party in the street: social identities and policy continuity

One of the issues that we draw attention to in Party in the Street is that there was a great deal of continuity in war policy between the Bush and Obama administrations. This is an example of a broader theme in American government: domestic disputes are not brought into foreign policy. The phrase for this is “politics ends at the water’s edge.”

The water’s edge idea has important implications for social movements, especially progressive movements that are often participating in anti-war activism. Normally, we think of movements responding to some sort of stark contrast in policy and they expect different political actors to have distinct views on policy. For example, it is pretty safe to say that Democrats and Republican leaders promote very different abortion policies.

In contrast, the “water’s edge” theory suggests that there will be a fair amount of continuity between administrations in terms of foreign policy. It doesn’t mean total similarity, but a great deal of overlap. For example, the Iraq withdrawal was initially negotiated by the Bush administration and then carried out by Obama’s administration. Similarly, both the Bush and Obama administrations, at various times, sought to extend US involvement in Iraq. Did both administrations have identical policy? Definitely not, but there is a lot of continuity and overlap.

If you believe that movements closely follow policy, then the overall path of the antiwar movement might seem puzzling. When Bush surged, the movement began its decline. As Obama sought extensions in Iraq, there was little protest. Antiwar activists did not focus on the main instrument of withdrawal, the Status of Forces Agreement, initiated by Bush. The War on Terror involved over 100,000 troops “on the ground” from 2003 till about 2010.

We argue in Party in the Street that the overall growth and decline of the antiwar movement can be better explained by the tension of activism and partisanship instead of policy shifts. Early on, the antiwar movement’s identity did not conflict with its ally, the Democratic Party. So the movement could draw partisans and grow during the early stages of the Iraq War. As elections changed the landscape, partisanship asserted itself and the movement ebbed. And that is how we get a declining movement as the US intervention in Iraq is sustained, then incrementally reduced during a multi-year withdrawal phase and the vastly expanded in Afghanistan.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 6, 2015 at 12:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. The Executive Office of President does have a continuity regardless of the party affiliation of the person which is supposed to drop after the campaign, even when we do not perceive it as the President becomes the leader of their Party. The incoming President also has influence over many jobs in terms of a patronage system, e.g. assigns a cabinet. It is not like other nations where the prior administration’s policies are entirely jettisoned for their own only to be jettisoned in turn on the next round which is patently ridiculous.

    The number on the ground was well over 150K and after the surge the combined number of troops in Afghan and Iraq was over 200K.

    Although there is no peace movement per se, one glaring statistic is the high rate of veteran suicides which implies resistance to integrating veterans back into society. Although, there is no movement pushing this agenda, the people’s reaction to veterans is hostile and similar to their reception by the people during and after the Vietnam War. I place this problem in both a class and a gender dysphoria towards veterans and towards the military. As usual, the people hate war and any symbols of it but they are unthinking when it comes to the possibility of invasion, and they cannot digest even statistics of the brutal murders that propel us to intervene in the first place.


    Fredrick Welfare

    February 6, 2015 at 4:45 am

  2. Reblogged this on J.Brat.



    February 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm

  3. Conflict is in the politician’s interest. They don’t trade in anything else. In many ways your worst enemy is the politician who adopts your language. They aren’t interested in resolving anything; if they did resolve the issue there would be fewer issues. It might be possible to convince some of them- the ones at the margins who need an edge to further their career, that certain ‘new’ issues could replace some of these older ones- but those new issues would have to be carefully crafted to solve some old ones.

    Much of my frustration with the left (which is where I think this blog is at) is that you guys speak your own language, and your ideology makes you easily manageable by the mainstream. Recent protests- Ferguson, New York, etc… all repackaged to make folks who don’t speak your language to become afraid, and think to themselves, “well, maybe we do need a military force between them and us.”

    This was the propaganda from the government/corporations, precisely because this is what is most lucrative to the politicians. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has allowed Israeli politicians far more free reign with their own populace than most other populations. Additionally, the extra military checkpoints, drones, the walls, etc…- that’s all military industrial complex jobs.



    February 6, 2015 at 3:31 pm

  4. Left or right, the problem is the same. In both cases, inner city USA or Israel, the procedures and policies for maintaining order have at times been brutal or pathetically incompetent. It is not the case that policing or militarizing an area is the reason why other areas do not have the terrorism or high murder and crime rates, therefore, policing is often a reactive system that cleans things up but does not address the underlying conditions and causes. In Israel, there is a constant flow of suicide bombers and other terrorists, so the problem is how to stop this action. In the USA, there is organized crime that smuggles in the drugs and guns and lets the police clean up the bloody mess! If the military and police were more carefully organized and their procedures were more finely crafted, then people would like them more, but they did not cause the problem in the first place. If the politicians are merely going to apply bandaids to problems that require bypass surgery, then the same old shit will keep on occurring. I can see that educational reforms are attempting to address individual lifespan circumstances, but I do not see the appropriate economic reforms and I do not think that either full-blown corporate capitalism or the bureaucratic welfare state as solutions. I see both as problems.


    Fredrick Welfare

    February 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm

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