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Will the Real GOP Non-Interventionists Stand up?

Before the tragic events in Charlottesville on August 12th, President Donald Trump had received a deserved amount of scrutiny for his heated rhetoric [1] pertaining to the North Korean nuclear issue. This recent swing in media coverage is regrettable, given that Trump’s foreign policy statements and actions matter more, or should matter more, to Americans.

More Americans [2] (not to mention foreign [3] civilians [4]) have been killed or wounded by American foreign policy interventionism since September 11, 2001, than by foreign-born terrorists [5], white nationalists [6], and hate crimes [7] combined. Sadly, underplaying the consequences of war overseas [8] may be a good thing these days, since over-exposure has often yielded perverse incentives for interventionism, to which Trump has shown [9] himself quite susceptible.

[10]The need for new political incentives that reinforce President Trump’s “America First” instincts has not been lost on his non-interventionist supporters. In an article [11] for The American Conservative on June 26th, William Lind called for the creation of an “America First Caucus” to serve as a non-interventionist beachhead on Capitol Hill similar to how the “Military Reform Caucus” [12] of the 1980s served as a congressional pressure point for effectiveness and efficiency in the defense budget. According to Lind, this caucus would provide support for the President when he took a non-interventionist course and criticize the President when he erred on the side of intervention. By adopting “America First” in its name, the caucus would insulate itself from neoconservative charges of being “weak” while simultaneously shielding itself (in theory at least [13]) from criticism by the President.

So what would an America First Caucus on Capitol Hill look like? Unlike the “Military Reform Caucus” of the 1980s, which boasted a bipartisan membership of more than 130 at its height, Lind argues that an America First Caucus would need to be explicitly partisan (a “Republican anti-intervention caucus”) and confined to non-interventionist conservatives on the grounds that a bipartisan caucus would be impractical in the current political climate. Although he did not identify specific congressmen, Lind presumably had Senator Rand Paul and Representatives Thomas Massie, Justin Amash, Walter Jones, and John “Jimmy” Duncan in mind as prime candidates for this caucus.

Which America First?

One immediate problem that the new America First Caucus would face would be how to define which brand of ‘America First’ anti-interventionism they would want to espouse. Would it mirror the philosophy of the namesake of the America First Committee (AFC) of 1940-1941? Or would it use the updated version [14] used by the Trump Administration? Given that the current administration has adopted policies [15], and is considering additional policies [16] that conflict with its own definition of ‘America First,’ it might be wiser for the new caucus to look to the original AFC for inspiration.  

Founded on September 4,1940, the AFC was a bipartisan anti-interventionist movement opposed to American involvement in Europe during World War II which they saw as a continuation of the mindless bloodletting of World War I.  In America First: The Battle Against Intervention 1940-1941 (1953), Wayne Cole identified [17] four founding principles and four objectives of the AFC (listed below).

Principles:

  1. The United States must build an impregnable defense for America.
  2. No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America.
  3. American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European war.
  4.  “Aid short of war” weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.

Objectives:

  1. To bring together all Americans, regardless of possible differences on other matters, who see eye-to-eye on these principles. (This does not include Nazists, Fascists, Communists, or members of other groups that place the interest of any other nation above those of our own country.)
  2. To urge Americans to keep their heads amid rising hysteria in times of crisis.
  3. To provide sane national leadership for the majority of the American people who want to keep out of the European war.
  4. To register this opinion with the President and with the Congress.

What is perhaps most striking about the principles and objectives of the AFC is the extent to which it, with a minimal amount of updating, can be borrowed by non-interventionists today.  Below is a modified list of these principles and objectives that an America First Caucus could use as a guiding charter.

Principles:

  1. The United States must maintain an impregnable defense for America.
  2. No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America without incurring an unacceptably high cost for such an attack on itself.
  3. American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the next undeclared war of choice.
  4. “Meddling short of war” weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.”
  5. The only way to neutralize the threat Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIL) pose to the United States is through smart and effective diplomacy. This diplomacy must contain the following features: A withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Islamic countries over the next three years, prioritizing cooperation with all foreign governments in lawfully undermining these organizations, and aggressively promoting nuclear non-proliferation in accordance to international law (i.e. without resorting to the use of military force or implying the use of military force).  

Objectives:

  1. To bring together all Americans, regardless of possible differences on other matters, who see eye-to-eye on these principles.
  2. To urge Americans to keep their heads amid rising hysteria in times of crisis.
  3. To provide sane national leadership for the majority of the American people who want to keep out of the next undeclared war of choice.
  4. To register this opinion with the President and with the rest of our colleagues in Congress.

What can realistically be accomplished?

What could an America First Caucus realistically accomplish? At first glance, not much. Its small size (initially no more than five or so members expected), partisan make up (all Republicans), and declining membership (Rep. Jimmy Duncan will not seek re-election in 2018) would make it difficult for its voice to be heard amid the cacophony [18] of voices on Capitol Hill.

