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Christie and the Foreign Policy Debate in the GOP

Kevin Lees concludes his review of intra-Republican fights on foreign policy:

We still don’t know where Christie’s ultimate views on international-relations theory lie because that’s not exactly one of the key concerns of a U.S. state governor. But given that the battle for the future of Republican foreign policy is actually three interconnected fights, it could well be that, despite their other disagreements, he and Paul find common cause against more aggressive neoconservative voices.

It’s possible that Christie might try to position himself as a national security hawk without committing himself to support for any more wars, but I don’t think he will. Ross Douthat sketched out this possibility last week:

For instance, there is no necessary reason why, having taken the pro-N.S.A. position on one front, a figure like Christie would also need to support an American military intervention in Syria or a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, from a purely political, poll-reading perspective he would have every reason to cast his domestic tough guy routine as an alternative to foreign warmaking: Both the country and his party may be divided on civil liberties, but there’s a clear American and Republican consensus against, say, adding Syria to the list of American kinetic military actions.

As Douthat goes on to explain, he doesn’t think that will happen because the dearth of realists in the GOP today means that Christie would have no one to advise him to take this path. That seems right, but there are a few other reasons why Christie seems unlikely to adopt a foreign policy of restraint and prudence. It has been common for Northeastern Republicans that are not as conservative as the rest of the party to compensate (or overcompensate) for their disagreements on domestic issues by becoming reliable supporters of aggressive policies overseas. In some cases, Republicans to the left of Christie on fiscal and social issues seem to belong to the party because of those policies and for almost no other reason. Especially over the last twelve years, following a consistently hawkish line wins Northeastern Republicans credibility inside the party that they can’t always get on other issues.

The need to gain that credibility is more important for governors that lack foreign policy experience, and governors lacking that experience are more dependent on the advisers they happen to find. In order to shield himself against hawkish attacks that he isn’t prepared, Christie would probably take the path of least resistance and fall back on predictable interventionist rhetoric. Since many of Christie’s most vocal admirers are neoconservatives and hard-liners, it would be surprising if he didn’t select neoconservatives and hard-liners to advise him, and it would be even more surprising if he chose to adopt foreign policy views that they reject. Finally, this last part is just speculation, but I assume that someone whose public persona is built around combativeness would gravitate towards more hard-line policy views.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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