|Marco Rubio, Rand Paul Point to Tension in GOP’s Foreign Policy Future|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, May 03 2012
In many ways, the three-plus years since Barack Obama has assumed the presidency have been an era of clarity for the Republican Party. The mid-section of the previous decade – dominated by lobbying scandals, rampant deficit spending and an unpopular war, all of Republican authorship – found the party in a state of ideological drift.
At its nadir, the GOP was dangerously close to becoming nothing more than the other party of big government, and losing the philosophical clarity it had inherited from the likes of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and the army of upstart congressmen who authored the Republican Revolution of the mid-nineties.
By the time Obama took his oath of office, the Republican Party looked hapless, outmoded and philosophically incoherent. But it would be the president himself who would co-author the party’s revitalization.
The greatest balm for internal divisions is often a common external enemy – and Barack Obama has provided that tonic by the gallon. All of the barely suppressed resentments that conservatives had muzzled as they witnessed their own party’s drift into soft statism came boiling to the surface when Obama sent the trend into overdrive with the stimulus package, ObamaCare, runaway debt and a general hostility to the very notion of limited government.
With the laws of political physics dictating that there would be an equal and opposite reaction to Obama’s overreach, the Tea Party was born and the conservative movement once again found an ideological anchor – principled resistance to the growth of the state.
But while the party’s domestic views have happily congealed over the course of recent years, the trend in foreign policy has been exactly the opposite. The prevailing view of the Bush years – that America should be engaged throughout the world, should be proactive rather than reactive in addressing international threats and should promote, and sometimes midwife, the development of consensual governments – is now increasingly under fire.
Animated by many of the same limited-government principles that undergird the Tea Party movement, many conservatives now regard America’s international interests and responsibilities as greatly circumscribed – and consider the so-called “neoconservative” views of the Bush era as little more than whitewashed Wilsonianism.
The extreme example of this trend is Texas Congressman – and perennial presidential candidate – Ron Paul, whose belief in “non-interventionism” sounds strikingly like “isolationism” to those with a trained ear (Paul disputes the application of the latter term to his beliefs, citing the fact that he supports America’s involvement with the global economy.)
While the elder Paul’s views – which don’t enjoy wide subscription within the conservative movement – can countenance almost no justification for American military intervention anywhere in the world, the views of his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, present a far more nuanced understanding of America’s role abroad.
In a speech delivered last year at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Senator Paul told the audience, “I believe we are much closer to being everywhere all the time than nowhere any of the time. And I think this needs to change. Note I didn’t say it ‘should change,’ rather it needs to change, and there are two simple reasons for that: (1) Intervention everywhere, all the time leads to unintended consequences ... (2) We can no longer afford our current foreign policy.”
Not everyone in the GOP is convinced, including Paul’s fellow freshman Senate Republican (and fellow Tea Party darling) Marco Rubio. In a speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington last week, Rubio was forceful on the point. “While there are few global problems we can solve by ourselves,” he said, “there are virtually no global problems that can be solved without us. In confronting the challenges of our time, there are more nations than ever capable of contribution, but there is still only one nation capable of leading.”
If the divide that Rubio and Paul represent is allowed to fester, the consequences for the GOP will be grave. Barack Obama’s recent vainglorious celebration of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the U.S.’s forthcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan point to a president who, despite his many foreign policy failings, will run for reelection as the inheritor of Ronald Reagan’s mantle of “peace through strength,” claiming that he killed a terrorist mastermind while bringing our troops back to American soil. Only a Republican Party united around at least basic principles on foreign policy will be able to sufficiently disrupt that narrative.
Generating that unity does not require a deus ex machina. Rather, it simply requires both sides to realize that their views are complimentary when shorn of their most extreme interpretations. Rubio is right to note that there is simply no substitution for American power on the world stage.
As he noted at Brookings, a more introspective America effectively cedes the pole position in global leadership to communist China, a situation in which everyone is worse off. But Paul is also correct to note that an America that is everywhere will tend to be effective nowhere.
Creating a foreign policy fusionism is one of the great tasks before the rising generation of Republican leaders. By synthesizing the principles of Rubio and Paul, they could create a vision of American foreign policy in which the U.S. defines its international interests less expansively than in years past, but is more vigorous in protecting those interests than ever before.
That would represent a sharp contrast to the foreign policy of the Obama Administration, in which the force of American rhetoric is inversely proportional to the effectiveness of our policy responses. Thus, once again, the tangible failures of the Obama Administration could become the inspiration for the renewal of its Republican detractors.
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