Josh Rogin reports on the hawkish posturing of several likely 2016 candidates:
Republican voters are divided when it comes to key foreign policy issues and the role of American power abroad. But listening to the party’s potential 2016 presidential candidates at the weekend’s Republican National Committee winter meeting in San Diego, you wouldn’t have known it. Not only was foreign policy front and center of every address, but the contenders were all convening around a hawkish, almost neoconservative position similar to where Mitt Romney was when he ran in 2012.
Rogin’s contrast is useful, since it shows the extent to which almost all of the would-be candidates are oblivious or indifferent to public opinion on these issues. These candidates are identifying themselves with a failed approach to foreign policy, but more than that they are endorsing a kind of foreign policy that the public doesn’t want and has rejected several times before. While they may think that they are positioning themselves where they need to be for the nomination, they are all hewing to a party line that will be harmful to the Republican ticket during the general election. Whatever else they think they’re doing, they are doing their best to guarantee that foreign policy will once again be a liability for the GOP.
The substance of their remarks isn’t particularly interesting, since so much of it is sloganeering and bluster. That weakness on policy substance remains one of the hawks’ biggest flaws. Perry seems to think that if the U.S. had thrown more weapons into Syria that ISIS would have somehow been weakened, but we saw Iraq that the U.S. can provide lots of weapons and training to a would-be client and then see that client lost much of it to advancing ISIS forces. Essentially, Perry’s complaint is that the administration didn’t hand out even more weapons for ISIS to seize. He also objected to the decision not to attack the regime in 2013, and suggested that he thinks that the regime ought to have been forced to collapse. Of course, that would have left even more of Syria to be gobbled up by ISIS. Then again, no one has ever confused him for a policy wonk. There is no danger that anyone will.
Romney rattled off a litany of problems around the world, and implied that he had the answers for at least some of them, but as often does on these issues he avoided specifics and demonstrated none of the insight that this so-called “foreign policy prophet” is supposed to have. The hawks’ tendency to set unrealistic and unduly ambitious goals for U.S. policy is another. Romney insists that the U.S. must “make the world safe for freedom,” which is an absurdly ambitious goal at any time. It is a goal that people might like in the abstract, but once they learn about how much more this will cost the U.S. there will not be much enthusiasm.
The would-be candidates that spoke at the RNC meeting all share the same flaw: they have little or no relevant experience or solid understanding of these issues, but that doesn’t stop them from advocating for a far more aggressive, ambitious foreign policy. This was what plagued Romney in 2012: he didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was prepared to be much more activist and intrusive all around the world. One would expect inexperience and lack of understanding to make candidates more cautious about the kinds of action they demand from the U.S., but in this case the hawkish 2016 candidates are going in the opposite direction. The last time we had a Republican president, he suffered from the same flaw of having too little knowledge and setting grandiose, unrealistic goals. It is a disastrous combination, and one that for the good of the country mustn’t be tried again.