The future of American strategy will be shaped, as always, by the intersection of American power and the global circumstances in which it is situated. American strategy will also be shaped, however, by what American leaders think they ought to do with and about foreigners. Among those thoughts, no concern is more central than the proper role of the use of force in American national security policy.
The use of war as an instrument of state is always controversial, and recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have if anything sharpened that ongoing debate. One question arising from it is whether there is a growing tendency for members of the American elite to support the use of force less than do other Americans. Since elites by definition have a leading role in society, their tendency to oppose the use of force as a matter of principle could affect the character of American foreign policy even more than factors like America’s relative economic or military power. In addition, sharp disagreements between elites and other Americans over the use of force could be accompanied by serious internal conflicts within the United States, with possible consequences for the effectiveness of American foreign policy.
The United States has been divided over the use of force as an instrument of policy for at least two centuries. With the exception of World War II and the early Cold War era, a significant component of the educated American elite has been more opposed to war compared to American non-elites, and still is today. We need to understand why.
The explanations usually on offer do not suffice. Antiwar elements of the elite tend to argue that educated Americans are simply smarter and see the costs of war more clearly than less educated Americans. This is pretty plainly an inadequate, not to mention a condescending and undemocratic, account. It is non-elite Americans, after all, who have disproportionately suffered the human costs of war, and non-elites suffer the pains and enjoy the benefits of living under American government just as much as do the elite. Those Americans more inclined to support the use of force, on the other hand, tend to argue that educated elites today are the radical product of the 1960s, which turned American universities into adversary culture havens and made them reflexively anti-government. This explanation does not recognize that the antiwar sentiment of more educated Americans pre-dates the 1960s by at least fifty years, and reflects a long-term cultural struggle between the most highly educated Americans, on the one hand, and populist leaders, on the other, for cultural influence. It also does not...