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Kevin McCarthy’s Outdated Foreign Policy

John Boehner’s likely replacement as Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, gave a foreign policy speech today. Based on the quotes in this report, it was a series of silly talking points:

“If I look at the history of where we are, it seems a lot like 1979,” McCarthy said, noting that Americans were once again being detained in Iran, and Russian forces were operating secretly in a foreign country.

If McCarthy thinks that the current state of international affairs is “a lot like 1979,” that is an excellent reason not to trust his judgment on foreign policy. There are a few American being wrongfully detained in Iran, but that doesn’t compare to hundreds of hostages being held after the storming of an American embassy. Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine are wrong, but they are not remotely on the scale of the invasion of Afghanistan. The world today is nothing like what it was thirty-six years ago during the Cold War, and it takes a thoroughly unimaginative fear-monger to make the comparison between the two. To pretend that the world is “a lot like” the way it was in 1979 is to dismiss the enormous changes that have happened and the major progress that most countries have made since then. The U.S. is far more secure than it was in 1979, and anyone that doesn’t understand that shouldn’t be giving lectures on foreign policy.

The point of the 1979 comparison is as obvious as it is uninspired: Republican hawks are forever eager to see a Democratic president as a new Carter in the hopes that their next nominee will play the role of a new Reagan. This ignores how much the world has changed over the last three decades, and it represents a desperate attempt to keep recycling the same arguments from 1980 that are no longer relevant. Repeating “peace through strength” without understanding or paying attention to the first part of the phrase makes Republican politicians both hopelessly outdated and dangerously cut off from their own best foreign policy traditions.

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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