Department, which contracted the private security firm Bancroft Global to train and advise the unit. More recently, Danab has received funding, equipment, and training from the Department of Defense.
U.S. support is made possible by the 127e program, a U.S. budgetary authority that allows the Pentagon to bypass congressional oversight by allowing U.S. special operations forces to use foreign military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions. The Intercept has documented similar 127e operations in multiple African countries, primarily in locations that the U.S. government does not recognize as combat zones, but in which AFRICOM troops are present on the ground.
But this MoU is about much more than the U.S. government’s proclaimed commitment to help Somalia defeat al-Shabaab. It is a clear indication of the growing geopolitical significance of the Horn of Africa, and comes at a time of mounting concerns (mostly attempts by Yemen’s Houthis to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza) about securing the flow of international commerce via the Red Sea. It also coincides with a growing awareness that rising tensions in the Middle East could force the U.S. out of Iraq.
The U.S. government’s plan to train Somali security forces at newly-established military bases in five different parts of the country (Baidoa, Dhusamareb, Jowhar, Kismayo, and Mogadishu) is a back-door strategy not only to expand the U.S. military’s presence in Somalia, but to position itself more assertively vis-à-vis other powers in the region. Indeed, the 127e program is not the only policy that allows for the training and equipping of foreign forces as proxies: section 1202 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act further expands the ability of the U.S. to wage war via surrogate forces in places where it has not formally declared war, with the broader objective of countering the influence of adversaries like China and Russia.
While much ink has been spilled attempting to analyze great power competition on the continent, we have yet to adequately scrutinize the growing influence of middle powers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar who are each attempting to negotiate their own sphere of influence, and whose involvement in the Horn points to uncertain, if not waning, U.S. power.
Turkey maintains its largest foreign military presence in Mogadishu, has trained Somali security forces, and more recently has worked closely with the Somali government in conducting drone strikes against Al-Shabaab. Further underlining deepening Turkish engagement in the country, Somalia and Turkey signed defense and economic agreements earlier this month. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have trained, and continue to train, local security forces as part of a broader strategy to secure access to regional markets and to assert their control over vital shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
With the drawdown of the African Union sponsored “peacekeeping” mission — previously known as AMISOM but renamed ATMIS in 2022 — analysts have expressed apprehension about the expansive nature of foreign actor involvement in Somalia and the risk of Cold War-style competition fueling instability. Indeed, the foreign-sponsored training of multiple “elite” contingents of the Somali National Army (Danab, Waran, Gashaan) has prompted internal divisions within the security establishment in Somalia as it raises chain of command issues and questions about the loyalty of these units.
As Colin D. Robinson and Jahara Matisek, both regional and military experts, have said, “The only thing worse is that various Somali units become more loyal and dependent on their foreign patron, short-circuiting the political logic of having security forces that look more like hired proxies than locally organized for self-defense. This may contribute to the growing perception of Somalia becoming a hyper-competitive arena; a republic of militias if you will.”
Equally significant is the recently announced Memorandum of Understanding between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a separatist region in northwestern Somalia. According to the terms of this yet-to-be signed agreement, in exchange for Somaliland granting 20km of much coveted sea access for the Ethiopian Navy for a period of 50 years, Ethiopia would formally recognize the Republic of Somaliland as an independent nation. The MoU has elicited a wave of anger among Somalis who view Ethiopia as meddling in their internal affairs — and it is precisely this history of meddling that has in the past contributed to al-Shabaab’s support base as it positions itself as the defender of Somali nationalism and autonomy.
While the U.S. State Department called for respect for Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urged dialogue in response to the Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU in the name of de-escalating tensions in the region, the February 15 announcement that the U.S. intends to ramp up its involvement in Somalia is hardly an indication of a neutral stance. Rather, it is an indication of U.S. positioning in an increasingly militarized jockeying by foreign powers in this strategic but troubled country and region.
In Mogadishu, many Somalis are welcoming the U.S. announcement, perhaps in some cases hoping for job opportunities, and in others viewing the U.S. military support and presence as a potential buffer against Ethiopia. But if the past several decades of U.S. mis-adventures in Somalia are any indication, expanding U.S. involvement risks perpetuating rather than minimizing further conflict.
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SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 9, 2021) The Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups steam in formation on scheduled deployments to the 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/Released)
The U.S. will have almost half of its aircraft carriers deployed in the Pacific in the coming weeks.
