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Reforming Republican Foreign Policy (II)

Nikolas Gvosdev advises the Republicans to come to grips with their disadvantage on foreign policy:

Any Republican nominee for president in 2016, therefore, has an uphill battle in trying to convince the electorate that the GOP can and should be trusted with America’s national security. And it will require the Republican Party to have an honest and frank discussion of its recent past. Only then can the GOP advance a vision of conservative internationalism grounded in realism, one that might again capture the hearts—and votes—of a majority of Americans.

Gvosdev’s recommendations are similar to what I was discussing in my columnyesterday. If Republican advisers and candidates want to understand how the party’s advantage on foreign policy and national security was lost and how to begin recovering it, Gvosdev’s article is a good place to start. The first thing Republicans will need to do to recover the public’s trust and to become credible on these issues once again is to acknowledge the disastrous foreign policy record of the Bush administration.

That would involve recognizing at a minimum that the Iraq war was a major blunder. It won’t be enough to say that they won’t start another war like the one in Iraq. Romney said that, but it rang false. In order to be credible, Republicans need to internalize the lesson that preventive war is unwise and reckless. Regaining the public’s trust will be an uphill battle, but it will become a virtually impossible one to win if Republicans don’t understand why and how they lost that trust.

The “honest and frank discussion” of the party’s recent past shouldn’t be limited only to reviewing and understanding Bush-era mistakes. It should also include the more recent errors of the party’s leaders and activists over the last four years. These derive in large part from a desire to defend Bush’s awful record. Romney’s foreign policy views were appalling in their “omni-directional belligerence,” but what was it that drove him to adopt such ridiculous views in the first place? He was mostly just echoing the prevailing views of hawks in his party.

For example, many Republican hawks continue to fight rearguard defenses of Bush’s discredited “freedom agenda” years after everyone else correctly wrote it off as a failure. Continuing to defend the “freedom agenda” does’t seem to come from an assessment of what is in the best interests of the United States. By any sober reckoning, the “freedom agenda” was a costly disaster for the U.S. and for most of the countries affected by it. Defending it represents a strange need to insist that “Bush was right” about everything when almost the exact opposite is true. It ought to be easy for Republicans to discard the Bush-era obsession with democracy promotion, but that requires that Republicans to admit that Bush’s attention to this was misplaced and mistaken.

Reforming Republican foreign policy should have some political benefits, but the main reason for this reform is to make sure that a future Republican administration conducts foreign policy competently and successfully. If a future Republican president follows the hawkish script of the last decade, he will end up repeating many of the same errors that Bush committed. Eventually there will be another Republican administration, so it would be best for the United States and the world if it were not still wedded to needlessly aggressive and confrontational policies.

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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