The Long-Awaited Reformicon Foreign Policy Initiative: Throw Money At the Pentagon

Those of you familiar with the “Reform Conservative” effort–it’s probably premature to call it a “movement” since it has no ground troops at all–probably know one of its embarrassing lapses has been the absence of any perspective on the one issue-area where conservatives are actually and seriously divided, foreign policy.

Well, today, at one of the occasional outlets for Reformicon writing, National Review, two conservative foreign policy wonks offer a tentative outline of what Reformicons might agree on in the international policy area, and it’s a bit underwhelming to say the least. Following the highly relevant and very recent template of Taft Versus Eisenhower, Colin Dueck and Roger Zakheim come down emphatically for the latter as opposed to the former. So I guess that means NATO is safe in a future Reformicon administration, and we can also divine other clear positions on the foreign policy disputes of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

I’m being sarcastic, of course, but you can read the Dueck/Zakheim ukase yourself and see if it accomplishes much of anything other than casting Rand Paul and his supporters into the outer darkness. Yes, the authors disclaim responsibility for the Iraq War. But their big insight into current U.S. foreign policy is that it projects “weakness,” and short of getting right down to it and killing a whole lot of people, we all know how to project “strength:”

This means, among other things, rebuilding a modern, trained, and equipped military and jettisoning the canard that there is today a national-security imperative to reduce debt by cutting defense spending. It is indeed imperative to reduce the national debt, but defense spending has already taken more than its share of cuts since Obama took office, and the lion’s share of new debt has come from domestic expenditures reflecting leftists’ belief in ever-expanding government. The best conservative response to these circumstances is make very effort to curb domestic expenditures while restoring national defense.

So it seems the big Reformicon foreign policy principle is that it is again time to throw money at the Pentagon as a symbolic gesture of national “strength.” This, of course, has big and baleful consequences for Reformicon domestic policy, which on occasion requires some new federal spending. But frankly, honest fiscal math has not been a conservative priority since about 1981.

I don’t know if Dueck and Zakheim are qualified to speak for other Reformicons; one of the reasons it’s hard to call it a “movement” is that there is no organization or collection of politicians that can authoritatively speak for the “brand.” But the vague if expensive perspective they project is certainly consistent with the neocon orientation they are often said to share (which is also that of the pol most often identified with them these days, Marco Rubio), without excluding anyone this side of the Paulites. We’ll see if this article is embraced by other Reformicons, or is perhaps simply waved at whenever critics say they have nothing to say about the world beyond our borders.

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.