Mike Pence is one of the few members of the current GOP House leadership with any credibility when he criticizes bailouts (he opposed the TARP when it was first proposed), so that isn’t the problem with his recent address to The American Spectator‘s Robert Bartley dinner. Pence refers to a “great American awakening” in response to “runaway federal spending, bailouts and takeovers by both parties.” He might be right, but even if there weren’t such an awakening he wouldn’t be wrong to speak out against these things. What is amazing about the beginning of this speech is how quickly it turns from an area where the GOP may now have some advantages (i.e., fiscal and economic questions) to foreign policy, where it has nothing at all worthwhile to say. Fiscal conservatives can rightly point to mounting debt, a weakening dollar and an unsustainable entitlement system and can offer something in the way of a remedy or at least a serious alternative, but the moment the subject turns to foreign affairs they become ridiculous idealists and paranoid alarmists.

Pence begins:

On the foreign stage, the American people know that weakness arouses evil. They know that bowing and kowtowing to foreign dictators only diminishes our standing in the world. And they know that standing idly by while the Ayatollahs in Iran crush innocent civilians, clamoring for free elections, is totally inconsistent with our history of standing with those who stand for freedom around the world. Ronald Reagan didn’t stand before the Brandenburg Gate and say, “Mr. Gorbachev, that wall is none of our business.” The American cause is freedom and in that cause we must never be silent again

This is idealistic claptrap at best, but what worries me is that Pence may actually think this is a serious criticism of Obama’s foreign policy. In 1956, our President did not confuse the American cause with the cause of Hungarian rebels, admirable and courageous as those rebels were, and WWIII was avoided. Indeed, it was the empty rhetoric of rollback fanatics who led those Hungarians to believe that they would receive U.S. support if they rose up. They believed the fantasy that “the American cause is freedom,” and they were killed as a result. That is precisely what Pence is urging our government to do with respect to Iran. In other words, he is calling on our government to give Tehran a pretext for even bloodier repression.

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we accept the fairy tale that the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili has been representing the forces of freedom and democracy in the Caucasus. By Pence’s standard, because “the American cause is freedom,” we would be obliged to have come to the defense of Georgia when Russia retaliated against Georgian escalation. To do anything else would be to betray our principles, right? If our government were as foolish and reckless as Pence’s rhetoric would have it be, we would have been entering into new major international wars on a regular basis in recent years. At the very least we would have been sacrificing American interests to take sides in foreign political conflicts in which we have no real stake.

Idealists love to make commitments that our government is then bound to keep or else be accused of “betraying” the cause of freedom. What Pence does not make explicit is that the national interest often diverges from the interests of foreign dissidents. How could it be otherwise? Pence has a lot of fun throwing around accusations that Obama has been “bowing and kowtowing” to other governments, but Pence plainly wants to subordinate U.S. interests to the causes of political dissidents around the world.