Republican opposition to defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel reveals just how far the party's thinking has drifted on foreign policy.
With exit polls showing that the country trusted him more to conduct U.S. foreign policy than his rival, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama set off a round of commentary about how the GOP could regain its advantage. His nominee for defense secretary, moderate Republican Chuck Hagel, has re-energized that debate [disclosure: Hagel is chairman of the Atlantic Council, the author's employer].
Yours truly jumped on that bandwagon early. Previously, I've argued that Republicans should adopt a humble foreign policy that eschews nation-building -- an idea George W. Bush ran on but never implemented.
The Fletcher School's Dan Drezner kicked off the latest round of foreign policy renewalism with a thoughtful Foreign Affairs essay. In it he asks, "how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess?" The short answer:
GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach.
Daniel Larison of The American Conservative agrees wholeheartedly with Drezner's diagnosis but is skeptical that a reversal is possible because the Republican leaders who care most about foreign affairs "tend to favor the very absolutist, hard-line, and demagogic arguments that do the party's reputation and its ability to conduct foreign policy competently the most harm." In his view, these people view foreign policy as inseparable from the culture war they're losing at home.