James Poulos offers a sensible outline of what U.S. foreign policy ought to look like (and what Republicans ought to be favoring on foreign policy):
* Ensuring that Russia does not become an active adversary;
* Ensuring that China does not create or join a rival economic system;
* Ensuring that, in Europe, France develops the military and political capability to lead the continent in case of profound crisis;
* Preventing the international drug war from becoming a costly, open-ended war of attrition with bad state and nonstate actors;
* Preventing trusted allies from Asia to the Mideast from becoming mere wards of the US military-industrial complex;
* Preventing the executive branch and the bureaucracies it controls from waging unilateral global military action as a matter of habit and standard practice.
One might emphasize some of these more than others, but as an outline of a plausible alternative set of priorities for Republican foreign policy this list has a lot to recommend it.
James doesn’t explicitly say this, but it’s also hard not to notice that almost every single one of these is practically the opposite of the prevailing Republican view (and, on many of these points, the opposite of the prevailing Democratic view as well). While James urges the U.S. not to make Russia an active adversary, most Republican hawks have been very eager to worsen relations with Russia for at least the last decade, and they have been extremely annoyed that those relations modestly improved between 2009 and 2011. Instead of trying to encourage allies to provide for their own defense and regional security, as James suggests, most Republican hawks view any reduction in U.S. military presence abroad and/or military spending as a “retreat” that benefits only Russia, China, and Iran. If James’ suggestions are quite sensible, and I think they are, why have leading Republicans taken views so far removed from them?
We’ll find part of the answer by returning to the claim that “Republicans are more willing to upset the global status quo.” This may have been true in the past, but it is mostly the wrong way to describe what Republican hawks are doing today. Their preferred policies are not aimed at upsetting the “global status quo” as such, but instead they are vainly aimed at re-establishing an international order that was already disappearing in 2001. I suspect that multipolarity irks Republican hawks so much because it is a reminder of the futility of what they’re trying to do and the obsolescence of many of their assumptions about what the U.S. role in the world ought to be.