A New Foreign Policy For Republicans?

That perpetually interesting Daniel Larison, who writes for that surprisingly stimulating paleoconservative periodical and site, The American Conservative, penned a response to a critique of Republican foreign policy done by Daniel Drezner that pretty much agrees with Drezner, but offers some original insights on obstacles to a new GOP foreign policy:

Reducing the triumphalist and bellicose rhetoric is the easiest repair to make, and that in turn should reduce threat-inflating arguments, since these rely heavily on rhetorical excess. Relearning flexibility and nuance will be much more difficult, because there is a built-in antagonism to both concepts in contemporary movement conservatism. That is part of the detritus left behind from the Bush-era GOP’s disastrous attachment to the Iraq war and Bush’s “freedom agenda,” both of which Republican hawks defended in absolutist, moralizing terms while treating the words flexibility and nuance as terms of abuse. Undoing the distortions of the Bush era will begin when most Republicans stop treating the resort to coercive policies as evidence of “moral clarity” and a preference for diplomacy as evidence that one “lacks a moral compass.” Until that starts to change, advocates for flexibility and nuance will continue to be ridiculed as appeasers.

One of the larger obstacles to repairing Republican foreign policy thinking is that the party has had little else to offer its voters other than its candidates’ assertions of national greatness, which makes it more difficult to give up on aggressive and hard-line policies and exorbitant spending on the military that are supposedly dedicated to advancing that greatness. As Noah Millman said in late 2011, “foreign policy, at least on the GOP side, is now basically a branch of the culture war: a way of convincing the white working class to support a party that is not pursuing their economic interests by flattering them with the implication that, in the memorable words of Edward Wilson, they’ve got the United States of America.”

I’d put a slightly different spin on this last problem: the culture wars have put conservatives into the uncomfortable position of regularly insisting that their country is, to put it bluntly, going to hell in a hand-basket, and that large proportions–maybe even a majority–of its citizens are depraved God-defiers and baby-killers. They constantly tiptoe around America-hatred. So to compensate, they tend to act as super-patriots when it comes to overseas military adventures and the military itself, which is treated as exemplifying “America’s true greatness” even though its members are drawn from the same society so often denounced as sick or lazy or debased.

Any way you slice it, Republican foreign policy thinking needs nothing so much as a good examination of its premises–and a lot less rage.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.