That said there are reasons to be optimistic. It would contain a former presidential candidate and prominent conservative U.S. Senator who occupies a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Sen. Rand Paul), two House members on the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security (Rep. Justin Amash and Rep. Jimmy Duncan), two House members with military service (Rep. Walter Jones and Rep. Jimmy Duncan), one House member on the Committee on Armed Services (Rep. Walter Jones), one House member that is not up for re-election and thus has nothing to lose (Rep. Jimmy Duncan), and one House member who is an all-around [19] non-interventionist [20] anchor [21] (Rep. Thomas Massie).

Another reason for optimism is that it would be the only caucus of its kind on the Hill pushing this message. That message, that the lives of American service members are not cheap and that America should practice nation-building at home instead of intervening abroad, is popular. The voters who bore the human cost of American interventionism put [22] Trump in the White House.

There are several courses of action the caucus could take that would stand a reasonable chance of succeeding. These actions could also create new political incentives in Washington that discourage interventionism.

The first would be to introduce or support existing [23] legislation that would repeal both the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force [24] and the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq [25] (AUMFs). Support for repealing the 2001 AUMF is growing [26] within the 115th Congress and the 2002 AUMF has its share of bipartisan critics [27]. Yet these congressional misgivings have not translated into an organized opposition. An America First Caucus would provide this while also lending a distinctly non-interventionist voice to those who simply wish to replace these AUMFs with new ones that are not necessary to protect the country (i.e. let Syria, Iran, Russia, and Turkey fight ISIL in Syria and let Iraq and Iran fight ISIL in Iraq).      

The second would be to introduce a resolution in the House re-establishing the tradition of reading George Washington’s Farewell Address [28] in the House at the beginning of every new session of Congress. Unlike the Senate, which currently holds to this tradition, the House discarded [29] this tradition in 1979. Although a symbolic move, it would nevertheless bring attention to the broader non-interventionist message by making the America First Caucus the public voice responsible for bringing back this otherwise uncontroversial and bipartisan tradition.

A third course of action would be to introduce legislation amending the National Security Act of 1947 and renaming the Department of Defense as the Department of War. In his inaugural [30] address Trump noted that the U.S. “defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.”  By pushing for this name change, the America First Caucus would force a public conversation regarding whether our foreign and defense policy is really “defensive” in nature.

Lastly, the America First Caucus would provide a congressional forum where deviant foreign policy views such as non-interventionism and intelligent diplomacy can be heard, expressed, and debated. This would include providing a congressional audience to like-minded advocates, policy practitioners, and scholars.

Challenges

Carrying the non-interventionist banner and keeping Trump accountable would not be easy. Republicans railed against the Obama Administration’s foreign policy for eight years on the grounds that it was not sufficiently belligerent in rhetoric or in action. Trump shares this sentiment and seems intent on conducting his foreign policy in a way that highlights the contrast in bellicosity between himself and Obama. Although this bellicosity has been largely confined [31] to the diplomatic [32] sphere, the president’s announcement [33] last week regarding Afghanistan, along with his ordered attacks on the Syrian government back in April, shows that he is willing to convert these sentiments into action.

Where this bellicosity could turn into a real shooting war would be with Iran. Trump seems intent [34] on undermining the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama Administration. His hostility to the agreement, and to Iran in general, is shared by both parties, particularly his “never Trump” Republican detractors. Terminating the Iran deal would accomplish three things. First, it would immediately unite an otherwise fractured GOP in Congress behind the president. Second, it would immediately isolate the U.S. from the rest of the international community and expose American non-proliferation efforts as having been conducted in bad faith. Lastly, it would pave the way for a shooting war with Iran which a GOP-controlled Congress would support.

Compounding this problem further is that none of the individual members of an America First Caucus supported the Iran nuclear deal (albeit for different and less belligerent reasons).  An America First Caucus might not be able to alter the political incentives for Trump regarding the Iran nuclear deal. Then again, it might not have to. If the caucus can highlight an issue where Trump can both secure a political “win” and pivot back to his domestic agenda—such as withdrawing U.S. military personnel from most of its overseas bases [35] and using the savings to pass a Trump-endorsed transportation bill—it might be sufficient to redirect the president’s attention away from Iran. This would give those who are more favorably disposed to the Iran nuclear deal in the administration [36], Capitol Hill [37], and the Beltway [38] time to convince the president that undoing the deal is more work than it is worth.

Given the lack of major legislative accomplishments, and the likelihood that tax [39] and immigration [40] reform proposals would meet the same fate as the recent healthcare bill, Trump is more likely to secure a political “win” in the realm that past presidents have retreated to when their domestic agendas are stymied by Congress: foreign policy. These perverse political incentives towards interventionism, particularly as they pertain to Iran, will be the most difficult challenge facing an America First Caucus.

