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Why do Republicans remain hawkish about the Afghan war when Americans generally are not?

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CNN is out with a NEW POLL showing that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has declined dramatically in the past two years.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents are opposed to the war, while only 35 percent support it. Interestingly, perhaps even predictably, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats or independents to back the U.S. war effort.

Which brings to mind the extent to which concepts of American patriotism have been influenced — or distorted, in a sense — by Republicans with regard to our country’s military involvement in the so-called War on Terror.

For the past decade, Republicans have tended to think of themselves as more-patriotic-than-thou and have generally been enthusiastic supporters of U.S. military adventurism. They’ve been quick to characterize war dissenters as cut-and-run appeasers, if not cowards or enemy sympathizers.

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day, when the GOP was controlled mainly by isolationists, its rank-and-file was often opposed to U.S. involvement in foreign wars. Republicans were against American intervention in World War I (and vehemently opposed Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to create the League of Nation’s at the end of that war). Republicans also were staunchly opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

As Big Two wore on, however, Republican attitudes changed, and support for the war was widespread and bipartisan — even after the fighting had raged for years and the American casualties had numbered in the tens of thousands.

 A Gallup poll conducted in January, 1945 — during the Battle of the Bulge, in which U.S. casualties ran as high as 80,000 — posed this question:

“If Hitler offered to make peace now and would give up all land he has conquered, should we try to work out a peace or should we go on fighting until the German army is completely defeated?”

Three-fourths of respondents wanted to keep fighting until the German army was destroyed, and they were almost evenly divided between those who had voted Democratic and those who had voted Republican in the presidential election of the year before.

For several decades thereafter, however, Republicans reverted to antiwar form, beginning with the conflict in Korea.

Public opinion regarding the Korean War was much more volatile than it had been with respect to World War II. Support was up and down, depending on how the war seemed to be going. This chart from Gallup is illustrative:

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What the chart doesn’t show is that by March of 1952, Republicans were considerably more likely than Democrats (61 percent to 44 percent) to say that it had been a mistake to send U.S. troops to Korea.

Nor were Republicans especially hawkish about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. In a Gallup poll conducted in June of 1967, a majority of Republican respondents said Vietnam was a mistake, while only one-third of Democrats agreed with them.

Even as American forces were leaving Southeast Asia and communist forces were overrunning Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia, most Republican respondents in a 1975 Gallup poll opposed any further U.S. military aid to the friendly governments in those countries.

Briefly stated, then, Republicans tended to be fairly dovish through much of the 20th century.

The 21st century has been another matter. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans generally have remained supportive of U.S. military involvement long after most of their fellow Americans have turned against these efforts.

And a poll released just last week shows that fully 40 percent of Republicans are in favor of military strikes against Iran — or even a U.S. invasion — to destroy that country’s nuclear facilities. Only 16 percent of Americans in general would support such strikes, and only seven percent would favor an invasion.

The GOP has become the party of war.

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