Get Back To Me Later On That Reformicon Foreign Policy

In response to criticism from various writers (including yours truly) about the lack of any coherent “Reform Conservative” perspective on foreign policy, Ross Douthat has written a longish blog post on the subject that’s half-defensive and half-apologetic. If you read it charitably a couple of times, you can perceive a few glimmers of light about where Douthat thinks the GOP should stand on the rather indispensable issue of America’s role in the world.

I’ll just say that rather than just a straightforward anti-interventionist wrench, what I think the G.O.P. needs on foreign policy is something like what reform conservatism is trying to offer on domestic policy: A kind of unifying center for conservatives weary of current binaries (Tea Party versus RINOs in the domestic sphere, “isolationists” versus “neocons” in foreign policy), which would internalize lessons from the Bush and Obama eras (especially lessons about the limits of military interventions and nation-building efforts) without abandoning broad Pax Americana goals.

That’s obviously less a position than a pre-position, but I guess you have to start somewhere. What I find more troubling is that Douthat thinks it unreasonable to expect reformicons to come up with a foreign policy perspective “at a time when it isn’t always clear what the stakes are or even what the “sides” are.”

To echo what I said in the TNR piece noted above, “reform” movements exist precisely in order to help political parties through challenging times where the old orthodoxies don’t work. One that has little coherent to say about the single most important issue dividing Republicans has got a ways to go before it’s that kind of movement.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.