Imagine if Ohio Representative and anti-war activist Dennis Kucinich had come in second place and won 23 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2008 — after taking a close third place in the Iowa caucuses. The New York Times‘ headlines would be proclaiming “A Huge Victory for Anti-War Democrats,” and Fox News pundits would be warning that the Democratic Party was being taken over by “anti-American appeasers” and “secret Muslims.”
But Kucinich ended up winning only 1.35 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote in 2008. Chicago Senator Barack Obama who was a critic of the Iraq War did get 36.45 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in the Granite State that year. But his foreign policy views had never amounted to a coherent anti-interventionist agenda.
If anything, when it comes to foreign policy, it is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and this year’s Republican presidential candidate who is calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that sounds today like candidate Obama did in 2008 when he was urging an end to the war in Iraq.
You can describe both Huntsman and Obama as “realist internationalists” in the tradition of Republican President George H. W. Bush and Democratic President Bill Clinton. They have never pretended they that they were waving the anti-war flag; but still, they were critical of the neoconservative let’s-invade-the-world agenda.
So if you consider that Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire, winning 17 percent of the vote, and you combine that number with the 23 percent that Paul mustered there, it is possible to conclude that 40 percent of the Republican voters in New Hampshire have rejected President George W. Bush’s global military adventures and democratic crusades.
Moreover, the three most radical neocons in the race — former House Speaker News Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Texas Governor Rick Perry — who cannot wait to start bombing Iran — in the case of Perry, to re-invade Iraq — got altogether 20 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.
The MSM will probably continue dismissing Paul as “unelectable” and argue that his anti-interventionist foreign policy positions are “outside the mainstream” while continuing to take seriously the push for war with Iran by Gingrich and Santorum (not to mention their support for the bizarre anti-Sharia campaign in this country).
It is true that it may too early to predict whether Paul would do as well (and perhaps even better) in the primary in South Carolina and other states in the South and the Mid-West — where Republicans tend to espouse more nationalist positions — as he did in New Hampshire and Iowa.
And the fact is that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who did win in Iowa and New Hampshire continues to adhere to foreign policy positions that are very similar to those of former President George W. Bush and former presidential candidate John McCain. And he could win the Republican primary race.
In fact, Romney has surrounded himself with national security advisors that belong to the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party and the conservative movement and continues to accuse President Obama — under which Osama bin Ladin was killed, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan have increased, and an effort to raise the diplomatic status of the Palestinians at the United Nation was averted — of “appeasement,” of gutting the U.S. military and of abandoning Israel.
But Romney whose main strength has been his ability to adjust his earlier more moderate political views on social-cultural issues — like abortion of gay rights — to the prevailing ultra-conservative views of rank-and-file Republican, will now have to deal with another changing political reality: W’s era neoconservative strategy of maintaining American global hegemony has ceased to be the dominant view among Republican voters.
At the minimum, there is going to be a serious and heated debate among Republicans about the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the coming years. Indeed, many conservatives have concluded that the notion of using the power of the U.S. government to do “regime change” and “nation building” around the world runs very much contrary to conservative values that highlight skepticism about the ability of government to promote political and social change — whether it is in Dubuque, Iowa, or in Baghdad, Iraq.
Moreover, the emphasis that Republicans and conservatives have been placing on the need to cut the federal deficit has already forced many of them to figure-out that it is not possible to put the U.S. fiscal house in order without slashing the gigantic defense budget. That in turn, is also leading these Republicans and conservative to start reassessing the expensive U.S. military presence abroad.
If Republican candidate Romney wants to ensure that the supporters of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman — that include many young voters and the kind of middle class professionals that constitute the critical bloc of “independent voters” — he would need to respond to their opposition to military adventurism in the name or regime change and nation building and accommodate their views by embracing a more prudent and realist foreign policy agenda that looks more like that of George H. W. Bush than that of his son.
Or Romney is going to find out in the general election that it is his own neoconservative foreign policy views that may be “outside the mainstream” of the Republican Party and majority American opinion.