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The GOP’s Foreign Policy Ignorance Problem

It appears that the 2016 Republican field will be getting its comedy relief after all:

Sen. Lindsey Graham launched the Security Through Strength committee that will underwrite his political activities as he travels the country to gauge support for a presidential campaign.

The odd thing is that Graham thinks that he has a place in the contest because of his supposed foreign policy “expertise.” As Michael Cohen points out in a recent column, Graham has distinguished himself for being consistently wrong on every major foreign policy issue for at least the last fifteen years. Of course, Graham is not the only hawkish politician who combines a terrible track record with an unmerited confidence in his understanding of these issues. As we know, Romney believes that his aggressive foreign policy views have been vindicated by events. Sam Kleiner has explained a couple times in recent weeks that this is nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to stop him from making these claims and it doesn’t stop many in the GOP from claiming to believe them.

Other former and current senators besides Graham think that emphasizing foreign policy will help them to stand out from the crowd. Rick Santorum went out of his way in the Bush years to criticize the administration for being too “soft” on Iran and others, and he was the chief alarmist warning about the Venezuelan menace. In retrospect, especially as Venezuela is tottering and in no position to threaten anyone, Santorum’s fear-mongering and hard-line views look even more ridiculous than they did back in ’06. Nonetheless, he thinks voters should take him seriously when he indulges in more of the same fear-mongering today. Finally, Rubio has acquired a reputation in GOP circles for foreign policy acumen, but he has shown to be just as clueless and prone to endorsing absurd, alarmist fantasies as any of the others. The confidence with which he lectures others on the Iranian desire to hasten the return of the non-existent “13th imam” is matched only by how easily he has been duped into repeating a laughable theoryonmultipleoccasions.

What all of these would-be candidates have in common is a record of being thoroughly, sometimes hilariously wrong on several major foreign policy issues and an entirely undeserved reputation with their party for having a solid grasp on those same issues. In order to acquire a reputation for “expertise” in this party, all that a politician needs to do is to engage in a lot of unfounded bluster and fear-mongering, endorse aggressive policies, and then wait for the hawkish pundits to praise him for his insights and his”prescience.” Accuracy and knowledge are irrelevant, since they will just get in the way of the threat inflation that all of these would-be candidates engage in on a regular basis. Far from being discredited by their many glaring errors, they are bizarrely feted and promoted as leaders within the party on foreign policy. Faced with these perverse incentives, it is no wonder that most elected Republicans play it safe and repeat hawkish boilerplate at every opportunity.

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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