Within this conversation, I note my concern about Huntsman’s position, and Romney’s as well to some degree: that in attacking Obama from the left on America’s role in the world, they will take an outlier view within the right’s coalition and transform it into something more acceptable. ~Ben Domenech

As usual, there is a lot wrong with Domenech’s post. Romney hasn’t attacked Obama from “the left” on America’s role in the world, and neither has Huntsman. One wonders how making an attack from “the left” would make a position more popular among conservatives. This is a good example of the general uselessness of standard left/right terminology when describing foreign policy views.

After Romney’s initial blunder when he mistakenly referred to the Taliban, he said the following at the New Hampshire debate:

I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban.

In other words, Romney agrees with what I take to be Domenech’s position on Afghanistan policy, and it is hardly just a left-wing view that Americans shouldn’t be fighting wars of independence for other nations. That would be more or less consistent with something called the Reagan Doctrine.

Huntsman actually does favor a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, but this does not seem to be an outlier position on the right. 19% of Republicans endorse the administration’s timetable, and 20% believe that the U.S. should withdraw sooner. There is a substantial constituency in the party that wants withdrawal, and there is nothing about this position that is wildly at odds with Republican foreign policy since 1981. Disagreement over the speed or size of withdrawal from Afghanistan does not really tell us very much about a candidate’s view of America’s role in the world. It is a very poor indicator of how a person views many other foreign policy issues. By all accounts, Huntsman is a fairly conventional Republican internationalist, and he has even made statements of support for an Israeli attack on Iran that should satisfy most hawks. Huntsman isn’t taking “outlier” positions and making them more acceptable. He is adopting mostly conventional Republican positions that Domenech fails to recognize as such. Perhaps Domenech would be able to see this if he spent less time panicking over the presence of prominent realists around Huntsman.

Domenech doesn’t seem to be paying very close attention to the GOP these days. For example, he writes:

Yet because DeMint, Rubio, Bachmann, and other Tea Party leaders spend a great deal more time talking about fiscal issues these days, for obvious reasons, they leave a vacuum filled by speakers who do not share their conservative views.

We could only wish that Marco Rubio devoted himself to fiscal issues this much. That way, we might be spared his tedious sermons and op-eds on foreign policy. Bachmann has been attacking the Libyan war as a mistake, and attacking the administration’s withdrawal plan at the same time. On fiscal issues, Huntsman has a reasonably solid record as a conservative, he has made a point of endorsing the Ryan budget, and he has run away from his previous support for cap-and-trade. There is no gap left by Tea Party leaders, and other Republicans who are speaking out on foreign policy in the presidential race largely do share their conservative views, at least as far as fiscal issues are concerned.

It worries Domenech that Pawlenty alone seems to be saying the things he wants to hear because of Pawlenty’s past record as a big-government conservative:

It will take considered effort, by those who are unsullied by past endorsements of domestic big government and can speak directly and convincingly to the conservative base, to reiterate why a robust defense of freedom and liberty around the world was right thirty years ago, and is still right today.

There might be a reason why there aren’t many “unsullied by past endorsements of domestic big government” who publicly defend Domenech’s foreign policy: supporters of a “robust” American role in the world also tend to believe in government activism and an expansive government role. Looking at Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Romney, we see four candidates who are all deeply compromised by their support for activist government at home at one time or another, and it is no surprise that they also happen to be the four current presidential candidates most interested in the “robust” foreign policy Domenech prefers. There is a reason why the signatories of that FPI letter have no firm connection to the party’s base: it is they who are the least representative of the party.

Thirty years ago, the world was remarkably different. The debate over the merits of detente isn’t particularly relevant to modern security threats, and there is no threat today comparable to the one from the USSR thirty years ago. It is odd to think that the sort of “robust” response to a vanished world is at all relevant now. While we’re talking about Reagan, it’s worth pointing out that the foreign policy vision Pawlenty outlined the other day would appear to have very little in common with the much less aggressive policy of Reagan. Pawlenty insists on chiding and pressuring the Saudis to reform internally, but Reagan was famous for attacking Carter for doing exactly this to the Shah. Reagan did not launch military attacks very often, and when he did it was for very specific, limited, achievable goals related to the security of Americans or retaliation against attacks on Americans. Pawlenty favors open-ended wars for regime change that serve no discernible national interest. What we see in the “robust” foreign policy espoused by Pawlenty and Domenech today is one that is both more militarized and more ideological than anything that would have been recognized as Republican foreign policy as recently as twenty years ago.

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