‘Conservative’ House GOP Wants America to Wage War Against All
A new Republican caucus blueprint for U.S. foreign policy strategy is as hubristic as it is embarrassing.
The Republican Party has become the war party. These conservatives, supposedly committed to the American republic, based on individual liberty and limited government, advocate that the U.S. should make every foreign crisis America’s own, defend every rich friend, engage in nation-building everywhere, turn policy over to politically influential allies, dictate to great powers, and make new enemies at every turn.
At least that is the policy advocated by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the conservative voice within the House Republican caucus, in its embarrassing new screed “Strengthening America & Countering Global Threats.” With the U.S. beset by crises at home, these self-styled conservatives would divert American attention, waste valuable resources, and sacrifice precious lives to engage in counterproductive social engineering abroad.
The RSC declares its lack of seriousness in the paper’s introduction. It believes the fount of all the world’s ills is the Obama administration. There is much to criticize in the latter, but it followed a true horror show, the big-spending war-mongering Bush administration. And then against Barack Obama in 2008 the GOP nominated John McCain, who never found a war he did not want America to fight and in the midst of a financial crisis admitted his economic ignorance.
Opined the RSC: “For eight years, President Obama’s failed policies allowed our greatest adversaries to grow stronger while weakening America’s position as the world’s preeminent power. During this time, Communist China and Russia went completely unchecked, Iran was gifted a plane full of cash, jihadist groups such as ISIS were casually dismissed as the ‘JV squad,’ key allies were offended, foreign aid and United Nations dues failed to advance U.S. interests, and America behaved sheepishly on the world stage.”
Drivel and nonsense.
How was the U.S. weakening? The Bush administration entangled America in endless conflict in Afghanistan and made what international scholars widely view as the worst foreign policy blunder in decades, the disastrous invasion of Iraq. President George W. Bush looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saw love and affection. The Bush administration demanded the Palestinian elections which brought Hamas to power in Gaza. President Bush backed the lawless independence of Kosovo, setting a precedent for Russian backing of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s secession. The administration continued NATO expansion and heedlessly pushed for inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine, encouraging the former’s reckless behavior—Mikhail Saakashvili’s government started the shooting in Georgia’s catastrophic war against Moscow—and inflaming Russian hostility.
The Bush administration rejected negotiations with Tehran as leading conservatives demanded war with Iran. So the latter sped up its nuclear research program. President Obama did not “gift” money to Iran; instead, Tehran’s own funds were returned for agreeing to detailed restrictions and comprehensive inspections. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has been a disastrous failure, making Iran even more hostile and disruptive.
ISIS threatened not the U.S., but a gaggle of corrupt, authoritarian governments across the Middle East. They were capable of defeating the Islamic State but didn’t need to do so once Washington took over. The RSC whines about offending allies that deserve criticism and worse—vile oppressors, rich welfare dependents, and failed states.
As for allegedly “sheepish” behavior, the Obama administration spent more on the military, twice increased troop levels in Afghanistan, intervened in Libya, backed the Saudi invasion of Yemen, reinserted U.S. forces in Iraq, took America into the Syrian civil war, and pushed the reluctant Europeans to confront Russia over Ukraine. The Obama administration’s problem was promiscuous, foolish intervention, not inaction.
Alas, the GOP House conservatives have learned nothing from the bipartisan experience of turning Uncle Sam into GloboCop. They begin with China, which does pose an important challenge to the U.S., as the document contends. However, in dealing with Beijing’s worsening behavior—Chinese President Xi Jinping looks a lot like Mao Zedong reincarnated—the RSC is high on posturing. It urges meaningless sanctions on Chinese apparatchiks, which won’t cause them to stop oppressing the Chinese people. And the RSC proposes a “statement of policy making Xinjiang a major issue in U.S.-China relations,” as if Beijing would notice.
The most serious issue is potential military confrontation between the two nations. Yet on this issue the RSC says little other than headlining the relevant section “strengthening our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” In GOP parlance “strengthening” alliances always means increasing military subsidies and support for states which should be doing more themselves. Washington’s objective should be to encourage allies to deter Chinese aggressiveness, backstopping their independence rather than guaranteeing their interests, such as territorial claims, of only peripheral importance to America.
Indeed, the RSC makes a common mistake when it claims: “China continues its military buildup in the South China Sea threatening the United States as well as allies and partners.” Actually, Beijing threatens U.S. influence, not America. There is no Chinese plan to attack the U.S., rather, what China wants is a variant of the Monroe Doctrine, to stop Washington’s threats against Beijing in its own neighborhood. It costs America far more to project power then China to deter use of that power. The RSC fails to grapple with the fundamental question: how much are Americans prepared to spend and risk to confront another nation in its home territory over security interests of other states that are not vital to the U.S.?
A more serious blunder is the RSC’s screed against Russia, entitled “rolling back aggression through a strategy of deterrence.” The chapter is hysterical, featuring a map of “Russia’s expanding aggression,” highlighted by such forgettable border territories as Transnistria, Donetsk, and Abkhazia, which are not American security interests. The RSC seems most exercised over Russian behavior that is irrelevant to America, such as support for Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, a Moscow ally for decades. Russia is a negative actor, but hardly the dire security threat the overwrought RSC claims.
Russia has returned to a pre-1914 great power, demanding respect for its interests and secure borders. Yet Washington violated its pledge against expanding NATO up to Russia’s borders, dismantled Serbia without concern for Moscow’s interests, encouraged a street putsch against an elected, albeit corrupt, president of Ukraine friendly to Russia, and treated the erratic government of Georgia, which fired on Russian military forces, as a major ally. This does not justify Moscow’s military adventurism, but imagine Washington’s reaction to similar behavior by Russia (such as inviting Mexico to join the Warsaw Pact)—there would have been little American concern for democratic or diplomatic niceties. As for interfering in other nations’ elections, the U.S. has done so more than 80 times, including in Russia, most ostentatiously in 1996, without apology.
Anyway, all the RSC can think of is more sanctions on Russia and military support for NATO. The RSC would increase American misuse of its financial dominance, further pushing Europe toward Russia, China, and other states in looking for alternative financial mechanisms. Worse, sanctions ensure continuing hostility from Moscow for no purpose. Russia will not surrender Crimea under any circumstances, nor will it abandon its confrontational foreign policy in the face of what it sees as U.S. aggression. Better would be to find an accommodation with Moscow. There is no better evidence that GOP foreign policy is moribund, even braindead, than that it has encouraged a potentially dangerous China-Russia condominium against America.
As for NATO, why can’t the Europeans, 75 years after the end of World War II, take over their own defense? With 11 times Russia’s GDP and more than three times Russia’s population, Europe is capable of protecting itself. The Pentagon should not create an international defense dole. Why must America, busy elsewhere in the world and overburdened financially, spend even more to “reassure” European nations that prefer to use their resources to fund generous welfare states?
The RSC’s proposed policy in the Mideast is, if anything, even worse. It continues Washington’s obsession with Tehran: “Iran is not a great power or strategic competitor, but it still presents a significant challenge as a rogue regime backed by a military and intelligence apparatus while being the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”
This is largely nonsense. The Mideast no longer is important to America. The region’s energy role is diminishing and Israel is a regional superpower that can defend itself. Iran has a decrepit military and is surrounded by enemies; reliance on proxy forces is a sign of weakness, not strength. Saudi Arabians have done far more to promote terrorism, including funding and staffing the 9/11 attacks, a role covered up by the Bush administration. Washington deems Iran “terrorist” not because it attacks America, but because it supports Hamas and Hezbollah, quasi-governments that battle Israel.
U.S. policy toward Iran has verged on criminal: backing a coup to overthrow democracy in 1953, supporting the brutal Shah for a quarter century, aiding Saddam Hussein’s war of aggression in the 1980s, shooting down an Iranian airliner, arming the even more repressive and aggressive Saudi dictatorship, and constantly threatening war against Iran. Yet the RSC advocates intensifying the “maximum pressure” campaign which has bolstered Tehran’s hardliners and further destabilized the region. Demanding that Iran surrender its independent foreign policy while threatening its destruction and aiding its enemies is a policy best characterized as idiotic, designed for failure.
The best evidence that the RSC is bereft of moral as well as geopolitical sense is its support for the Saudi Arabian dictatorship. Indeed, the conservative Republican organization backs the Trump administration’s sacrifice of American interests to the corrupt Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian state, without political or religious liberty. It invaded Yemen, kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister, backed jihadist insurgents in Syria, supported strongman Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan civil war, financed tyranny in Egypt, used troops to sustain the dictatorial Sunni monarchy against the Shia majority democracy movement in Bahrain, and launched economic war against Qatar designed to turn the latter into a satellite state. This is the regime which the RSC would make dominant in the Persian Gulf.
The paper closes with a standard Republican bromide: “New global threats make American leadership more imperative now than ever before.” The U.S. must forever attempt to dominate the globe. America must defend everyone. America must confront everyone. America must impose its will on everyone.
This agenda is neither sustainable nor desirable. It is hubris masquerading as foreign policy. The next administration should put into effect what George W. Bush advocated but almost immediately abandoned, a “humble” foreign policy that really puts America first.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.