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McMullin’s Dreadfully Conventional Hawkishness

I haven’t taken Evan McMullin’s independent bid for president seriously because it began so late in the year with a complete unknown for a candidate, and I still don’t think it will amount to much. However, because there is a nontrivial chance that he could win some electoral votes by carrying Utah, and because some readers have expressed an interest in hearing more about his foreign policy views I will say a little bit about him. The National Interest has published a short statement of his foreign policy views, so I’ll start with that. McMullin writes:

I know many Americans may question why they should care about events in far-flung corners of the globe. After all, the wars of today are messy and less clear-cut than many conflicts of the past. While I understand this sentiment, I believe America cannot afford to give in to the siren song of isolation. After all, our world today is effectively smaller than it has ever been. Just as the Ebola virus in West Africa made its way to our shores, so too have Islamic radicalism and cyberattacks from states like Russia and China. The reality is that whether or not we ignore the rest of the world, what happens beyond our shores ultimately shapes us here at home.

McMullin is knocking down a strawman here, since no one proposes “ignoring” the rest of the world, and no one advocates “isolation.” Citing global interdependence as an excuse for activist foreign policy is a common trope of hawkish rhetoric, and someone like Rubio could have easily said the same thing. McMullin is different from most hawks in that he claims to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. That’s more than either of the major party candidates can say. But that is where the good news, such as it is, ends. When it comes to current conflicts, McMullin’s positions are mostly reliably what one would expect from a conventional hawk. In his time with the CIA, McMullin was a big supporter of anti-regime efforts in Syria:

This record of close involvement in Middle East policy includes a specific interest in the anti-Assad cause. In a May 2014 newsletter, a pro-Assad activist named Rick Sterling recalled a “very unpleasant” conversation with McMullin, whom Sterling viewed as evidence of the CIA’s control over America’s Syria policy. As Foreign Policy reported in 2013, McMullin was one of the congressional staffers who met with high-ranking Free Syrian Army officers near the country’s border with Turkey. “McMullin does a lot of great things from Syria behind the scenes in Congress,” Shlomo Bolts, a policy and advocacy officer at the Syrian American Council wrote by email. “He is one of the strongest supporters of the Syrian cause among the congressional staffers. Most Syrians who are involved in D.C, politics know him and appreciate his work.”

His Syria policy is essentially identical to Clinton’s, including support for a “no-fly zone,” and he thinks the U.S. should have bombed the Syrian government in 2013. McMullin’s support for an aggressive foreign policy isn’t limited to that. He favors sending weapons to Ukraine, he is for continued support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, he thinks the U.S. should “prevent Russia from conducting airstrikes in Syria” (he doesn’t say how), he supports the Cuba embargo, he wants to use a small number of ground troops in the war on ISIS, and of course he thinks military spending should be increased. His campaign press releases predictably describe the nuclear deal with Iran as “disastrous.” Also like a typical hawk, he claims that supposed U.S. “withdrawal” from the world under Obama has allowed “destructive forces” to “surge.” In his National Interest piece, he says that “we must exercise leadership in a prudent way,” but based on these positions it seems clear that McMullin has a very strange definition of prudence. McMullin hopes to win over voters that can’t bring themselves to support either major party nominee, but on foreign policy he combines many of the worst positions of both. That reinforces my impression that he is an anti-Trump candidate whose main appeal is to Republicans that remain deeply committed to a very aggressive foreign policy.

McMullin doesn’t emphasize his hawkishness in the National Interest article, so readers of that piece might not realize that he is actually offering a foreign policy that is every bit as bad as Clinton’s and in some ways an even worse one.

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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