Jim Antle makes five useful suggestions on how to improve Republican foreign policy. Here he recommends identifying contradictions in prevailing conservative foreign policy arguments:
It should by now be obvious that both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars eventually became the kinds of conflicts most conservatives say they don’t support. So inevitably would future wars being advocated by the same people. That is a good reason for conservatives to oppose Wilsonian wars mislabeled as Jacksonian self-defense. This should especially be easy in conflicts where there are factions hostile to American interests on all sides, such as Syria and the current conditions in Iraq.
This is all very sensible. Here are a few more recommendations that I’d make for reforming Republican foreign policy. Some of these could probably be applied to many members in both parties, but Republicans would benefit from them more.
Republicans should stop deferring to what allies and clients say they need from the U.S. These governments have every incentive to claim that they are being neglected in order to extract more benefits from the relationship, and it should be the role of conservatives to scrutinize and question these claims to determine whether they have any merit and whether the current relationship is worth the cost. Republicans should also stop conflating what these governments and their boosters want with the American interest. Allies and clients have their own interests that will inevitably diverge from ours at least some of the time, and that will sometimes involve attempts by an ally or client to get the U.S. to pursue policies that it prefers at our expense. When an ally or client doesn’t get its way, it will be displeased and lament its “abandonment,” which Republicans should be able to recognize as a maneuver to get more support/money/weapons. At the very least, Republicans shouldn’t be helping other governments in their shakedown attempts, and ideally they would be actively resisting them. Similarly, when the U.S. alters or tries to alter a policy that concerns an ally or client, Republicans shouldn’t assume that complaints from hard-liners in the other country reflect the views of people in that country, nor should they take those complaints at face value. Republican politicians in particular should stop bending over backwards to please allies and clients.
Conservatives should resist the corruption of language and the frequent recourse to euphemisms when discussing foreign policy. The U.S. has some genuinely vital interests, but they are necessarily very few, so whenever someone claims that the U.S. has “vital” interests at stake in a country where U.S. interests are tangential at best conservatives should be aware of the difference and reject attempts to treat minor and tangential concerns as if they were critically important to the U.S. When hawks insist on “taking action” or “leading” in response to a crisis, it is imperative to specify that this normally means risking American lives and/or inflicting death and destruction on others, whether directly or by proxy. That can only be justified in self-defense or for the defense of a genuine ally. That requires conservatives to be very precise and accurate when talking about what constitutes self-defense and which states actually qualify as allies. Unless the U.S. has treaty obligations to defend another state, conservatives should refrain from thinking of that state as an ally. Unless a war is being fought to respond to an attack on the U.S. or one of its treaty allies, it is by any reasonable definition a war of choice and one that the U.S. doesn’t have to fight or support. When faced with demands to support such an unnecessary war, conservatives shouldn’t let themselves be misled by shoddy arguments about “credibility” or American “leadership” in the world. The abuse of language also affects the way that threats are perceived. Manageable threats that can be easily deterred shouldn’t be considered intolerable causes for preventive warfare. Conservatives should view any claim that the U.S. faces an “existential threat” with extreme skepticism, since there is almost nothing on earth that poses a threat to our existence, and they should generally treat such a claim as the irresponsible and dishonest alarmism that it is.
Finally, conservatives should make a determined effort to cut out nostalgia for the Cold War and stop trying to find a global ideological adversary to take the place of the USSR. The desire to find a replacement fuels the tendency to exaggerate manageable threats and to imagine that many different adversaries belong to alliances and coalitions that don’t exist, and these can help drive the U.S. into unnecessary and self-defeating policies of confrontation. To some extent, that will fade with time as the Cold War recedes into the past, but it is a habit that still has to be rooted out.