Reflecting a political consensus on foreign policy not seen since Pearl Harbor, even the most vigorous critics of U.S. interventionism are calling for tough measures against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait.
This exceptional concord, which extends even to the further reaches of the political left, grows from a widely shared revulsion at the blatant conquest of one country by another, from the brutal nature of Saddam Hussein's regime and from the clear threat that Iraqi control of oil prices would pose to the economies of the West.
Political analysts say the agreement also reflects the less ideological world that the end of the Cold War has created by scrambling traditional alliances and elevating regional and economic issues to paramount status.
President Bush's approach to the crisis -- notably his wariness of unilateral action and his quest for U.N. support -- has also defused potential hostility on the left. There is some irony in this, since Bush himself fiercely criticized Michael S. Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign for what Bush saw as the Democrat's excessive faith in multilateral approaches backed by the United Nations.
Thus, left-of-center groups such as Sane/Freeze and Americans for Democratic Action found themselves in the unlikely position of praising a Republican president's actions.
"We commend President Bush for his early choice to consult with the Soviet Union, China, Great Britain and others before acting," Sane/Freeze said in a statement issued yesterday. "So, too, must we applaud the choice to turn to the United Nations as the proper forum for action." Amy Isaacs, executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, also praised the administration's "more measured approach" and its use of the United Nations.
The consensus for taking some action against Iraq is even broader than was support for the bombing of Libya in 1986 or for deploying the Navy in the gulf to protect shipping during the Iran-Iraq war. The depth of anti-Iraqi sentiment was underlined by the reaction last week of Jesse L. Jackson, who is noted for his skepticism about the use of U.S. military force. In an interview, Jackson made clear his conviction that Saddam's actions presented a special case. "He must be driven back to the borders," Jackson said. The United States, Jackson added, must be prepared to "use military force, multilaterally or unilaterally."
Among the staunchest anti-war groups, there is still fear of direct U.S. intervention, and the current consensus may not survive a protracted conflict. Sane/Freeze, for example, said that "it would be wrong to opt for a military solution," and the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the group's president, warned that U.S. intervention would be "very distressing and elicit a lot of sympathy for Iraq in the Arab world."
Sane/Freeze and other liberal and left groups also argued that the crisis revealed the dangers involved in U.S. energy policies, notably the failure to conserve oil during the 1980s, which increased the country's dependence on foreign oil. "We've allowed cheap oil and a no-tax policy to lull us into a position in which we're very vulnerable," said Robert Borosage, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Still, many liberals have embraced a tough policy against Iraq, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said he saw no inconsistency between this stand and his opposition to intervention in other situations.
"You've got to weigh what's strategically important," said Dodd, one of Congress's most vigorous opponents of the Reagan administration's Central American policies. "Obviously the oil reserves pose an immediate, major security threat." By contrast, he said, the establishment of even hostile regimes in Nicaragua, El Salvador or Honduras would pose few immediate challenges to the United States. "It's a vote against you at the U.N. or the OAS versus a threat to your oil supply," Dodd said.
Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), another traditional critic of intervention, contrasted the political and economic importance of the Middle Eastern oil fields with the much lesser significance of other regions that once preoccupied U.S. foreign policy. "In retrospect," Leach said, "it's striking how geo-strategically unimportant Nicaragua or Vietnam were to the United States."
Robert Reno, a columnist for Newsday, put the matter starkly in a column that criticized "the infernal moral squawk" Americans make when their economic interests are threatened. "Hit us at the gas tank," he wrote, "and the earth will roar with the unsheathing of our swords."
Reno's column was striking because he was one of the few commentators to raise the questions about U.S. intervention that a multitude of critics would have raised in the past. For example, Reno noted that in supporting Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- both authoritarian monarchies -- the United States was backing "two powers with such faint commitment to the rule of law, representative democracy and freedoms as common as speech and the press." Reaction against the Iraqi invasion has been so strong that few others have even brought such issues up.
Conservatives such as Patrick J. Glynn, a foreign policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, say that Soviet support for U.S. moves has quelled criticism on the left. In the past, Glynn argued, Soviet criticism of U.S. intervention almost automatically fired up opposition in the West.
"The Soviet propaganda machine had an impact, always," Glynn said. "Attitudes toward the Soviet Union were frozen into the partisan and ideological debate in the West, and people would react in predictable ways according to pattern."
Leaders of the left vigorously disputed the idea that they automatically followed Moscow's signals but agreed that the Soviet stand mattered. Borosage, one of those leaders, said Soviet opposition would have raised the danger that a conflict could escalate to a nuclear confrontation.
If the Soviets had opposed the United States, he said, "I think people would be more worried and would urge more caution and less muscle-flexing." What, he was asked, did this show about the left? "It shows they're prudent."