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The Folly of Rejecting Caution and Restraint

After reading Ron Paul’s remarks on the Hagel fight (via Jordan Bloom), there are one or two things I want to add as a follow-up to the previous post. First, here’s Ron Paul on Hagel:

He said some things similar to what I’ve just got done saying, that maybe we shouldn’t go [to war] so fast, maybe we should be cautious. Who piled on him? It was the Republicans who piled on him. ‘Don’t talk like that, don’t talk like a wimp! We don’t want you in there!’ … These two guys actually went to war and were wounded and won medals. And who’s jumping on them? People who have never even served in the military. This whole idea that you can challenge someone’s patriotism because they happen to take a position that is slightly less anxious to go to war … we ought to be cheering someone who’s more cautious about going to war.

Paul is most likely referring to the disgraceful antics of some Republicans during the confirmation hearing and later, but he could also be referring to Cruz’s remark at the NRI meeting in late January when he called to Hagel and Kerry “less than ardent fans of the military.” On the one hand, this was insulting to two combat veterans, since it implied that their respect for the military as an institution is somehow suspect because their experience in war may have made them less than enthusiastic about sending Americans to war. It was intellectually bankrupt, since it evidently treats anything less than the maximal hawkishness as “anti-military.” The remark is also worryingly militaristic, as if it were desirable in a republic (or in any kind of government) to be a “fan” of the military. There are other examples one might use to sum up why Republican foreign policy thinking and policy-making are such wrecks, but this one does a reasonably good job.

Being a “fan” of something implies more or less uncritical admiration and praise, which is the last thing that any conservative (or any citizen, for that matter) should lavish upon a government institution. When Cruz mocked Hagel in this way, he wasn’t just mocking a nominee that he wanted to oppose. He was mocking virtually everyone with a healthy skepticism of government power and everyone concerned about the potential costs and dangers of war. That’s what I suspect most anti-Hagel Republicans don’t understand about how damaging this fight has been to them and their party: it confirmed that Republican foreign policy thinking is just as bankrupt and wedded to failed policies as its critics have been saying for years, and it made absolutely clear that most elected Republicans and their supporters in conservative media don’t see any problem with that. Ron Paul is right that Republicans ought to be cheering caution and restraint in the use of force when they see it, but in practice most in the party do just the opposite. The latter is almost certainly foolish politics, and it ensures that the quality of Republican policy arguments will be quite poor for the foreseeable future.

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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