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The House GOP’s Stale Foreign Policy Agenda

The House GOP document is consistent with the party's complete failure to come to grips with its major foreign policy failures over at least the last fifteen years.
Paul Ryan 2

Jacob Heilbrunn isn’t impressed with the House Republicans’ proposals on foreign policy:

Instead of a far-sighted document that sets out a fresh course for American foreign policy, it offers a mishmash of neocon foreign-policy bilge that has already led the GOP and the United States badly astray.

Heilbrunn is right in dismissing what Speaker Ryan and his allies have produced. Their view of Iran policy is typically misguided:

The Obama administration’s outreach to Iran also provides a textbook example of the failure of appeasement. Almost immediately after coming into office, the president faced a choice—stand with Iranians protesting in the streets, or stand aside to preserve secret talks with the regime. The president chose the latter and negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement allowed tens of billions of dollars to flow into the coffers of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and provided sanctions relief that will inhibit America’s ability to counter Iranian belligerence. In a decade, even without Iranian cheating, the deal will put Tehran on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb.

This is a series of lies and misrepresentations. Start with the bogus reference to appeasement. The U.S. and the other world powers negotiating the nuclear deal were the ones being appeased. They were the ones being satisfied by extensive concessions by Iran, and it was Iran that gave up the most in order to regain access to some of their own assets. Iran’s nuclear program is under significant restrictions today. Seven years ago it was effectively under no restrictions. If that’s the “failure of appeasement,” we could stand to have more of it.

The boilerplate rhetoric on the Green movement protests would almost be funny if it weren’t so dishonest. The choice in the summer of 2009 was between offering useless rhetorical support for Iranian protesters or refusing to insert the U.S. into an internal Iranian debate to the detriment of the protesters. Obama was right not to be drawn too far into that debate, and if he had “stood” with the protesters he would have almost certainly made things even worse for them. Contrary to the story the Ryan and the House Republicans are telling, the crackdown on the Green movement put any possibility of engaging with Iran on ice for years. Had Obama done as they wanted, it would have gained the protesters nothing but probably would have made a breakthrough on the nuclear issue more difficult. When some of the restrictions in the deal begin to expire, Iran will have been deprived of the ability to build a nuclear weapon for more than a decade. To say that it will be “on the verge” of acquiring a bomb is simply false. Iran would have to rebuild the infrastructure that it has already dismantled, and any attempt to do so would come under close international scrutiny.

The House Republicans aren’t on much firmer ground when it comes to Russia and Ukraine. Daniel Davis points out that they have given no thought to the consequences of their preferred policy:

One of the ways the Republican plan seeks to “be assertive in responding” to Russia is to “scrap the current policy of denying Ukrainians lethal weapons to defend themselves against Russian aggression.” The plan’s authors have apparently given no consideration to the likely Russian reaction to such a move.

Just as they were on Iran, Ryan and the House GOP are stuck reciting hawkish talking points from years ago that remain just as ill-considered as they ever were. Throwing more weapons into the conflict in Ukraine is mainly a good way to trigger an escalation of violence that Ukraine can’t afford in a fight they couldn’t possibly win. It doesn’t make America or our genuine allies more secure to do any of this, but the default hawkish response in these cases is to send more weapons regardless of whether they have the desired effect.

There are many more things one could object to in the House Republican document, but it gives you a good idea of what Ryan’s idea of “fundamentally rethinking” U.S. foreign policy means: misrepresent what happened over the last seven years, propose unnecessary and/or reckless alternatives, and talk a lot about freedom while cynically ignoring all the ways that our clients make a mockery of our principles with our blessing. There is no evidence of any rethinking in this document, which is consistent with the party’s complete failure to come to grips with its major foreign policy failures over at least the last fifteen years.