Have conservatives lost their mind on foreign policy?
As a libertarian, it has been puzzling to watch how conservatives have reacted to the foreign policy of Barack Obama. In almost every tangible way, Obama’s policies have been a continuation of his predecessor’s. In fact, in some ways he has been even more aggressive - amping up the mission in Afghanistan, involvement in Libya, and increased drone attacks (including against American citizens). Yet the right continues to pretend that the Obama administration has been “weak” on national defense.
This debate has reached an even greater level of absurdity in recent weeks as Obama has used the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing to tout his foreign policy successes. Obama has even attempted to argue that Mitt Romney would not have ordered the killing (more than a bit far-fetched in my humble opinion). Conservatives, on the other hand, have tried to minimize the significance of the event and find any way possible to not give Obama credit for it, when surely they would have praised George W. Bush.
And while military spending has not been cut at all under Obama, conservatives are still arguing that he is somehow short-changing the Pentagon. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma went as far as to claim Obama is “gutting” the military in recent comments regarding President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan early this week:
“Clearly this trip is campaign-related,” [Inhofe] said. “We’ve seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years. Similarly, this trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military.”
But as Christopher Preble at Cato counters, the national defense budget has done anything BUT shrink. Defense spending remains at extremely high levels well above the post-WWII average. In fact, in real 2012 dollars spending is substantially higher than even during the Reagan years. Would anyone on the right argue that Reagan was weak on defense?
The reality is that Republican foreign policy has not changed one bit from the Bush years. Rather, it seems that, after Obama mostly adopted the Bush foreign policy, the right needed to regain the issue and show themselves to be even more hawkish. And so the rhetoric has gotten even more reckless. As I wrote last week, prominent conservative Senator Marco Rubio presents an extremely aggressive interventionist philosophy. He is by no means alone in that viewpoint.
Whether or not this language will become reality is up for debate. But one thing is clear: the battleground on foreign policy is moving to the right. The military adventurism of George W. Bush, now largely adopted or ignored by the left, is the status quo. We will be in Afghanistan for many years, and quite possibly Syria and Iran. We’re nowhere close to a sane foreign policy on either side.