Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

War to End War

State of the Union: Emotivism is no way to discuss foreign policy.
(By Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock)

On Monday, TAC’s executive director, Emile Doak, wrote, “Issues like inflation and entitlements may dominate the presidential debate on Wednesday. But keep an eye on foreign policy. It still is the driving issue for Permanent Washington.”

Last night’s chaotic Fox News RNC debate largely conformed to his prediction. Platitudes about fiscal responsibility filled much of the not-Trump discussion, but things became heated when the question of further military and financial aid for Ukraine came up. Novice in politics though no novice in debate, Vivek Ramaswamy was the only one of eight on the stage to unequivocally advocate for stopping American support for continuing the conflict. That received excessive, probably both sincere and performed at the same time, righteous indignation from his fellow candidates, a reminder of how irrational our foreign policy discussions have become. 


I say righteous indignation with intention, as the reactions were highly emotional and emotivist. Nikki Haley’s response to Ramaswamy, tying every bit of U.S. international intervention and involvement to every other one—“It’s not that Israel needs America, America needs Israel”—was only to be expected. More of a surprise to me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been, was Chris Christie’s argument by atrocity. Rather than explain what the U.S. hopes to gain by protracting the war in Ukraine, a discussion we should and can have in the open in a way that treats voters as grownups, he berated Ramaswamy for dissent by way of a list of Russian brutalities, both verified and alleged. Because the war has caused so much suffering it must go on, was the implicit argument. How that follows was never explained. 

It was the sort of open propagandizing, like dehumanizing average Germans as Huns during WWI, one expects from politicians during mass mobilization, which suggests that, with regards to Russia, for our establishment the emphasis in “proxy war” is on the second rather than first word. Discussed only at this register, these things have a tendency to escalate.