The GOP Has Made Foreign Policy Debate Totally Dysfunctional

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There is plenty to criticize in President Obama's record, but it never comes up because so much time is spent on unhinged analysis.

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Before running for Congress, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) spent more than 20 years in the military, served multiple tours in Iraq, retired as a lieutenant colonel, and spent time in Afghanistan working for a private defense contractor. Elected as a Tea Party Republican in 2010, you'd think he'd be perfectly suited to formulating a sophisticated critique of President Obama's foreign policy, or at least his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's just how partisan politics works.

Instead Rep. West is one of many in the GOP whose foreign policy views are so disconnected from reality that they're self-discrediting. The most recent example concerns the agreement that Obama just reached with his Afghan counterpart. Though short on specifics, it commits the U.S. to helping Afghanistan's government until 2024, and calls for at least some U.S. troops to remain beyond 2014, when NATO troops leave, most likely to help train Afghans and fight Al Qaeda.

Perhaps its a good plan, given our options. Perhaps not. What sends the mind reeling is West's analysis. "I look at what happened between President Obama and President Karzai as a 1930s, Chamberlain, Hitler moment," he told an interviewer. "There is not going to be peace in our time."

Peter Wehner is flummoxed:


Is Karzai supposed to be Hitler?

Whatever complaints one has with Karzai - and I have plenty of my own - he's clearly no Hitler, and he doesn't appear to have designs for world conquest. As a general matter, the Chamberlain-Hitler-appeasement analogy is much overused and is often a sign of lazy thinking...

Alas, an abridged list of folks who've compared Obama to Chamberlain sometime during his presidency includes Newt Gingrich, Alan Dershowitz, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Bruce Thornton, Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Allen Hunt, Fox News Analyst Bill Cowan, and Citizens United. Moving toward a more sane collection of pundits, Obama has had his statements on American exceptionalism egregiously misrepresented by folks including Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg, Dinesh D'Souza, Monica Crowley, Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Barone, and Charles Krauthammer. Then there's my favorite critique from a National Review writer, Andy McCarthy's assertion that Obama is the leader of a liberal alliance with our Islamist enemy in a "grand jihad" against America. And a recurring theme in the GOP primary was his alleged solicitousness of foreign leaders (always bowing and apologizing).

Daniel Larison explodes these myths and explains why their prevalence matters in the upcoming general election:

This is one of the things that has plagued Romney's campaign all along. He feels the need to challenge the incumbent on foreign policy and national security to establish his own credibility on these issues, but he also needs to satisfy hawkish factions inside his party, so he has to paint the incumbent's policies in terms that Republican hawks accept. A major problem with this is that the incumbent's policies are often indistinguishable from the policies that many in Romney's party favor. Romney must not only exaggerate differences between himself and Obama, as all eventual nominees must do when actual policy disagreements are small, but he sometimes has to invent differences where none exists and conjure up an imaginary Obama foreign policy out of thin air so that he has an easier target to hit...

Romney has now trapped himself by opposing himself to this imaginary Obama of "apology tours," rejection of American exceptionalism, and appeasement, and he has tied himself to this false portrayal of Obama for so long that it would be difficult to stop and to start grounding his attacks in facts.

As I've been noticing, the disconnect between the GOP's critique and reality hasn't just affected Romney, it also helps explain why even informed observers routinely characterize Obama's foreign policy in a way that makes no sense unless he's being judged on a curve with extremist hawks. What the rest of the world sees as bellicose interventionism we now deem normal.

The strange thing is that although the GOP rank-and-file is indisputably nationalist, it is not nearly so hawkish as its representation in Washington D.C., suggests. To cite just one example, 72 percent of Americans and 50 percent of Republicans favored Obama's plan to pull all troops out of Afghanistan when told they'd all be gone by 2014. Yet the announcement that we'd maintain some presence in the country for another decades, with combat troops beyond 2014, elicits from a popular Tea Party Republican a comparison with Neville Chamberlain.

On foreign policy, the GOP is way out of step with America.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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