Eric Cantor's Foreign-Policy Ideas Would Consign Us to Perpetual War

The House majority leader believes U.S. forces left Iraq and Afghanistan too early and that America should be more involved almost everywhere else. 
Reuters

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a speech last week at the Virginia Military Institute that left little doubt about his foreign-policy agenda: more wars of choice.

The U.S. left Afghanistan and Iraq too early for his taste. "The plain truth is that we still have work to do in Afghanistan," he said. "It would be a terrible mistake for the U.S. to make the same mistake we made in Iraq. Our hasty and total withdrawal squandered the hard-fought gains won by the military at such great cost."

He likens Iran today to Nazi Germany before World War II.

He complains about the Obama Administration's "light footprint" approach to Libya and calls for the U.S. to play a greater role in countries affected by the Arab Spring. And he asserts that President Obama's remarks on Syria "committed the United States to a policy of regime change" that hasn't been carried out:

Months into Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s brutal suppression of a nation-wide protest movement, momentum appeared to be with the protesters. President Obama—sensing perhaps that Assad’s fall was inevitable—called for the dictator to go. In doing so, the president violated Lyndon Johnson’s maxim that you 'shouldn’t tell a man to go to Hell unless you’re prepared to send him there.' * 

Incredibly, in the same speech, he criticizes the Obama Administration for failing to do enough to pivot toward Asia. So Cantor believes that the United States is paying insufficient attention to China, North Korea, and our Pacific allies ... even as he insists the U.S. should still be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the U.S. should have used more U.S. force in Libya, that it should be more involved in Syria's civil war, and that we should be prepared to wage war on Iran. Little surprise that he calls for more defense spending. We've got the largest military in the world by a significant margin, but it isn't even close to big enough if we're going to fight at least four wars in a region that he doesn't even regard as our focus! 

Rob Golan-Villela of The National Interest is right: "Cantor's FP speech is basically a mashup of every hawkish cliche and bit of threat inflation you've ever heard." Cantor gives no hint of having learned anything from the mistakes of the aughts, and taking his advice would come at great cost in American blood and treasure. 

Not that he ever states how much of either he's willing to spend. 

In Politico, an account of the speech led with the observation that Cantor belongs to "the strong-on-defense wing of the GOP," but that isn't quite right, insofar as following his advice would weaken America's defense as surely as the Iraq War, which led to the unnecessary deaths of more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. There is little evidence that voters have any appetite for Cantor's approach to foreign policy. And if Republicans persist in offering it, Democrats will keep winning.

 

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* It isn't everyday that someone cites Lyndon Johnson as a foreign-policy authority. Curious about the context of his remark, I discovered that it was one of eight rules the former president put forth:

LBJ's Rules of Life:

1. Never trust a man whose eyes are too close to his nose.

2. Always be sure to have 25 percent cotton in your undershirts; otherwise your titties will itch.

3. Remember the CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn't let them into the family brokerage business.

4. The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.

5. When you are handshaking on the campaign trail, never let the other fellow grab your hand first—grab his hand and elbow and throw him past.

6. Before getting into a motorcade, always go to the bathroom and pee.

7. Don't tell a man to go to Hell unless you can send him there.

8. When things haven't gone well for you, call in a secretary or a staff man and chew him out. You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention.
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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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