The South China Morning Post reported on February 14 that five of America’s 11 aircraft carriers would all likely soon be deployed there at the same time. Two of the carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt have been participating in a military exercise with Japan in the Philippine Sea, the USS Ronald Reagan is in port at Yokosuka, the USS Abraham Lincoln departed San Diego earlier this month, and the USS George Washington is expected to relieve the Reagan in a few weeks.
This is an unusual concentration of America’s naval power in one region at once, and it is being widely interpreted as a show of force meant for China and North Korea.
The Biden administration has made a point of making more shows of force in East Asia over the last year to reassure Asian allies that the U.S. has not forgotten about them. That isn’t surprising given the importance that the administration attaches to the “Indo-Pacific” and an active U.S. role in it, but in doing this it may also be contributing to increasing tensions with both Beijing and Pyongyang. We have already seen some of this in the back-and-forth between the U.S. and North Korea since last summer as North Korea has answered U.S. naval deployments to South Korea with additional missile tests and more bellicose rhetoric.
While these carrier deployments are presumably intended to signal American resolve and commitment to its regional allies, they could easily encourage China and North Korea to engage in their own reciprocal demonstrations of strength. They are also a reminder that the U.S. approach to East Asia is still very much a “military-first” approach that gives short shrift and devotes relatively few resources to economic statecraft and diplomacy. International relations scholar Van Jackson warned about the dangers of this approach more than two years ago, and since then the U.S. has only ramped up its military spending and deployments.
Because Washington’s attention has been focused so intently for the last four months on the war in Gaza and the other conflicts in the Middle East connected to it, it seems that the administration wants to show that it isn’t neglecting East Asia. The carrier deployments in the Pacific appear to be an attempt to “make up” for the continued massive over-investment of energy and resources in the Middle East.
The show of force may satisfy some allied governments, but it could also confirm the impression in both friendly and hostile capitals that the U.S. is overstretched and trying to take on too many tasks at the same time. The habit of reassuring allies so frequently has its own costs, including encouraging greater allied dependence, and when it is done too often it can have destabilizing effects on the wider region.
One of the principle weaknesses of U.S. foreign policy in East Asia is an overreliance on military deterrence. This tends to ratchet up tensions more than necessary and undermines credible assurances to adversaries. The U.S. excels at reassuring allies with its displays of military power, but because it often fails to strike a balance by giving adversaries assurances about its intentions, our government can feed the fears of Chinese and North Korean leaders and encourage them to assume the worst about what the U.S. is doing.
The carrier deployments suggest that the administration doesn’t understand the need for balancing deterrence and assurance. Failing to balance the two risks making conflict based on a miscalculation more likely. As the Quincy Institute’s Michael Swaine recently wrote about U.S. deterrence and Taiwan, “This balance is essential because, if the level of punishment or denial capability acquired is in fact seen as threatening the adversary’s most vital interests, the adversary, rather than being deterred from taking aggressive action, will become more inclined to undertake or threaten preemptive or punishing moves of its own in order to protect those interests, thus increasing, rather than decreasing, the chance of conflict.”
By relying so much on shows of force designed to intimidate China, the Biden administration increases the risk of a crisis.
The potential danger with North Korea is arguably even greater, since the North Korean government has a long history of responding to U.S. and allied pressure with its own provocations and threats. To the extent that Pyongyang perceives the deployment of so many carriers to the Pacific as directed even partly at North Korea, Kim Jong-un may conclude that he needs to show off his country’s own capabilities with additional missile tests and possibly even a new nuclear test.
Last year, North Korea reacted very angrily to the arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan in Busan, so it seems reasonable to expect an even harsher response if there are multiple carriers in the vicinity. Given the increasingly hostile rhetoric already coming from Pyongyang in the last few months, it would not take much for a new standoff between the U.S. and North Korea to begin.
The U.S. can ill afford a new crisis in East Asia on top of the other conflicts that it is involved in, but its overly militarized approach to the region is not the way to avoid it. If Washington wants to make conflicts in East Asia less likely, it will need to do a much better job of understanding its adversaries’ thinking and of offering them assurances that they can believe. Right now, the U.S. is doing far too little of both, and that is making the U.S. and its allies less secure than they could be.
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Left-to-right: Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-N.C.); Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader; Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL); and Senator-elect J.D. Vance (R-OH) pose for a photo before meeting in Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)
The so-called GOP “civil war” over the role the United States should play in the world made headlines earlier this week when the Senate finally passed a national security supplemental that provides $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.
