People today believe that military adventurism is a main conservative tenet. You ask Republicans today, and they will tell you that President George W. Bush had a “conservative” foreign policy, that indeed the wars in the Middle East were justifiable wars.
Just look at the the Republican Platform of 2012. There is not a single line decrying American over-involvement in the Middle East. According to today’s Republican Party, radical militarism is the same as conservatism. It makes sense to them. The conventional foreign policy of the Republican Party advocates war, war, and war.
Senator McCain is a great example of the contemporary Republican foreign policy. The heated exchange between Senator McCain and nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel explains the main division with today’s Republicans. As McCain asked Hagel whether the 2007 troop surge was a good call, Hagel responded that “history” will answer the question. Then McCain called Hagel out and said, “let the record show that [Hagel] refused to answer that question.” Even though Hagel answered, McCain and several Republican senators are completely opposed to anyone who doesn’t support either high military spending and or hyper military involvement. It’s a dogma.
These Republicans have no restraint in military action. The problem is, President Bush was not a conservative. Neither is Cheney, Wolfowitz, McCain, and the many talk show hosts that yet to this day advocate additional military spending.
As Fred Barnes from The Weekly Standard once wrote, conservatives don’t have a utopia vision of the world-they see the world as it is. But President Bush saw it differently. As Bush declared on his second inaugural address, “So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
This is not conservative but merely imperialist. The Republican Party fled realism. They departed from respected realist views of individuals like General Colin Powell, Baker, and even Reagan.
President Reagan was not a war monger. He wasn’t a radical. On the other hand, the Bush Administration was never wary of military intervention. Bush and many Republicans are no Reaganites.
Senator Rand Paul rightfully described Reagan’s views in a recent speech to the Heritage Foundation. Paul said, “Reagan used clear messages of communism’s evil and clear exposition of America’s strength to contain and ultimately transcend the Soviet Union.” Reagan, in fact, never got involved in wars with the same intensity as Iraq and Afghanistan.
True conservatives follow Reagan correctly. One of those true conservatives is Senator Paul. Paul doesn’t advocate more wars but smarter wars-wars that involve national interests instead of lofty goals such as nation-building. Paul simplified real conservative foreign policy with two principles: “Respect for the constitution and fiscal discipline.”
Yes, they are simple but they’re seldom followed. Today’s foreign policy is arguably one of the most unconstitutional in American history. There are current American policies that would make our Founding Fathers roll in their grave.
Number one, detaining and torturing individuals presumed to be terrorists. Guantanamo Bay is an American base in Cuba that harbors many individuals who are perceived to be a national security threat. Even though there were legitimately detained terrorists, these individuals have no trial and no due process of law.
Secondly, the U.S. government has permission to kill American citizens that are presumably linked to Al-Qaeda or an “associated organization” without judicial or legislative oversight. When in our history did our government kill American citizens to promote freedom and security?
Last but not least, our military carries out drone strikes every day that murder many civilians. In fact, it is estimated that up to 50 civilians die per terrorist. This is an unsustainable strategy.
We need a constitutional realist foreign policy. We need a policy that advocates the respect of our founding document and a small government conservative thought. If the Republican Party is serious about fiscal discipline and the Constitution, then it needs to at least stop promoting the policies above.
Senator Rand Paul couldn’t be more right-pun intended– the debt is a national security threat. The fiscal crisis needs to be addressed and it won’t get addressed until the role of our government is reevaluated both domestically and internationally.
Republicans need to learn from Paul. Restraint is peace through strength. A humble foreign policy strengthens the country by conserving our human and monetary resources on issues that involve our national security interests. At least, that’s what realism advocates. That’s what we need.
Alex Uzarowicz | Knox College | @AUzarowicz