House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and fellow Reps. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), Kay Granger (R-Tex.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) have an op-ed today following their Asian trip. They make the case for a robust U.S. presence in Asia: “The United States is a Pacific power. Not only do millions of Americans live in states that border or are firmly rooted in the Pacific, more than 300,000 military service members and civilians who support them are stationed throughout the Pacific. Countless American businesses and farmers also rely on access to this expanding market that has become an engine of global economic growth. In addition to reflecting our values, our foreign policy must reflect the fact that our prosperity and security is intimately linked with that of the Asia-Pacific. . . . Asia’s continued economic growth is not certain, and the region is threatened by a despotic and volatile North Korean regime armed with nuclear weapons. Many nations are concerned that China will use its growing economic and military power to coerce its neighbors.”
The piece is noteworthy for several reasons. GOP candidates for 2016 looking for an entrance to foreign policy would do well to start in Asia, for reasons the congressmen explain.
First, the geographically dispersed group suggests that an internationalist stance in defense of American political and economic interests is still the mainstream GOP worldview. Few congressmen would argue that it is acceptable to let markets wither, China dominate the region or human rights to suffer in this critical part of the world. Indeed, the post-World War II bipartisan commitment to democratic, capitalistic Asian allies is one of the great foreign policy success stories.
Second, the congressmen make a compelling case that protecting our interests doesn’t come cheap. “Our military commanders were clear about the need for the unique power projection capabilities provided by our aircraft carrier fleet. These commanders know our allies and adversaries alike are watching to see if America allows its military superiority to wither, and struggle every day to reassure their counterparts throughout the region. . . . Unless the United States reinvests in its military, strengthens its alliances and displays strong leadership, we will see increased threats, greater risk of instability and economic turbulence in a region of pivotal importance to America’s future.”
Third, the notion that we act on a whim or to the detriment of our long-term interests is disproved by our Asian allies. They want a strong U.S. military presence, and they need closer economic ties. (“This is why we support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is needed not only to facilitate greater trade across the Pacific but also to establish the economic rules of the road firmly for the 21st century. A trade agreement based on mutually beneficial terms will promote real economic growth and real jobs here at home.”)
And this should dispel the notion that we have to do all the heavy lifting ourselves. (“America cannot keep the peace alone — nor have we. Our allies have welcomed American military forces on their soil for decades, allowing the United States to project military power far from our shores and enhancing our security here at home. We are encouraged by the desire of these allies to contribute more to regional security, but much work is needed to help them bolster their defenses, encourage greater coordination among them and reassure our allies and adversaries of our enduring commitment to Asia.”) Wherever possible, we should encourage allies such as South Korea, Japan and the Philippines to work with one another on regional security and to play a bigger role in international institutions (where they have been doggedly pro-American).
If “responsible, self-governing citizens do not grow wild like blackberries,” then conservatives should know that mutually beneficial alliances, freedom of the seas and human rights don’t sprout on their own. We must invest in our military, attend to our democratic allies, work toward economic cooperation and demonstrate that our long-term interests will not waver because we want to “nation build at home” or fund entitlement programs by slashing defense. As in other parts of the world, we cannot reap the rewards of foreign markets or expect stable, free allies and trading partners if we cease to demonstrate our military, economic and political staying power. There is no shortcut to maintaining our status as the world’s lone superpower.