Are progressives anti-war?

Last night on Twitter, I was following the discussion about Syria’s possible (likely?) use of chemical weapons, when a tweet by Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake caught my eye:


And it got me wondering. Why is it un-progressive to beat the drums of war for Syria?

So I tweeted him back:


That got a rather large debate going on Twitter about war and progressive values.  Now, just to reiterate, I was not asking whether it was wise to bomb Syria. I was asking whether it’s true that per se progressives should be opposed to bombing Syria, because we’re progressives?  Is there something about progressive ideology that per se should make us anti-war?

Here’s a hodge-podge of the more interesting responses. I’ll respond to a few in kind:

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That’s an interesting point. I suspect most conservatives don’t care about UN sanction, while many liberals probably do. (Though you can easily get bogged down by the finer points of what constitutes self-defense under the UN charter.) Also, regardless of UN authorization, that discussion has nothing to do with “beating the drums of war” and whether progressives should per se be against war, even with UN sanction.  Can a progressive be for war, so long as it’s UN sanctioned?

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I think progressives do see themselves in favor of human rights, though I also think many of us are pro-war because we see ourselves in favor of human rights.  As this person notes:


Which begs the larger question – does “progressive” per se equal “pacifist”?


I’m not a pacifist.  I’m sure some progressives are.  And that per se would color our response to any international crisis.  Should progressives be pacifists?  What is the progressive perspective on war?


I got several answers like this, that struck me as reasonable, but not necessarily related to the issue of whether “progressives,” as compared to those who embrace other political, should embrace war as an option:


This response was interesting:


I’m not convinced they have to be mutually exclusive – war, or heal the sick.  In America, far too often they are  mutually exclusive, simply because we’re far too easily led into costly wars without giving any though to the monetary cost, thus leaving less money for everything else.  And I’m also not convinced that wars can’t be waged to help the poor and the sick.  Kosovo wasn’t exactly a white-collar war.  Not to mention, healing the sick in America should take precedence over stopping a foreign genocide?  Really?

This was, I thought, an interesting response.



Though, more generally, this presupposes that it’s wrong for a country to consider its national interest in deciding its foreign policy.  If we’re going to intervene internationally, should our number one reason for intervention be humanitarian, regardless of how it affects our strategic interests?

It’s an interesting argument, but fraught with some peril.  First, you can’t intervene everywhere, there’s not enough money or manpower. So how do you choose where to intervene, and where not to?  Do you base it on the most humanitarian need, regardless of how it impacts your own national interest?  What government is going to survive long doing that?

But if you do, then why not apply the same rule to domestic policy?  Why fight to keep jobs in America if America’s poor are doing far better than the poor in, say, Africa?  Why not let our jobs move to where they’re most needed?  Wouldn’t the greater good demand that we move jobs to developing countries, and not developed countries?  And are we not hurting the poor in countries x, y, and z every time we work out a trade deal that gets more foreign investment in America when it could be going to a country more in need?  Shouldn’t we be concerned about those most in need, whatever their nationality, and keep our own self-interest out of the picture?


Maybe, but that doesn’t really address my question of why progressives shouldn’t be beating the drums of war against Syria.  You can still beat the drum of war AND go to the UN and Congress for approval.


That’s an interesting question.  As Americans, we’ve long been in the position of not only being able to intervene around the world at will – because we can – but also, and much less discussed by our critics, is the fact that we’re one of the few who can intervene, who have enough power to intervene, so we’re often forced to do so on behalf of everyone else, whether they like it or not.  Doing nothing is not itself without consequences.

But more generally, what right do I have to be a gay activist?

Syrian Syria

Syria via Shutterestock

I can fight for myself, but when I fight for the rights of Russian gay and trans people, what right do I have to pressure any company or the IOC?

And especially when I write about women’s issues, or race, what right do I have to influence the argument when I’m neither a woman nor black?

At some point, the “what right” argument strikes me as appeasement, and an excuse for good people doing nothing. It may not be intended that way.  But it carries that risk.  A lot of progressive good would never have happened had activists listened to those who lectured them about their lack of a right to make waves.

So is being anti-war a progressive value?

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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