Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lack of Consensus on GOP Foreign Policy

Over the last few elections, the centerpiece of Republican campaigns has been to blame President Obama and Democrats for the slow economic recovery from the great recession. But now that Americans are finally feeling the benefits of a stronger economy, that is going to be a tough sell.

For now, it appears that the big issue Republicans want us to all focus on for 2016 is foreign policy. Step one in that process is to convince us all that the "world is on fire" and we are threatened by "Islamic extremists." Step two is to suggest that this is all President Obama's fault and he is doing nothing to stop it.

If this were a rational approach to political differences, step three would be to promote an alternative strategy to address the problem. But other than truly deranged people like John Bolton (who actually laid out a plan for war with Iran), we get no specifics.

Unlike Republican attempts to hide their actual economic policies (see budget gimmicks), I would suggest that their lack of specifics on foreign policy has less to do with an awareness that Americans wouldn't support their proposals and more to do with the fact that there is no consensus about what an alternative strategy would be.

Right now the fear-mongering that is fueled by Obama Derangement Syndrome is playing right into the hands of the neocon interventionists. That is making life difficult for Sen. Rand Paul. As some have noted, it puts him in the position of having to decide whether or not to abandon his father's non-interventionist libertarianism and contempt for Israel.

As I have been pointing out recently though, it also puts Jeb Bush in a bit of a bind. Matt Lewis suggests that the pressure he is feeling is whether or not to align himself with his father's "realists" on foreign policy or his brother's neocons. Lewis reminds us that it wasn't just James Baker who parted ways with the latter. Back in 2002, Brent Scowcroft (national security advisor to both President's Ford and George H.W. Bush) published a prescient op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled: Don't Attack Saddam.

Over the Bush/Cheney years, this disagreement between the neocons and the realists was mostly kept under wraps. But as I have suggested, it appears that in 2006 (when Rumsfeld was fired and Cheney sidelined), the realists staged a quiet coup and took over. The idea that Poppy Bush and his friends would sit quietly by and watch Jeb make all the same mistakes brother George did is not likely.

The truth is that, in their modern-day iterations, the lines that separate Republicans and Democrats were more clearly driven by domestic than foreign policy differences. After all, it was Kennedy who got us into the war in Vietnam, Johnson who escalated it, and Nixon who ended it. In a fascinating overview, Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb has written about where there is overlap between President Obama's foreign policy and that of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

I'm not sure that in today's political climate it is possible to have a rational discussion about what a foreign policy for the 21st century should look like. President Obama has clearly outlined his own thoughts on that and we are just now beginning to finally extricate ourselves from the mess the neocons made of things during the Bush/Cheney years. As they ramp up the fear-mongering to suggest we should repeat those mistakes, it will be interesting to watch whether or not the libertarians and realists still have a voice in the Republican Party.

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