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Grassroots Republicans and Foreign Policy Reform

Jim Antle considers the prospects for Republican foreign policy reform. He writes that hawkish arguments still have greater emotional appeal with rank-and-file Republicans:

But it is equally true that even today the arguments marshaled by reflexive hawks hit the right emotional buttons for the Republican grassroots in a way that more dovish conservatives’ appeals for caution, prudence, and restraint frequently do not.

Based on what I’ve seen, that depends heavily on what the issue under debate happens to be. Proposed interventions and other policies that have little or nothing directly to do with U.S. security understandably leave grassroots Republicans cold. The fact that their policy and political elites are constantly trying to sell them on new conflicts to join and new international causes for the U.S. to take up may be gradually having the unintended effect of making Republicans sick of hearing about the need to “do something” in response to virtually every crisis around the world. Far from hitting the right emotional buttons, hawkish arguments may now be grating on the nerves of a very large number of Republicans.

When intervention in Syria was being debated last year, like most other Americans most Republicans were remarkably immune to the arguments that the U.S. had to take military action for the sake of our “credibility.” Invoking “credibility” is one of the most common hawkish rhetorical moves, but most Republicans evidently found it a very poor justification for resorting to the use of force. Even taking the inevitable partisan reasons for opposition into account, Republican opposition to attacking Syria was impressively high. Republican aversion to deeper involvement in Ukraine was almost as great as that of other Americans. If some Republicans still respond favorably to boilerplate hawkish claims, just as many now seem to be rejecting them.

There is also broader skepticism among many conservatives and other right-leaning Americans that the U.S. has the ability to remedy international problems, which should make them very receptive to the case for restraint. Except among so-called “business conservatives,” there would seem to be little confidence that U.S. involvement overseas is beneficial. I would assume that there is likewise little support among conservatives for the conviction that the world’s problems are made worse by an absence of U.S. “leadership.” In fact, socially conservative populist Republicans are more likely to believe that U.S. involvement makes international problems worse:

Majorities in Three Groups Say U.S. Global Efforts Make Problems Worse

Except when it concerns direct security threats to the U.S., rank-and-file Republicans are not really all that receptive to knee-jerk hawkish demands for greater U.S. involvement overseas, and in that respect they are not all that different from the rest of the country. That suggests that there is less of a need for non-interventionists and conservative realists to pander to an imagined hawkish audience and a much greater need to articulate a coherent alternative to the alarmism and threat inflation that so often pass for foreign policy arguments on the right.

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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