With the departure [41] of Steve Bannon from the White House and the administration opting [42] to deploy more American forces to Afghanistan, the need [43] for a new set of political incentives towards non-interventionism has never been greater. Trump was elected because the American electorate believed he, and not Hillary Clinton, would put the well-being of Americans first. It is time members of Congress stand up and hold him to that promise.

Jonathan Tkachuk is a former congressional staffer for a House Republican. He has a M.A. in Diplomacy (Counter-Terrorism) from Norwich University.

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "Will the Real GOP Non-Interventionists Stand up?"

#1 Comment By Marketing Automation On August 28, 2017 @ 11:50 pm

Apparently, Trump’s position and stand in not using American Military to democratize a foreign country will ensure that fewer Americans are killed by their own policy than in the hands of foreign terrorists.

#2 Comment By Stephen Gould On August 28, 2017 @ 11:50 pm

The only way such an idea might gain traction with the broader GOP community is if they can be assured that the “impregnable defense” will nonetheless require a huge defence budget – of about the same size as the present one.

#3 Comment By ?? in 2020 On August 29, 2017 @ 5:53 am

One thing’s very clear: Trump is NOT the America First guy. He completely betrayed those of us who thought he would smash ISIS and then get America out of the Middle East. Instead of working for America, Trump is working for Israel and Saudi Arabia. And his foreign policy is as bad or worse than Bush II or Obama’s.

So I’m still looking for an America First president who will bring home our troops, stop immigration, stop giving American jobs to foreigners, and focus on infrastructure work here at home. And I’m planning to vote against my GOP Establishment congressman next year.

#4 Comment By Joseph R. Stromberg On August 29, 2017 @ 6:43 am

Well good.

I’ve been getting tired of seeing so many people hide behind the vague and woolly slogan of “realism.”

This is the debate we need to have. The Establishment avoided a real debate in the 1970s. Now, with so many “successes” behind them, we need it more than ever.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 29, 2017 @ 9:10 am

1. if it was just intervention, I would be comfortable with most of this. But whenever I see Sen rand Paul, I just can’t help thinking he’ll cave on clear and sincere immigration policy as would most of the field.

2. I am curious the manner of policy the caucus would advance in response to those in the Middle East we have made promises. Those who put their lives at risk based on those promises.

#6 Comment By John Turner On August 29, 2017 @ 10:04 am

I agree with non-interventionism to the degree that it is combined with compassionate and effective policies addressing the needs of people groups and refugees who have come under political oppression. I am no expert on the Lindbergh America First movement, but my impression is that it provided little more than lip service to the plight of Jews who fell under Nazi oppression and genocide.

I am not so naive as to believe that we can throw open our doors to immigration by all the world’s political refugees, but I believe that we can help lead an international movement that will provide effective options for targets of genocide and other severe oppression.

If we do that, our voice against reckless military interventionism (and what percentage of military interventionism has not proven reckless within our lifetimes? a very tiny percentage, I would hazard) will have more moral clout.

#7 Comment By Johann On August 29, 2017 @ 10:23 am

1. You are dreaming if you don’t think both sides of the aisle and especially the media will not perpetuate the intellectually dishonest meme that America First = Antisemitism.

2. The America First course of action should include common sense border control and immigration control. Getting out of the middle east will help. It will reduce Islamic terrorist recruitment, but its naive to think Islamic terrorism will stop. It won’t. Ir will have a half-life for a long time to come.

#8 Comment By America First and Last On August 29, 2017 @ 11:16 am

“Getting out of the middle east will help. It will reduce Islamic terrorist recruitment, but its naive to think Islamic terrorism will stop. “

No. But if we get out of the Middle East we won’t endlessly create new terrorists who hate America. And if we leave they can focus their hatred on others – real enemies like Saudi monarchs, Egyptian dictators, and the Israelis. We’ve done more than our share to protect those creeps. And they’ve done nothing for us. They’ve been free-riding on American blood and treasure for decades. Let them fight their own fights from now on.

#9 Comment By Donald ( the left leaning one) On August 29, 2017 @ 11:48 am

This is a bit of a side issue, maybe, but it might be better not to link the noninterventionist movement of today with that of 1940. For one thing, most Americans, including me, think it is good we got involved in stopping Hitler. The problem in more recent years is precisely that interventionists claim it is always 1940 and every real or alleged enemy of the US is the next Hitler.

#10 Comment By Choosing Sides On August 29, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

“You are dreaming if you don’t think both sides of the aisle and especially the media will not perpetuate the intellectually dishonest meme that America First = Antisemitism.”

Well no, we’re not dreaming. What we’re saying is that what you’re calling “both sides of the aisle” is actually the same side, and only one side of it.

