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The GOP’s Long-Term Foreign Policy Problem

The policies that hawks promote are expensive, unnecessary, and make Americans less secure.

Michael Brendan Dougherty looks at the likely success of Joni Ernst’s Senate campaign and despairs:

If you believed, as I once did, that the Iraq War and the last years of the Bush presidency would change the GOP for decades to come, a Joni Ernst victory will highlight just how naive it was to think so.

There’s no question that Bush-era foreign policy has continued to have considerable support inside the GOP over the last eight years. That was clear when McCain won the nomination in no small part due to his record as one of the most committed Iraq war dead-enders. We were reminded of it yet again when hard-liners such as Rubio and Kirk were elected in purple and blue states at the last midterm elections. It was still obvious as we watched almost all Republican presidential candidates tripping over one another to demonstrate how “tough” and combative their foreign policy would be. Romney won the nomination running on a platform of, among other things, “omni-directional belligerence,” and went out of his way to emphasize these views during the general election. And these were all symptoms of how oblivious most Republican politicians have been to what most Americans outside their party want on foreign policy. Bush-era failures were why the GOP should have changed and improved its foreign policy years ago, but that change can’t happen so long as most of the party’s leaders keep lying to themselves that Bush was a great leader and that “Romney was right.” Their long-term political problem is that most people outside of the Republican coalition don’t share these delusions or the ruinous agenda that the party has been offering. Their more immediate problem is that a significant part of their own party wants no part of this agenda.

The GOP can continue down its hawkish dead end for a while, and it may pick up seats here and there in midterm years, but most Americans have already repudiated this foreign policy agenda twice. And they will do so in the future because these policies are bound to fail again and again. That is the party’s real substantive problem on foreign policy: the policies that the hawks promote are expensive, unnecessary, and make Americans less secure. Hawks can briefly succeed in demagoguing foreign threats and exploiting temporary panics, but they usually can’t sell most Americans on the costly measures that they want to use in foreign crises and conflicts. Those policies aren’t appealing because there is no compelling reason for them, and because they keep dragging the U.S. into wars that it doesn’t have to fight. It’s ultimately a losing message that doesn’t have much of a future. Republicans can start to learn that now, or they can learn it a decade from now, but they will eventually have to face it.



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