Max Boot can’t figure out how the GOP lost its traditional advantage on foreign policy and national security:
The upshot is that U.S. foreign policy and national-security policy are a mess, as even many Democrats admit, and yet there is no viable alternative being offered by the Republican Party, which has somehow managed [bold mine-DL] to forfeit its long-standing advantage on national-security issues.
Boot faults Republicans on four specific things: not opposing sequestration, not doing enough to back the Syrian opposition, not “speaking out” loudly enough in favor of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq, and not doing more to keep American troops in Afghanistan. If Republicans did as Boot preferred, they would be committing themselves to a number of bad policies, and they would confirm every negative stereotype about the party’s views on military spending and foreign wars. There is no question that pushing a more aggressive line on Syria would be a political loser, but more important it would be a foolish policy to support. Republicans are already perceived as too reckless and too ready to resort to military action and other aggressive measures, and they already suffer from being identified as the party of perpetual war. Agitating for a longer presence in Iraq was wrongheaded, and the same is true for Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Boot doesn’t understand or chooses not to acknowledge that this is how the party lost its advantage on these issues, and that criticisms of the administration will rarely gain traction so long as the public can correctly assume that most elected Republicans still favor more aggressive policies than the president.
On Syria alone, Obama is vulnerable to fair criticism on the flawed and erratic nature of administration policy, but Republicans can never fully exploit this because many of their most vocal members in Congress have been pressing for deeper U.S. involvement in the conflict since it began. As confused and muddled as Syria policy has been, the Syria hawks in the GOP have managed to take a position on the conflict that is even less popular than what Obama’s proposed attack this summer. The good news is that they speak for fewer and fewer people on the right, but they are still hugely overrepresented in Washington and in conservative media, and that makes it significantly more difficult for the public to identify the party with the advocates of foreign policy restraint and prudence. If most Americans assume that the Mark Kirks still speak for the GOP on foreign policy, the party is in for a long period of losing on these issues.