Home/Daniel Larison/Foreign Policy Really Is a Liability for the GOP

Foreign Policy Really Is a Liability for the GOP

Jamie Fly makes a far-fetched claim at the start of an article that says Romney can “win” the foreign policy debate:

There are many foreign-policy similarities between this year’s race and the one that ushered in the Reagan revolution and the end of the Cold War.

No, there aren’t. First of all, there is no Cold War, no rival superpower dominating half of Europe, and fortunately nothing comparable to the hostage crisis. There is a U.S. and NATO war in Afghanistan, which Russia is helping to supply, but that is as close to a strong similarity between the two election years as one can find. If Republicans assume that they can count on foreign policy issues to work in their favor as they did in 1980, they are being delusional. Fly’s article is a good example of what Rod was describing recently. Rod wrote:

For my side, it seems to me that conservative intellectuals have become so fossilized as a class because they responded to the two devastating shocks to the Standard Conservative Model by essentially doubling down on ideology. Just say the same old things, but louder and more insistently, and rely on tribalist instincts and hive-mindedness to marginalize dissenters, and that will carry the day.

The only way to account for the Republican hawkish belief that Romney can “win” the foreign policy debate this year is that the hawks continue to believe the Iraq war was successful and wise. Republican hawks still don’t appreciate the extent to which the war and occupation completely discredited the GOP on foreign policy in the eyes of millions of Americans. They took a decades-old partisan advantage on these issues and destroyed it in the space of three years, and then didn’t realize that they had done any damage.

Because Romney insists on attacking Obama for not being hawkish and aggressive enough, he has little that he can coherently criticize, and when he does genuinely differ from Obama he tends to take ridiculous and untenable positions. Romney might gain some traction by criticizing Obama for escalating the war in Afghanistan, or by criticizing the slow pace at which U.S. forces are being withdrawn, but neither would have much credibility at this point. Romney is constrained by previous statements and his advisers from getting on the right side of public opinion on Afghanistan, and on everything else he is faulting Obama for not being confrontational and militaristic enough.

Fly can keep telling himself that Obama’s “record is actually dismal,” but the problem with this sort of attack is that it contradicts what most voters think. No politician ever won a debate by lecturing voters on how mistaken their views are. No doubt professional Republican hawks dislike aspects of Obama’s record, either because he has co-opted their policies or rejected their ideas. However, most Americans don’t consider it a failure that Obama has not entangled the U.S. in Syria’s conflict. If they think about it at all, that would be another reason for them to approve of Obama. Most Americans know little and care even less about Russia policy, but there are not many votes to be had in treating Russia as an enemy anymore. Even if Fly’s preferred policies were the right ones (and they definitely aren’t), they are undeniably not vote-winners. Romney has been foolish to follow the hawks in his policy statements, and he would be even more foolish to follow Fly’s political advice.

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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