Now, the same thing has happened
on foreign policy.Barack Obama basically continued the post-2006 Bush
foreign policy. We had a surge in Afghanistan, ramped up drone strikes, and
targeted people the president deemed America's enemies -- even if those enemies
were American citizens. And, of course, Obama gave the go order to kill bin Laden. All this from a party that Republicans
have historically portrayed as weak on national security.
Team Romney nonetheless ran the
same campaign Republicans have since at least Nixon's day, claiming that the
Democrats were spineless on foreign policy. Given Obama's record, the charge of
course rang hollow.
If the Democrats keep to their winning
formula, the Republicans need a new playbook. Just as calls for tax cuts are
no longer enough on fiscal issues, platitudes about "strength" are no
longer enough on national security policy.
In recent years, the dominant faction
in the Republican foreign policy establishment since the 9/11 attacks have been
the so-called "neoconservatives," who advocate a policy of vigorous democracy promotion
abroad, through military power if necessary, as the best way to promote
American national security interests and values. The Iraq War debacle severely damaged
this faction's reputation and even President George W. Bush largely turned away
from them after the 2006 midterm defeat in favor of more traditional realist
voices like Condoleeza Rice and Robert Gates.
John McCain ran on a neocon
platform in 2008 and Mitt Romney paid homage to this cycle by including the
likes of John Bolton among his advisors, but was so opaque in his
pronouncements that it wasn't clear that even
Romney knew what his foreign policy was. Both lost resoundingly.
The Republican Party needs a new
message on foreign policy that is true to the conservative principles of the
base and yet has a broad appeal to the American public. It so happens that one
already exists, has a proven track record of electoral success, and is only
slightly used: the "humble foreign policy" that candidate George
W. Bush espoused during the 2000 campaign but abandoned with the Global War on
Terror and the Iraq invasion.
wisdom during the October 12, 2000 debates is striking in hindsight. "If
we're an arrogant nation," he warned, "they'll resent us; if we're a
humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone
right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be
humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom."
Now, to a large degree, that's
platitude rather than policy prescription. But it's the right mindset from
which to approach policy analysis.
Bush agreed, for example, with the
Clinton administration's actions in the Balkans: "I thought it was in our
strategic interests to keep Milosevic in check because of our relations in
NATO, and that's why I took the position I took. I think it's important for
NATO to be strong and confident. I felt like an unchecked Milosevic would harm