As part of their review of what ails the Republican Party and how it might be fixed, Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner give very brief attention to foreign policy:
Another factor lies in the realm of foreign policy. For four decades, our adversarial relationship with the Soviet Union was a major issue in presidential elections. Over that period, and particularly from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, Republicans were widely considered the stronger and more trustworthy party when it came to national defense and to keeping America safe. In every presidential election since the Nixon–Humphrey contest in 1968, Republicans began with a significant lead in this respect. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, this potent issue was largely taken off the table. Nor has the decidedly mixed legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade worked to bolster the Republicans’ electoral advantage in the conduct of foreign policy; if anything, the opposite is the case [bold mine-DL].
As I said elsewhere, this is probably the closest that Bush administration loyalists can get to acknowledging that Bush’s conduct of these wars was poor. This is also one of the few admissions I have seen from prominent, conventional Republicans that Bush-era foreign policy might just have possibly been a drag on Republican political fortunes. It’s worth noting for those reasons, but there isn’t much here. The legacy of these wars hasn’t been “decidedly mixed.” Especially in the case of Iraq, it has been calamitous. A party that can’t come to terms with that is one that has no business controlling the White House, and it likely won’t be trusted with that power until its leaders demonstrate that they have some clue how disastrous their last president was. When we compare this to the essay’s treatment of domestic policy, it is very weak.
At most, Gerson and Wehner acknowledge that the GOP’s advantage on foreign policy and national security has vanished, but they still rely on the assumption that Republicans should normally have an advantage that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not bolstered. A proper reckoning of the state of the party’s reputation on these issues would admit up front that it has suffered enormous damage, and the party’s new disadvantage on these issues has existed since 2006. Republicans need to recognize that the Iraq war was a debacle, but they also need to understand why it was and then learn to avoid making similar errors in the future.
There would need to be an end to constant threat-hyping and threat inflation, which contributed greatly to the paranoia and fear that warped the debate over Iraq in 2002-03. There should also be a repudiation of preventive war. Ideally, it would be rejected because it is illegal and wrong, but it would be good enough if Republicans rejected it because it is an imprudent, reckless abuse of U.S. power. No less important, Republicans need to learn to be much warier of executive power when one of their own is in power. That is probably the hardest thing to learn, since many partisans tend to tolerate awful behavior from “their” presidents that they would otherwise condemn, but it would be essential to Republicans’ resistance to new wars in the future.
Reforming Republican foreign policy goes beyond correcting the excesses of a militarized approach to the rest of the world and the frequent resort to military action that goes with it. For starters, Republicans might stop defining U.S. interests in a given region as more or less identical to what the most nationalist and hard-line members of a client government believe their interests to be. They could take their cues from the Nixon Doctrine and stop encouraging allies to free-ride on the U.S. military, which they encourage when they insist that military spending should never be reduced. Positively, they could provide the State Department with the resources that it needs to promote U.S. interests and secure their facilities instead of targeting its relatively small amount of funding in their budget proposals. Ideally, their national leaders and spokesmen on these issues would also be far less obsessed with democracy promotion than they are, but that isn’t as important as fixing these other problems. These are just a few suggestions to remedy the GOP’s most glaring deficiencies and weaknesses on these issues. It isn’t an exhaustive list of what needs to be done, but it would get Republicans going in the right direction.