With all this talk of isolationism in the GOP, namely over our “kinetic military action” in Libya and the wearying, ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s an atmosphere that Republicans will be more willing to cut defense spending and reorganize our military to better fit in with the rest of the world. No more Dubya’s and silly foreign expeditions, more or less. But there’s one area that I see missing: Europe. I think it should be front and center.
When we Americans start arguing over welfare spending, it almost inevitably comes to be that those on the “left” say “Well, we’re spending billions and billions of dollars on bombing people in foreign countries, maybe we should cut that first, huh?” Naturally, conservatives balk at cutting military spending (while libertarians agree and then continue arguing to cut welfare anyways), but in terms of Europe, this is an area where they can make a great tactical manuever. I say this because, also almost inevitably, some liberal or progressive will then cite Europe as a great example of their welfare state ideal, saying “See, they can do it! Why can’t we, with the #1 economy in the world, do the same?” This was almost always brought up in the healthcare debate, focusing on the United Kingdom’s NHS, Germany’s social insurance policies, and infant mortality. And what else can conservatives and libertarians say? Europe sucks? Only in some limited aspects, and that’s simply not a respectable argument anyway.
If you want to get a feel for what the Republican establishment is thinking, you only need to read Jennifer Rubin, who runs the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blog. With Sen. Rand Paul’s profile on the rise thanks to his 13-hour filibuster, Rubin took a shot at his foreign policy views:
There will be a long-coming debate on the right, and between right and left, on U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 and post-Arab Spring world. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) doesn’t like the word “isolationism,” but his policy choices (removing bases, bringing troops home, ending foreign aid) bear an uncanny resemblance to the foreign policy of those who, well, are isolationists.
I have written that his ideological partisans at the other end of the intervention/isolation spectrum have not done a bang-up job of justifying their views, formulating reasonable policies, or carving out a proper balance between the executive and legislative branches. This was of course greatly impeded by an Obama administration that is the least transparent in history and has a nasty habit of subsuming foreign policy to electoral politics.
The term “isolationist” is a pejorative used by neo-conservatives to scare Republican voters into giving them carte blanche to do pretty much whatever they want on foreign policy under the guise of the “war on terror.” But isolationism has two major components, neither of which apply to Sen. Paul.
On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul gave his long awaited foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation. In it, he tried to outline a foreign policy vision that is a departure from the foreign policy that has been offered for more than a decade by the GOP. Also in the speech, he tried to distance himself from his father, Ron Paul’s, more radical non-interventionist views. Predictably, both neoconservatives and libertarian non-interventionists were not pleased with the speech. However, Senator Paul’s speech may open up a path for Republicans and conservatives to regain lost credibility on foreign policy and national security issues and tie it into the larger issues of debt and spending.
Senator Paul began the speech with this.
I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.
That sentence largely defines what Paul’s policy is. Traditional conservative realism as oppose to the alternatives of neoconservative hyper-interventionism and quasi-isolationist noninterventionism. A third way that is skeptical of intervention while at the same time engaged and active in the world.
Senator Paul also did something very few American politicians have done since 9/11, have a frank discussion with the American people about radical Islam.
The West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam.
Last year, Republicans in Congress strongly resisted cuts to defense spending, despite voting for the sequester, which would reduce defense outlays by $400 billions over the next 10 years. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012, frequently made calls to undo the sequester during his campaign.
But after being taken to the shed during “fiscal cliff” negotiations and the subsequent deal reached, Politico notes that House Republicans now seem to be looking seriously at letting the sequester happen, including the defense cuts.
On a hot July night six months ago, 89 House Republicans joined more dovish Democrats to do the unusual for Washington: cut $1.1 billion from the GOP’s proposed budget for defense in 2013.
Then came Hurricane Sandy and the New Year’s Day tax bill, and as many as 157 House Republicans voted Jan. 15 to endorse a much bigger cut, taking nearly $10 billion from the Pentagon to help pay for disaster aid. It was a huge swing by any measure and one followed this week by a Monday night Senate vote in which the overwhelming majority of Republicans endorsed their own across-the-board defense cut worth tens of billions of dollars over the next nine years.
Welcome to the new “dare you, double dare you” school of deficit politics — just a taste of what’s to come March 1 when much deeper spending cuts take effect under the sequester mechanism dictated by the 2011 debt accords.
House Republicans seem determined to let the cuts take effect if only as payback to President Barack Obama for humiliating them over taxes.
In his latest video, Jack Hunter wades into the debate taking place inside the Republican Party over foreign policy. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other neoconservatives would have us believe that those criticizing President Barack Obama’s illegal war in Libya are “isolationists” and that Ronald Reagan would be appalled by some of the candidates running for the GOP presidential nomination that are expressing these views.
Of course, those expressing restraint in foreign policy are non-interventionists, not isolationists; they don’t not believe in cutting the United States off from the world. Also, Reagan wasn’t as hawkish as neoconservatives would have us believe.
David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, is firing back at Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other neo-conservatives that are criticizing some Republicans presidential candidates for what they call “isolationist” views:
With some Republicans seeking the party’s presidential nomination expressing caution on international affairs, warmongers are beginning to speak out; including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who derided “isolationism” in the GOP field in an appearance on This Week:
I was more concerned about what the candidates in New Hampshire the other night said. This is isolationism. There’s always been an … isolation strain on the Republican Party — that Pat Buchanan wing of our party. But now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak. … If we had not intervened, Gadhafi was at the gates of Benghazi. He said he was going to go house to house to kill everybody. That’s a city of 700,000 people. What would be saying now if we had allowed for that to happen?”
McCain is, of course, playing the part of demagogue. Not one candidate in the GOP field is pushing for isolationism; even Ron Paul. Isolationism means completely cutting yourself off from the international community, including trade or enacting protectionist measures. No one wants to do that. Merely expressing skepticism in going to war is simply not “isolationism.” But sadly, McCain is not alone. Separately, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also recently slammed Mitt Romney for expressing the view that it is time to withdraw from Afghanistan.
At the Washington Post, George Will criticized intervention in Libya and hits back at politicians like McCain: