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Josh Hawley: Hero or Hawk?

The Senator needs to do more than just talk about ending our blundering endless war policies. Actions mean more.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri. “https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en>ByNatureofThought/CreativeCommons

Senator Josh Hawley, at 39 the youngest member of Congress’ upper chamber, will one day run for president. If former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford can run, certainly so can Hawley. How does the Missouri Republican hope to do it?

Hawley is to big tech as former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is to immigration: a politician who has taken on a leadership role on what is a niche issue to some but a defining issue to other conservatives. Gnarlier elements of the Right complain of systematic Silicon Valley discrimination since President Donald Trump’s ascension. More mainstream conservatives reasonably wonder if they’re next. Hawley has taken up their fight, proposing stripping the big tech firms of their various protections and exemptions.

But the portfolio of a future president is hard to compartmentalize. Since taking office earlier this year, his acid-tongue bromides against the digital oligarchs have transmogrified into a broader critique: these guys are in bed with China, as Thiel, the godfather of Facebook, implied of rival Google this past summer. And if you’re going to take on China, you have to reckon with America’s beleaguered place in the world.

Hawley, as I wrote Tuesday, took on the Chinese communists in unvarnished terms this week at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), a flinty group of would-be foreign policy reformers.

What’s less clear is how far the senator would do in the Middle East. My colleague Daniel Larison notes:

We know from Hawley’s voting record so far that he has not been willing to break with the party leadership and the White House on matters of war as they relate to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Sen. Hawley voted against the Senate’s resolution of disapproval that opposed the president’s effort to circumvent Congress with a bogus “emergency” to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. More important, he voted with the president and most Senate Republicans against the antiwar Yemen resolution that would have cut off all U.S. support to the Saudi coalition.

Given a clear record of American overstretch—to put it charitably—in the region, that’s disappointing stuff. Here’s hoping the senator joins the supermajority of voters in his age group, under 40, who want a more substantial shift.

One could contrast Hawley’s record with the more theatric Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. Whatever you make of his television antics, Gaetz keeps the president on speed dial while routinely nudging him on foreign policy, even crossing party lines and voting against the White House on its shameful Saudi line. Gaetz has done all this with little political cost in his Trumapaholic congressional district, and without missing a beat on Fox News. Apparently, only the counties in and around Washington are so strenuously opposed to realism and restraint.

Without the action to back up his otherwise encouraging talk, Hawley and other would-be Trump successors misunderstand both the president’s appeal in the 2016 primaries—scorched-earth opposition to previous Republican foreign policy orthodoxy—and his shortcomings as president, where, despite repeated concerns about the “endless wars,” Trump has been at times blundered into misguided escalations of a decades’ long failed course, especially on Iran.

Josh Hammer of the Daily Wire characterized Hawley’s address as having “thematic overlap” with Senator Ted Cruz’s “non-interventionist hawk” self-description during the 2016 presidential campaign. Hammer says this is “the sweet spot” for the future of American foreign policy. Contradictions aside, with all due respect to the senator, I don’t think there’s any such “sweet spot” to be found. There’s a reason Trump beat Cruz.

Curt Mills is senior writer for The American Conservative.

about the author

Curt Mills is Senior Reporter at TAC covering national security, the 2020 campaign and the Trump presidency. Previously, he reported for The National Interest, Washington Examiner, U.S. News & World Report and the Spectator. Mills was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and is a native and resident of Washington, D.C.

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