With the election of the new Republican Congress in last week’s midterms, there are some questions about what policy directions the new Congress will try to take. Much of this is because the GOP didn’t really run on anything except “Obama sucks.”
The Republican Party has been debating foreign policy with less interventionist Republicans like Rand Paul clashing with more hawkish Republicans like John McCain.
This week, I asked the contributors whether or not the GOP will return to its Bush-era hawkish days or not?
In the big battle between the old-school Republicans and the new-style Tea Party types, the arguement in most circles has centred around economics; really, it’s centred around the Affordable Care Act. There have been other battles, but ground zero has been spending. It’s that focus on those larger battles that have enabled the latter group to enable sweeping social conservative legislation despite the fact that much of that legislation goes against their “liberty” strain of political thought.
It’s with that small sample size of history that I prognosticate what the future holds: if you are a liberty minded person who does not want perpetual war, the next two years are bad news.
It should be noted that of all the things most Republicans hated about Obama, the one thing many agreed with was when he decided to take actions against Libya and the Islamic State. Likewise, many of the conservative lawmakers who have made token rejections of the cavalier way Obama has gone about implementing these wars said nothing about George W. Bush when he did largely the same thing, with some even cheering him on.
To put it simply, war is a divisive subject in both parties, with the far-left liberals also clashing with establishment Democrats.
In the end, war will be something that conservatives latch onto because it will create jobs – a huge selling point to a new, conservative Congress as they prepare for the 2016 election against the Democrat’s biggest hawk, Hillary Clinton – and increase patriotism, which is always a go-getter for the GOP. The dissenters will either be silenced or made irrelevant by feckless Democrats too scared of their own shadows to reject the war drums, and everything that brought us to Iraq the second time will continue to keep us there the third. Those who don’t want to go to war will be labeled anti-American, wanting to help the enemy by forfeiting American jobs. Meanwhile, existing fears about Muslims – largely based off of a few cartoon-like caricatures that would make Boris Badenov blush – will be stoked, as the scary man with the gun in the turban will continue to supplant the scary man with the gun in the ushanka, which long ago supplanted the scary man with the gun and the Tojo glasses as our Common Enemy Who Must Be Destroyed. We have always been at war with Islam, comrade.
“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship(…) the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Diaries
Simple answer? No… except rhetorically… just as they have been for years.
What exact role does congress have in the use of the military other than funding it (or not), disapproving of it (or not), and bloviating about it? Or in foreign policy as a whole? It seems that their approval or disapproval are largely irrelevant at this point anyway… and have been for some time.
Ask me again in two years when the president is a Republican.
I would submit that the premise of the Roundtable is somewhat flawed, because there is no real evidence that the Republican Party in general, or Republicans at the House and Senate level specifically, have ever really retreated from the “Bush-era foreign policy.” Yes, there are some examples one can point to in both chambers of Congress who have spoken out against an interventionist foreign policy over the the past five years of the Obama Administration. Senator Rand Paul, and Members of Congress such as Justin Amash and Walter Jones come to mind most immediately in that regard, and of course Congressman Ron Paul continued to adhere to his non-interventionist rhetoric until he retired at the end of the 112th Congress. For the most part, though, the GOP Caucuses in both bodies as a whole, have taken the same positions on foreign policy issues that they have in the past.
What we have seen over these past five years isn’t so much evidence of the GOP reconsidering the interventionist foreign policy that defined it during the Bush years as opportunistic criticism of the Obama Administration for pursuing policies that were actually logical extensions of politics previously advocated by Republicans. In some cases, such as the 2011 intervention in Libya, that criticism took the form of opposition to the in retrospect limited U.S. involvement in the aid provided to rebels in Libya’s civil war. In others, such as the Obama Administration’s policies in Syria, Republicans have been downright schizophrenic. After spending two years criticizing the President for not doing enough to aid the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, Republicans on Capitol Hill went with the winds of public opinion, which was decidedly anti-war, and opposed President Obama when he was threatening to take action over the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Now, in connection with actions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Republicans seems to speaking out of both sides of their mouth; criticizing the Administration for acting at all while at the same time saying that he isn’t doing enough and, in the end, inviting a terrorist attack on the United States. Above it all, though, is the fact that the majority voice in the Republican Party remains one that supports interventionism, continues to think that the 2003 Iraq War as a good idea, considers the only acceptable foreign policy in the Middle East one that blindly supports Israel, and denounces any attempt to cut the defense budget as “retreat.”
