In the grand scheme of things, a political party’s platform is an insignificant document. The Republican Party’s platform this year doesn’t change this; despite the media’s fascination with the fact that Donald Trump’s border wall made its way into the platform, the document is still a non-binding, ideological missive, more of a goodie bag for conservative activists than an operational plan.
Nonetheless, the Platform Committee’s debates last week were interesting to watch and a good barometer of where the Republican Party stands on certain issues. The interactions on foreign policy and national security were especially revealing, and they all led to the same conclusion: neoconservatives are still very much the leaders of the GOP’s foreign-policy machinery.
According to a May 2016 Pew Research Center survey, a majority of Americans would rather let other countries deal with their own affairs (57 percent) than plunge manpower and money overseas to help other countries confront their challenges (37 percent). 62 percent of Republicans surveyed want the United States to start taking its own domestic problems more seriously, and Pew reports that “roughly 55 percent of Republicans view global economic engagement negatively.” In addition, the single most consequential foreign-policy decision that neoconservatives have made—the invasion and occupation of Iraq—has been labeled a failure by a majority of Americans.
If they were driven by public opinion, then, the delegates would have brought the platform’s national-security proposals in a less hawkish and more realist direction. But every single amendment from libertarian-esque and anti-interventionist delegate Eric Brakey was defeated by voice vote without much debate. International diplomacy, the life-blood of U.S. foreign policy and the option of first resort, was largely overshadowed by provisions that resemble the doomsday scenarios you would find in an apocalyptic Hollywood thriller.
For the very first time, the danger of an electromagnetic pulse attack devastating America’s power grid, computer system, and infrastructure was given a spot in the platform, called a threat that would “endanger the lives of millions.” You could be forgiven for assuming that the very same speechwriters who composed the George W. Bush administration’s infamous “mushroom cloud” language drafted the plank on EMP’s.
As Daniel Larison points out in these pages, the draft platform also transforms the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a crisis that needs to be quickly resolved to a side issue whose solution should be outsourced to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. The idea of an independent, sovereign, peaceful, self-sustaining state for the Palestinian people—called for in the previous three GOP platforms—is simply dropped.
Last but not the least, the nuclear agreement with Iran that was signed with such fanfare by Tehran and the P5+1 after two years of negotiations—an agreement that every Republican lawmaker voted against (save one, who voted “present”), and one that the GOP caucus continues to describe as a 21st-century version of the 1938 Munich catastrophe—is deemed “non-binding” by the delegates. While technically true (the agreement was not approved by Congress or proposed as a treaty), the language is a way for this year’s crop of Republican delegates to encourage the next Republican administration to nullify a diplomatic accord that the IAEA nuclear watchdog concludes is working. If there is any Obama-administration policy that neoconservatives cannot stand, it is this one—an agreement they depict as a cash bonanza for the Iranians and a disturbing demonstration of U.S. weakness and appeasement.
Sen. Rand Paul’s decision to drop out of the Republican primary at an early stage should have been a clear illustration of the non-interventionist camp being given the short end of the stick. But if that wasn’t a clear enough hint as to where the GOP’s foreign policy is after eight years of President Barack Obama, then the deliberations should put those questions to rest. The neoconservatives and hawks who have run the GOP’s foreign policy for the past 15 years remain indisputably the leading faction.
Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategic consulting firm, and a freelance researcher. He has also written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal, and the Diplomat.