A report from Robert Costa that former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is planning a national tour, will meet with other GOP leaders and intends to “push back against the party’s libertarian shift” has been misread in some quarters as indicating he is running for president.
Let’s take a step back. In Previewconsidering a run in 2012, he was concerned that foreign policy was getting short shrift in the presidential election. He was certainly correct — it did get far too little attention, despite his efforts and that of other Romney foreign policy advisers to get the political flunkies to focus on the issue. In March of this year, Bolton set up both a PAC and Super PAC, the first to raise awareness of foreign policy issues and the latter to advocate on behalf of candidates (presumably those who share his views on American leadership).
Maybe Bolton will run for president and maybe not. That’s far less certain, I would suggest, than a Hillary Clinton run. Instead, his objective is now to make sure national security issues aren’t lost in the shuffle — again.
There is more urgency for such an effort now than in 2012. In 2012, the GOP was united with the exception of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) in its determination to maintain a robust national security, project American strength and keep the Bush-era anti-terrorism architecture. That is not the case now.
We see some Republicans locking arms with radical leftists in denouncing electronic surveillance monitored by the courts and Congress. We see Republicans arguing for fewer bases overseas. We see widespread indifference to the conduct of Russia and China and opposition to sanctions against Iran (from the now-secretary of defense no less!).
It is not clear by any means that the anti-internationalist Republicans have the upper hand. To the contrary, their numbers in the Senate are small and their arguments have not carried the day on the right — yet. There nevertheless is a schism. The outcome of that debate is not yet settled, although a great many Republicans, especially evangelicals, are predisposed to projecting American power and values.
Beyond that major divide, there is a healthy debate on the right outside of libertarian circles on how and under what circumstance to aid democratic forces and defend human rights. Bolton, for example, was hugely skeptical from the get-go about the prospects for the Arab Spring. I have written extensively on the emergence of a new generation of leaders on national security and the need to calibrate the “freedom agenda” based on our experiences over the last decade or so. In other words, even among those who eschew “leading from behind” and “hiding under the bed,” there is plenty of hard thinking to be done.
The most significant aspect of Bolton’s work, then, is not whether he might in a few years decide to run for president. It is whether those advocates of a forward-leaning foreign policy can rally the right and formulate a coherent and sustainable foreign policy in the post-Bush and post-Obama eras. Having someone with Bolton’s experience and smarts begin that discussion, press Republican candidates to define their positions and challenge the ostriches on both sides who have planted their heads deep in the sand is a very positive development.
If he and other conservatives (many who disagree with Bolton on some issues like Syria) do their job then we should not have another election in which foreign policy is ignored and nonsensical views (e.g. unilateral disarmament, outreach to tyrannical regimes, slashing the defense budget) go uncontested.