Ross Douthat continues the discussion on Republican foreign policy reform:
Now none of this is worth doing, obviously, if you don’t share any of the G.O.P. base’s sensitivities and concerns. There’s a version of realism that really doesn’t have a home in the post-Reagan Republican Party — one that tends to put its faith in Davos bromides rather than American sovereignty, that regards Israel as the source of almost every Middle Eastern problem, that’s allergic to the language of American exceptionalism, and that’s basically left-of-center on most non-foreign policy questions and culturally alienated from the religious conservatism that lies at the heart of the G.O.P. coalition [bold mine-DL].
But the fact that realists who fall into this category (like Colin Powell) or else have drifted into it (like Hagel, since 2004 or so) are now regarded with hostility by most Republicans emphatically does not mean that it’s impossible to sell a more restrained foreign policy vision to the Republican electorate. You just have to actually, you know, sell it — which means arguing for it on conservative grounds, addressing its impact on causes and concerns right-wing voters hold dear, and (perhaps above all) not behaving as though you think the people you’re trying to persuade are yahoos, fanatics or both.
That must be why Republican and movement conservative leaders have always responded so much more favorably to Pat Buchanan’s foreign policy arguments than they have to Powell’s and Hagel’s in the past. Oh, wait, that’s right. This has never happened. Buchanan has consistently avoided virtually every one of the habits to which some internationalists might be prone, and it did him and advocates for a more restrained foreign policy very little good. Buchanan was mostly pitching a “Jacksonian” message to Republicans throughout the 1990s and has continued to so. Along the same lines, antiwar conservatives have been arguing for over ten years against aggressive foreign policy, preventive war, and military overreach on explicitly conservative grounds. We make arguments against the wastefulness and fiscal irresponsibility of unnecessary wars. We highlight the harm that war causes to military families, we make direct appeals to pro-life conservatives about the evils of unnecessary war and condemn the disdain for human life and dignity that go with it. We point to the strains that perpetual war puts on the military and on the men and women serving in it. We call attention to the damage that the warfare and security state does to our national security and to our constitutional liberties, and we rail against the growth in state power that perpetual war causes. I believe that there are many conservatives and Republicans still open to these arguments, provided that they are able to hear and read them on a regular basis.
There is a real and growing constituency in the GOP that is responding to these and other related arguments, but you would never know it by looking at conservative media outlets or the vast majority of Republicans in Washington, almost all of whom continue to talk about foreign policy and national security as if the last ten years never happened (or as if they represented a great vindication of the genius of hard-line policies). This growing constituency doesn’t need to be sold on a more restrained foreign policy–they already favor it. The ongoing problem is that this constituency has virtually no representation in Congress or among those that speak for the Republican Party on foreign policy, and party and movement leaders make of point of trying to keep it that way.
It’s also not true that Powell and Hagel fall into the category that Douthat describes. Is Powell “allergic to the language of American exceptionalism”?* Does he actually view Israel as the source of “almost every Middle East problem”? Obviously not. Do these descriptions apply to Hagel? The people running the smear campaign against might like you to think so, but there’s no truth to it. In fact, I doubt that there are very many people anywhere on the right to whom this description applies in the real world. The truth is that Powell and Hagel’s views on cultural and domestic issues didn’t change much at all between, say, 2000 and 2008. Powell and Hagel used to be lauded as possible presidential or vice presidential candidates in spite of their disagreements with conservatives on some domestic issues, and there was plenty of room for their kind of realists so long as they ultimately fell in line behind lousy foreign policy ideas. To the extent that Powell and Hagel changed in the last ten years, they became even more skeptical of military action, more critical of Republican foreign policy arguments, and more willing to break ranks with the party when its presidential nominee embodied the worst sort of unthinking hawkishness. These are the reasons they are now viewed with suspicion and loathing in their party. Let’s not pretend that it has much of anything to do with their domestic policy views or cultural politics.
* If there is an “allergy” to anything related to American exceptionalism among advocates of restraint, it is the natural reaction to the tendentious, false definition of American exceptionalism that has become popular as an ongoing justification for aggressive, activist foreign policy in the world. It is mainly the distortion of the phrase’s proper meaning and its demagogic use that some of us find so irritating.