What happened to the party of John Foster Dulles, George Shultz, and Howard Baker?
The release on Tuesday of Mitt Romney's surreptitiously recorded comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirmed a sad truth about today's Republican party. The GOP has gone from the party of strategic foreign engagement to the party of simplistic chauvinism.
The problem goes beyond Romney's private comments at a Florida fundraiser in May. Repeatedly over the last week, his surrogates laid out a view of American foreign policy at odds with the party's tradition of sophistication in foreign affairs.
It started with Liz Cheney. A day after four Americans were killed in Libya, Cheney accused the Obama administration of abandoning allies around the world and failing to intimidate Islamic militants.
"In too many parts of the world, America is no longer viewed as a reliable ally or an enemy to be feared," Cheney wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "Ask the mobs in Cairo who attacked our embassy, or the Libyan mobs who killed our diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi."
In a speech in Florida on Saturday, Paul Ryan continued on the same theme: Strength is the answer.
"If we project weakness, they come," Ryan said, referring to those who might attack the U. S. "If we are strong, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respect us."
And Romney's statements at the fundraiser displayed an astonishingly one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Echoing the arguments of right-wing Israelis, Romney declared that the Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and could not be trusted to police their own territory, and that "there's just no way" for a two-state resolution.
"You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem," Romney said. "We have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Is this the party of John Foster Dulles, George Shultz and Howard Baker?
The broad, unspoken undercurrent of these comments is that the Middle East - from Palestinians to Libyans to Egyptians - is a monolith. That Arabs only understand strength. And that the region is backward. Those are dangerous, ignorant and counterproductive fallacies.
First, when it comes to Islamic militants, the idea of "intimidating" them is nonsensical. Radicals who long to die in battle will not be deterred by threats of death. Exceptions exist, but most believe they are fighting a vast Christian-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy to obliterate Islam from the face of the earth. We are dealing with a delusional enemy, not a group of Soviet Politburo members.
Yes, military force has a role in countering militancy. But force alone is not a cure-all.
Iran's rulers must be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but pre-emptive air strikes will slow their weapons program, not eliminate it. Allowing sanctions and rising popular discontent to erode the regime's hold on power is the best course.
Second, across the Middle East, the problem is not that the United States is seen as weak. It is that it is seen as a menacing, all-powerful force that uses its unrivaled military might to impose its will.
A June Pew Center public opinion poll in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, found that clear majorities believe the U.S. acts unilaterally in the region. The American government is seen as being behind every major event in the Middle East - from the rebellion in Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood's election victory in Egypt. The perceptions are illogical but real, and while conspiracy theories ought not influence policy, our problem is arrogance, not inaction.