Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has never held elective office, but he gives a heck of a political speech, as he did at the Conservative Action Political Conference last Thursday. It was the most interesting speech of the conference, in part because it staked out an idea — (quoting Theodore Roosevelt) “first and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves” — claimed it as “ the bedrock principle of conservative national policy” and called the party to follow:
Ladies and gentlemen, conservatives need to take this year and the next to mobilize the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe as we do.
We do not accept an America that is weak and declining. We do not accept an American military that is weak and poorly equipped, and in particular, we do not accept and American president who is weak, indecisive and apologetic about our country.
We must turn national security to the center of our political debate throughout 2014 and the presidential election of 2016; that’s why I’ve established a PAC and a SuperPAC to help House and Senate candidates who understand the importance of a strong American posture in the world. Conservatives must remember the policies and victories of Ronald Reagan. We can and must replace the Obama-Clinton-Kerry-Biden Doctrine of drift, decline and defeatism with a Reaganite foreign policy. That is the key to success this November and in 2016, and that is the key to ensuring America’s freedom and security in the years ahead.
Without citing Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) by name — it’s telling he doesn’t have to in order to make his target clear — Bolton skewered the claim that isolationism is Reaganism. (“Ignoring threats to our national security is the Obama doctrine, and the contrast with Ronald Reagan could not be clearer. Reagan believed in peace through strength, not isolationism, not multilateralism.”) But the challenge immediately at hand is the 2014 midterm election.
The question is whether Republicans will elect John Bolton conservatives who unabashedly make the case for American leadership in the world. That entails more than a one-liner in a speech. It would include items such as:
Support for adequate defense spending related to the threats we face;
Opposition to the interim Iran deal and support for tough sanctions and/or a credible use of force (or at the least, support for Israel’s use of force);
Opposition to dismantling the parts of the anti-terrorism apparatus that work (e.g. drones, the National Security Agency and Gitmo);
Opposition to undermining the military chain of command (e.g. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill);
Determination to retain the military gains we made in Afghanistan and Iraq; and
Support for a free and whole Europe.
None of these should be controversial, yet the administration has gone in the wrong direction on all six, and House and Senate members (primarily Democrats, but some Republicans as well) have enabled him. The policy items all reflect a commitment to reassert U.S. power and use the range of tools at our disposal to defend ourselves and our allies. (Only in Afghanistan is “boots on the ground,” that is opposition to the zero option, currently implicated.)
I’m not a fan of pledges, as readers of Right Turn know. But it would seem all candidates, especially Republican Senate candidates who can tip the balance in that body, should be asked their positions on these items. (Quin Hillyer has a must-read column along the same lines today.) Voters who want more than an applause line, who actually want pushback to what Bolton calls the “Obama-Clinton-Kerry-Biden Doctrine of drift, decline and defeatism,” can thereby assess the candidates and judge for themselves who is a faux-Reaganite and who is the real deal. Bolton gets the ball rolling with an endorsement of Republican Barbara Comstock in the Virginia 10th Congressional District, praising her understanding of “the need to restore our military, repair relations with our closest allies and work with her colleagues to ensure that no adversary–including Iran or Russia–ever question American resolve.”
It’s important to begin the public debate now, both because the Senate majority is at stake and because the 2016 Republican contenders and primary voters need the time to understand and debate the issues. A critical part of a robust national security policy is the willingness to discuss it, outline our threats and propose reasoned responses to them. (Among the president’s biggest failings is his refusal to talk to the country about the threats and rally Americans to the tasks a superpower must undertake.) The candidate who won’t or can’t do even that is trouble.