The legislation, which was supported by President Joe Biden and the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, proved more controversial among Republicans. Twenty-two GOP Senators voted in favor of the legislation, while 27 opposed it.
An analysis of the votes shows an interesting generational divide within the Republican caucus.
Each of the five oldest Republicans in the Senate — and nine of the ten oldest — voted in favor of the supplemental spending package. Conversely, the six youngest senators, and 12 of the 14 youngest, opposed it.
Equally striking was the breakdown of votes among Republicans based on when they assumed their current office. Of the 49 sitting GOP Senators, 30 were elected before Donald Trump first became the party’s presidential candidate in 2016. Eighteen of those 30 supported the aid legislation. Of the members who came to office in 2017 or later, only four voted to advance the bill, while 15 voted against.
The difference in votes among those elected since 2016 is likely partly attributable to Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy. The Republican party establishment during the Cold War and Global War on Terror is often associated with hawkishness, including towards Russia. While the party has always carried some skepticism toward foreign aid, some of the most significant spending increases have taken place during the presidencies of Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Trump, however, won in 2016 in part for his open disdain for mission creep after the GWOT, what he called the failed war in Iraq, and foreign aid he believed made countries dependents rather than reciprocal partners and allies.
“[Trump] certainly created the cognitive space,” Brandan Buck, a U.S. Army veteran and historian of GOP foreign policy, tells RS. “He's more of an intuitive thinker than a person of principle, but I think him being on the scene, prying open the Overton window has allowed for a greater array of dissenting voices.”
Others have argued that the trends are perhaps also indicative of the loyalty that Republicans who assumed their offices during the Trump presidency feel toward him. Trump spoke out forcefully against the legislation in advance of the vote.
“WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE MONEY ANYMORE WITHOUT THE HOPE OF A PAYBACK, OR WITHOUT “STRINGS” ATTACHED. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHOULD BE “STUPID” NO LONGER!,” the former president wrote on the social media platform Truth Social the weekend before the vote.
The vote cannot only be explained by ideology, as some typically hawkish allies of Trump, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) ultimately voted against the package. Graham is a staunch supporter of Israel, has voted for previous Ukraine aid packages, and in the past called aid for Ukraine “a good investment” and “the best money we’ve ever spent.” By the time the vote on the most recent spending package came around, Graham was lamenting the lack of border security provisions and echoing Trump’s argument that aid to Ukraine should be a “loan.”
Meanwhile, Senators took note of the generational gap, and the debate spilled over into the public. .
“Nearly every Republican Senator under the age of 55 voted NO on this America Last bill,” wrote Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), 48, on the social media platform X. “Things are changing just not fast enough.” Schmitt was elected in 2022.
“Youthful naivety is bliss, the wisdom of age may save the west,” retorted Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) “Reagan may be dead, but his doctrine saved the world during less dangerous times than these. If the modern Marx (Putin for the youngsters) restores the USSR while we pretend it’s not our problem, God help us.” Cramer, 63, was sworn in in 2019, making him one of the handful of recently elected senators to support the aid legislation.
“I like Kevin, but come on, man, have some self-awareness,” Sen. J.D. Vance fired back. “This moment calls out for many things, but boomer neoconservatism is not among them.”
Vance, who at 39 is the youngest Republican member of the Senate, noted in his post that “the fruits of this generation in American leadership is: quagmire in Afghanistan, war in Iraq under false pretenses.” He said younger Americans were disillusioned with that track record.
Buck, who served several tours in the Afghanistan war, and whose research includes generational trends in U.S. foreign policy thinking, pointed out that there is strong historical precedent for believing that age and generation affect how members of Congress view America’s role in the world.
“It's certainly not unusual for there to be generational trends in foreign policy thinking, especially within the Republican Party,” Buck told RS. Following the end of World War II, he said, it took “a full churning” of the conservative movement to replace old-school non-interventionist Republicans and to get the party in line with the Cold War consensus. “I think what we're seeing now is something similar but in reverse with a generation of conservatives.”
He added that the failures of the War on Terror resulted in a deep skepticism of the national security state and the Republican party establishment. Opinion polling and trends show that the American public that grew up either during or in the shadow of the disastrous military campaigns in the Greater Middle East is generally opposed to military intervention and more questioning of American institutions.
“All the energy on FP [foreign policy] in the GOP right now is with the younger generation that wants fundamental transformation of USFP [U.S. foreign policy],” noted Justin Logan, director of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, on X. “The self-satisfied, insular neocons who loathe their voters’ FP views are a dying breed.”