There are, as I’ve said, some exceptions to this general rule, such as Rand Paul. Paul, however, remains a minority voice in his party on foreign policy and there are already indications that if he runs for President in 2016 he will be targeted by many forces inside the GOP based on his foreign policy views. We’ve already seen such attacks from the likes of John Bolton, Dick Cheney, Congressman Peter King, and conservative pundits such as Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post and pretty much everyone who writes at Commentary. One can hope that a Paul candidacy would lead to a real debate on these issues but it’s just as likely that Senator Paul’s efforts to raise these issues will end up being drown in a sea of denunciations of him as a “isolationist.”
So, no, the GOP won’t return to its interventionist ways. But that’s because it never really left that path.
For three reasons, I am optimistic that we will not see a renewed focus on hawkish foreign interventions in the near future.
First, even among people who originally supported the Iraq war, many now believe it was a mistake. Whether they say so publicly or not, deep down in their hawkish hearts, they understand that invasion led inevitably to being forced to choose between two unpalatable options: maintaining a heightened presence for years to come or allowing the place to descend into chaos.
The lessons for Syria could not be more obvious.
Second, we are broke. This country is trillions of dollars in debt. A significant portion of that debt reflects spending during the Bush years. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a combined price tag, by some estimates, as high as $6 trillion. Even the most hawkish of the hawks must see that we cannot continue to allow this sort of debt to burden our descendants for generations to come.
Third, the world has been fundamentally changed by the globalization of Internet news and the advent of social media. When people die in drone strikes, for example, we can watch interviews with their grieving survivors within days—or even hours—of the strike. For the first time in history, ordinary Americans can exchange messages in real time with ISIS fighters.
We cannot know all of the ways in which these interactions will change the world. But surely they will not make it easier for us to kill one another.
I believe that a GOP-controlled legislature will take some actions internationally, particularly against ISIS, and that libertarians will scream bloody murder about it, but I believe it will be wrong to be so aggrieved. This notion that non-intervention is the savior of US foreign policy that lurks at the heart of the libertarian party is the reason that many Republicans have not become libertarian and the primary reason libertarians still do not field competitive candidates for office.
In the real world, the US is the only superpower with enough influence to have a positive impact on world security. In the real world, the relative success of the EU would be impossible without the US playing an active role internationally. In the real world, ISIS demands a response, lest it embolden every radical or crazy person to join the fight at home or abroad. But in the eyes of many in libertarian ranks, the US would be secure if only we didn’t get involved.
We just passed the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy cannot possibly be described as anything other than a roaring success on the merits – this, the most interventionist president we’ve ever had. Obviously, the same sort of aggression cannot work against a non-centralized power like Islamic Extremism the way it worked against the USSR. It requires a different set of answers and a different general posture. But to ask Congress – who have heard the American People demand action against ISIS – to take no action on the assumption that any action we take must only make matters worse is folly. And the price we will pay if we go down that road will be worse than the price we paid for ignoring Islamic Extremism in the 90s.
None of which is to say that I expect or desire a full-scale war in ISIS-held territory. I believe in the oldest of international doctrines – that we should speak softly, but carry a big stick. That our use of force should be commensurate to the need. That we should not be fooled into believing that it is possible to construct a freedom-loving nation out of people who have never known or expected freedom. But when the cries of people brutalized by a savage group of radicals bent on restoring the Islamic Caliphate go up, and America does not respond – then the world as we know it is surely in the gravest danger.
I have to admit that when I cast my vote for Cory Gardner in order to fire Mark Udall (in hopes of making Harry Reid the Sen. Minority Leader), the notion that the GOP would be so stupid as to return to the Bush era foreign policy never really entered my mind. Sure, I know there are still a few hawks in the GOP who have never met a war (or are we calling them “kinetic actions” now?) they didn’t want to start but I thought that by now the majority had learned the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
I’m holding out hope that the Senate, under new leadership, will have other priorities which passed through the House but never saw the light of day thanks to Reid. Priorities such as auditing the FED, passing a damned budget, passing the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act (REDEEM Act), and the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act) should at the very least have an up or down vote. There’s now simply no acceptable excuse for not getting this done.
This is why I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, to vote in favor of a GOP Senate Majority. I certainly didn’t vote in favor of the idea of more boots on the ground in the Middle East. Whose vision will the GOP lead congress follow, that of Rand Paul or that of John McCain? If its the latter, control of the legislative branch will be very short lived and deservedly so.
Put me down in the “don’t know” category. Sure more hawkish politicians in the GOP won big such as Tom Cotton and Jodi Ernst, but there has been a growing anti-war right as the bills from Iraq and Afghanistan have come due. Conservatives are asking was it worth it to pay so much to achieve so little.
I think we’ll see where the party is going on foreign policy, if a Republican is elected president. However, it appears that every presidential race will be settled in the Democratic primary from 2016 on as Democrats can already count on having 270 or close to 270 electoral votes before the first vote is cast.
So we may never know that answer.