Thanks to Jordan Bloom for covering the CPAC panel on war and foreign policy. The quotes from it didn’t give me a heart attack, but unfortunately they confirmed what Kelley Vlahos was reporting earlier this week. Rep. Tom Cotton’s painfully bad understanding of the Monroe Doctrine is representative of a lot of what was wrong with the panel:

Should we fight anywhere? I think the answer based on my remarks is obviously yes, we should fight anywhere, but we should not fight everywhere. John Quincy Adams famously said ‘we are friends of liberty everywhere, but guardians only of our own.’ Now, he also authored the Monroe Doctrine which committed us to the defense of an entire hemisphere [bold mine-DL], but in today’s world, we have to recognize that we fight where our national interests were clearly at stake.

Rep. Cotton seems to be saying that Adams was some sort of hemispheric interventionist and much more aggressive in his foreign policy than Cotton, which is a ridiculous portrayal of Adams. If Cotton misinterprets the Monroe Doctrine as committing the U.S. to the “defense of an entire hemisphere,” is there much chance that he will be a good judge of when U.S. interests are at stake today? When Cotton so grossly distorts and exaggerates what the Monroe Doctrine meant, is there much chance that he will have a sober, limited definition of U.S. interests? I doubt it.

The Monroe Doctrine was a rather modest statement: the U.S. will respect its neighbors’ sovereignty and independence, it will not interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbors, and nor would it become involved in the wars of Europe. According to Monroe, the U.S. would view any attempt to restore monarchical regimes in newly-independent Latin American states as a threat to the U.S. This was a fairly easy statement to make since there was no realistic prospect that Spain or the Holy Alliance would make such an attempt. Though it was distorted and warped beyond recognition later, the doctrine was never a license to meddle in the affairs of Latin American states. It certainly wasn’t an announcement of a hemispheric security guarantee.

Jordan cites Rep. Steve King’s remarks on the Spanish War and the annexation of the Philippines:

And then [he] quoted the former president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo thanking the U.S. for sending troops, Christianity, and teachers [bold mine-DL] more than a hundred years later. No mention was made of America’s brutal occupation after the war.

Here Rep. King is citing the denial of Filipino independence for half a century as one of the good things that can come from war, when the annexation and occupation of the Philippines were by far the worst, most costly, and unnecessary consequences of the unnecessary war with Spain. If movement conservatives and Republicans can’t agree today that the Philippine War was a terrible, inexcusable injustice, what chance is there that they will come to recognize the folly of invading Iraq? What links all of the hawks’ comments together is a poor understanding of the basic history of U.S. foreign policy, which in turn leads them to draw many of the wrong conclusions about what U.S. foreign policy should be today.

When I saw reports that there would be a panel called “Too Many American Wars?”, the question mark should have tipped me off that the answer that most of the panelists would give would regrettably be, “No, let’s have even more.”