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Right Turn
Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 06/21/2011

Curing conservatives of their foreign policy skittishness

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens deserves points for trying to come up with a foreign policy alternative to the epidemic of skittishness and foolishness that has broken out among conservatives. He writes in opposition to the isolationism of the far left and right:

The GOP ought to have a different watchword for America and the world: credibility. The credibility of our promises, and of our threats. The credibility of the dollar, and of our debt. The credibility of our arms, and of our willingness, when decision is made, to use them to decisive effect. The Roman epigram that has become the unofficial motto of the Marine Corps sums it up nicely: “No better friend; no worse enemy.”

He lists a few examples:

It is not credible to insist that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable”—and then announce plans for the containment of a nuclear Iran. It is not credible to surge 30,000 troops to Afghanistan—and then provide the Taliban with a date certain for the beginning of our withdrawal. It is not credible to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds—while promising that Moammar Gadhafi is not a target (falsely, as it would turn out).
It is not credible to assert that the New Start treaty with Russia does nothing to limit U.S. missile defenses—only to be flatly contradicted on the point by the Russian foreign minister at the ceremony exchanging ratification documents. It is not credible to promise better relations with Europe—and then stun Poland and the Czech Republic by abruptly abandoning plans to build missile defense bases there. It is not credible for the administration to endorse Ben Bernanke’s decision to flood the world with dollars—and then denounce China for manipulating its currency.
It is not credible to demand within days that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, an ally of 30 years, step down—but make no such demand, after months of unrest, of Syria’s Bashar Assad, an enemy. It is not credible to assure Israel that the U.S. will not expect it to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas—and then push Israel to adopt Mr. Obama’s negotiating formulas even as Hamas negotiates the terms of its entry into the government. It is not credible to promise support for democracy in Latin America—and then score Honduras for stopping a Chavista putsch while playing every excuse to delay ratification of a free trade agreement with Colombia.

But what makes for a clever column does not make for wise policy. “Credibility” is a feature of the way a nation implements its foreign policy, not a goal unto itself. If it were, then it would be perfectly “credible” to announce that we have no interest in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions and then “carry out” our goal. It would be credible to tell Israel that we do expect it to sit down with the unity government and then do everything to bring about that result. In short, credible doesn’t mean moral or smart or helpful.

At least Stephens has the diagnosis correct: Obama’s impulses are wrong; he is infatuated with multilateralism, generally unsupportive of allies and too solicitous of foes. It could be worse. Take Jon Huntsman, who says he want to be commander in chief. He proclaims he wants to leave all but 15,000 troops in Afghanistan. I sent his campaign a series of questions: How did Huntsman arrive at the 15,000 number of troops to be left in Afghanistan? What would they be doing? With only a small force there, would he be concerned about the troops’ security? Has he been to Afghanistan in the last year/and or consulted with any of our commanders there? He said that we can’t afford the war, but does he have a threshold/formula to determine if a war or military action is too expensive?

There was no response. It may be that he hasn’t thought through any of these questions and is simply offering an on-the-fly number to suck up to the isolationists he imagines are waiting for his arrival on the scene. And he is the serious candidate over whom the MSM is fawning?

This isn’t this hard, folks. Since Ronald Reagan, conservatives have a advanced a foreign policy premised on the idea that America is an indispensable power and force for good in the world -- a bulwark against tyranny, a guarantor of the West’ security and a defender of freedom. Reagan didn’t announce that the Cold War was too expensive; he made it too expensive for the Soviet Union to survive. He labeled the Soviet Union as evil, and when asked how the Cold War would end, replied, “We win, they lose.”

There are good faith disagreements as to how much and in what circumstances we can move the needle in favor of freedom. None of this answers the questions about when military power is advisable and when other means (economic, diplomatic, etc.) are more effective. But let’s not pretend that a responsible foreign policy can be found in the recommendations of the debt commission or the latest Gallup poll.

Republicans should be guided both by former Vice President Dick Cheney and by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Cheney, if you recall, went head-to-head with Obama (on the same day, but not on the same stage) in defending the Bush approach to the war against Islamic terror. Neither Cheney, his administration nor what he was advocating were all that popular at the time. Today, his arguments, and the reality on which they rest, have forced Obama to retreat from most of his dangerous national security notions.

Ryan not only gave one of the best foreign policy speeches in recent years, but he has demonstrated that one’s own stature rises by boldly rising in opposition to the president’s worst tendencies (be it on foreign or domestic policy) and articulating both the particulars and the larger vision (“path to prosperity”) of modern conservatism.

I’ll go out on a limb here: You likely can randomly pick a name from the list of top GOP contenders and come up with a domestic agenda far superior to Obama’s. Aside from personal qualities and experience, what will distinguish most starkly one from the other, and the GOP nominee from Obama, is an understanding of America’s place in the world. If the “alternative” is Obama-lite or even Obama-on-steroids (retreat faster!) why shouldn’t voters choose a Republican House and Senate and leave Obama there? Really, what is the point of holding the White House (aside from the potential opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice) if not to arrest the creeping defeatism in American foreign policy, reassert our values, restore our alliances and maintain the arsenal of democracy?

By  |  08:30 AM ET, 06/21/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, foreign policy

 
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