There will be a long-coming debate on the right, and between right and left, on U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 and post-Arab Spring world. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) doesn’t like the word “isolationism,” but his policy choices (removing bases, bringing troops home, ending foreign aid) bear an uncanny resemblance to the foreign policy of those who, well, are isolationists.
I have written that his ideological partisans at the other end of the intervention/isolation spectrum have not done a bang-up job of justifying their views, formulating reasonable policies, or carving out a proper balance between the executive and legislative branches. This was of course greatly impeded by an Obama administration that is the least transparent in history and has a nasty habit of subsuming foreign policy to electoral politics.
If you want a forceful, effective explanation for what a new conservative foreign policy should look like, take some time to listen to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talking about conditioning aid to Egypt:
He makes the case for aid based on our interests, the importance of trade and world events in the American economy, and the need to proactively support good actors and not reward destabilizing and anti-American elements. Does anyone really think the world would be more peaceful and more free if China, Russia and the U.N. were running the show with the U.S. on the sidelines, leaving friends and allies to fend for themselves? (Syria is a good example of that.)
Rubio should stick with the formulation of an effective and sustainable foreign policy that embraces the U.S. role in the world. If he is successful, more Republicans and responsible Democrats will stand with a foreign policy that attends to U.S. interests and values. If we have learned anything in the Obama years, it is that the failure of U.S. leadership is disastrous. The American people and the Free World need an alternative to isolationism that does not conjure up images of perpetual war.
Rubio can be part of a new generation of national security leadership and help formulate a robust but workable national security at a time when the conservative movement and the GOP badly need both. If not, the American people will have to choose between visions embodied in Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Paul, and I think I know which way they might go.