We’re not concerned with that side of the aisle any more. We’re concerned with our side of the aisle – the American side.

#11 Comment By SteveK9 On August 29, 2017 @ 2:47 pm

It doesn’t have to be all Republicans. I’m thinking of Tulsi Gabbard. Anyone sponsoring a ‘Stop arming terrorists’ bill has to be considered. I would guess there are some others. If they started a political party, I’d be all for it. If we simply stop all of these idiotic wars, and rein in the MI complex, a lot of our other problems would become tractable.

#12 Comment By Jett Rucker On August 29, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

Clever the way Objective 1 was shortened to allow Americans with (superior?) loyalty to other countries to take part in the movement.

Probably the chief such other country is Israel, but perhaps there are also-rans. Divided loyalty remains a serious problem in this and virtually any other action the US might undertake in an international context.

#13 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 29, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

Well if people want America to be a more non-interventionist nation, bring back the Military Draft. Most American really aren’t really paying much attention to what America is doing in the Middle East and elsewhere. And that’s because most of America doesn’t have to worry about their little Johnnie or Jill being marched off to one of theses “Wars without End”. America needs to get back to the concept of the “citizen-soldier” and exactly “why” we may be sending into them “harm’s way”. Having a Draft forces our lawmakers to ask these questions before committing to such dubious endeavors.

#14 Comment By polistra On August 29, 2017 @ 6:14 pm

It’s too late to hold Trump. He turned out to be a false flag working for Deepstate.

But why not try to include some Dems? Many of the union types are inclined toward nationalism, but felt forced to go along with Hillary.

#15 Comment By SteveK9 On August 29, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

Fred, it’s been arranged that way precisely so we won’t object. But rather than bring back the draft, let’s object.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 29, 2017 @ 8:10 pm

“Well if people want America to be a more non-interventionist nation, bring back the Military Draft.”

I wholeheartedly endorse this position. And remain as adamant about it as I am the wall which should have been built yesterday or begun on Jan 2 2017

#17 Comment By Jon On August 30, 2017 @ 11:58 am

On another site, I used to emphasize the link between foreign policy and the economy. Since a lot of the participants on that site were concerned about economic growth, employment, and stability, I thought it best to tie these concerns with foreign policy. Unfortunately, in the public mindset it would appear that there the two remain in separate silos. And the worship of our fighting forces continues without the understanding that true patriotism is not in marching bands, football, and waving flags neither is it in the ultimate sacrifice in unwarranted and unnecessary wars.

#18 Comment By Jon On August 30, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

Correction the sentence should read, ” Unfortunately, in the public mindset it would appear that these two remain in separate silos.

#19 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 30, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

Steve unfortunately most people won’t object unless they know that they (or their loved ones) will be paying the price. Seriously do you think that if these Middle East Wars of choice were being fought with draftees we still be fighting them? I’m guessing “No” as after sixteen years the American people would be asking “Why?!?” and demanding a “damn good answer” which there isn’t any. Truth be told most Americans don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the Middle East anymore and that’s because they don’t know anybody in the military that would be “in harm’s way”. Anymore these wars are being waged for the benefit of the MIC, the neo-conservative/liberal interventionists and to provide “career opportunities” for an increasingly “top heavy” military.

#20 Comment By Janet Contursi On August 31, 2017 @ 11:21 am

There is no reason why this caucus could not be bipartisan. But why obfuscate the purpose of the caucus? Why not call it what it is: the Non-interventionist caucus. That would not only send a clear message to the American people, but also bring on board non-Republicans, making its influence stronger. Stopping illegal US intervention does not only benefit “America first” — it benefits the entire world.

#21 Comment By Luchorpan On September 1, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Janet,

the purpose of “America First” is in part to highlight how US foreign intervention has *never* been advantageous to legitimate US interests.

Go through each intervention, including the CIA etc. meddling. *None* of them served US interests.

Likewise, we *do not* need the surveillance state to watch us.

The military is still needed but not in its current, bloated form.

What we have is an elite wielding the US military as its plaything. Americans need to take our country back!

George Washington and America First!

#22 Comment By Luchorpan On September 1, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

Just to add, current US foreign policy is not simply unnecessary, it is *contrary* to US interests.

For example, we *bribe* (via trade deals) Japan and S. Korea to tolerate our military bases. We don’t need those bases!

What America *needs* is an economy. It’s the economy that supports the military, should it *ever* someday be needed. Thanks to our unique geographical position, wealth, and size, it is unlikely the US will ever be in a necessary military conflict.

#23 Comment By joe On September 7, 2017 @ 4:52 am

You need a larger group of smart people,
organization,

then people who are willing to do things,

and finally a coupe rich people or bank to support you.

Trump is now a deep state servant for the most part whether he likes it or not.