I have long argued that there is no real “civil war” in the Republican Party, at least not over its domestic agenda. They are arguing mainly over tactics and leadership, not policy differences. This week’s meeting, though, is about the one major area where the GOP is truly divided: Foreign policy.
To some extent, this is a function of having no sitting president, since the president is so central to setting foreign policy. Yet, I think the Republicans truly are adrift on foreign affairs. It’s not just that their leaders are making more and more extreme statements on foreign affairs (Read the links below to get a sense of the bizarre statements their presidential candidates have repeatedly made at their debates.) It’s that, underneath this bumper sticker-level rhetoric, the GOP has not seemed to have settled on a doctrine or strategy on foreign affairs that could replace the neoconservatism of the Bush years. Neocons are fighting like Hell to reassert their influence in the GOP. Rubio is one. So is Jeb Bush. I think now would be a good time for Civilized Conversation to try to figure out what the GOP stands for in foreign policy beyond condemning everything Obama has done and promising miraculous outcomes.
Neoconservatism, you’ll recall, began in the 1970s but really got its groove on as a product of conservative intellectuals rethinking the U.S. role in the world after the fall of the U.S.S.R. Its ranks included theorists like Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Richard Perle; and some seasoned politicians like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and McCain. To simplify somewhat, neocons believed that post-Cold War it fell to the United States to dominate global affairs, especially militarily, and that the United States should use military force and the threat of it to prevent any other power from becoming strong enough to challenge U.S. dominance anywhere in the world. They also believed the USA should compel regime changes in “rogue states” like Iran, North Korea, and (especially!) Saddam’s Iraq. Finally, some of the younger neocons emphasized that future U.S. military interventions to achieve national security goals should try to birth democracies, or at least stable pro-Western governments.
After 9/11, the neocons’ big moment came. Their philosophy quickly became the core of the Bush Doctrine of preventative war and the Global War on Terror. You know the rest of the story. Eight years later, Barack Obama was elected by a weary public to pick up the pieces. Obama’s foreign policies were a mix of more war and military force, diplomacy, and some retrenching/winding down of old wars. Obama’s results were mixed, too, as we have discussed on several occasions.
As for the Republicans, it’s hard to tell what they believe now. Based just on their presidential candidates’ statements, it seems they believe that
- every evil in the world is coming to kill us in our beds (led by an entire religion, Islam) and we should all be terrified;
- It’s all because Obama’s weakness, cowardice, and/or secret sympathy with the enemy emboldened them; and
- The GOP’s strategy is to kill every enemy as dead as possible (somehow), but without inconveniencing Americans too much.
That is why I wanted to have this meeting. There has to be something nuanced and sophisticated underneath all of that hyperbole, doesn’t there? This is the party of Eisenhower, George Bush Sr., and Bob Dole, after all. Maybe there is more continuity in U.S. foreign policy than it appears at this weird moment in our political history.
I will start us off on Monday with…something. Since many progressives use “neocon” to mean “all conservative beliefs I hate,” maybe I’ll try to define the term’s different meanings to different people. I’ll also read the links on Rubio and the other prez candidates’ POV to see if I see any pattern other than hawkishness.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- HOW does foreign policy get made for a party that does not hold the presidency? Who makes it (Congress, interest groups, think tanks, Fox and talk radio) and how can we know what they believe when no one is in charge?
- NEOCONS: What were the neocons’ original core beliefs? Did they have merit, despite the Bush failures?
** Who are today’s neoconservatives? Has their thinking evolved?
- OTHERS: What other competing foreign policy factions exist in today’s GOP?
** Which presidential candidate is represents which competing POV?
** How popular is each alternative within the Party?
- THE BATTLE: What drives the GOP FP debate? Events and fear of attack? Belief that Obama has been weak/naïve? Suspicion of diplomacy? Xenophobia or fear of Islam? Partisanship and fear-mongering? Lack of experienced leadership?
- THE WAR: Which faction/POV will come out on top? Wither the neocons?
- DEMS: Is Hillary Clinton a bit neocon? Will this help or hurt her in the primary and/or general election?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READING –
- The neocons are back:
- No, there’s no GOP consensus on foreign policy.
- GOP presidential candidates:
- Marco Rubio is an uber-hawk who appears to loathe diplomacy and believe Islam is the enemy. Recommended – Is this just rhetoric?
- Jeb wants to bring back the Bush Doctrine. Recommended.
- Cruz is less hawkish. Trump may be too, but he has hired no FP advisors!
- Contrarian POV:
- [Update: Just as an FYI to those that want a more thorough case against neocon ideas, including Hillary Clinton’s neocon instincts, see this long journal article.]
Next Week: Socialism’s meaning today.