In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Danielle Pletka outlines
how the Republican Party should position itself on international affairs in the
wake of Mitt Romney's resounding defeat in the 2012 election. "If the GOP is to stand for something more than lower taxes and smaller government" Pletka writes, "it must return to the moral vision of a world in which the United States helps others achieve the freedoms it holds so dear."
So what's the right path forward for a battered GOP? Here's what contributors to FP's Shadow Government blog had to say about Pletka's argument -- and the global posture the party should adopt in the future.
Danielle Pletka's thought-provoking piece on the future
of foreign policy in the Republican Party deserves more systematic and fulsome
treatment than time and space currently allow. Some random reactions will have
to suffice for now. That said, I very much look forward to the debate that Pletka
invites. It's indeed an important one. The intra-GOP divisions to which she
alludes are in some cases deep and wide. Moreover, they frequently appear to
touch on matters of first principle that not long ago seemed largely settled --
an apparent shattering of the Reagan-era consensus, the long-term consequences
of which I sense may trouble me somewhat more than they do her.
Pletka suggests that
the GOP must be a party that believes there are things worth fighting for. Agreed.
But what, exactly? Elsewhere, she makes the case for America's "obligation (not
merely the occasional inclination) to help others attain the benefits of a free
society." What's the connection, if any, between those two important thoughts? And
doesn't that go to the heart of the larger problem that seems to be bothering a
lot of Americans when it comes to the Republican Party? Not that they don't
think we'll use force, but that we've been all too eager to pull the trigger? What's
the limiting principle? Where won't we fight and why?
Pletka of course
understands this well. She notes the importance of Republicans explaining to
the American people "how much can be done consistent with America's deepest
principles but without the use of force, without threats, without
protectionism, and without breaking the bank." That seems to me an essential
task going forward: to restore the public's faith that the GOP is not only the
party most willing to stand up and defend America's vital interests in a
dangerous world, but also the one that will do so employing the most creative,
competent, and forward-looking strategies -- a national security policy that
makes the use of force not just the last resort, but almost always unnecessary
because of what Pletka calls the exercise of "genuine American leadership that meets
challenges before they become threats."
In this regard,
perhaps more than Pletka, I tend to think that the GOP will need to engage in a
more thorough-going reckoning with the Bush-Cheney years, particularly the Iraq
and Afghanistan experiences. Not, as she correctly warns, for the purposes of
"killing" that legacy, but rather for an honest accounting of the good, the
bad, and the ugly, and the lessons learned. It's necessary for its own sake of
course. But it's also important, I think, as part of the task of rebuilding the
public's overall confidence in the Republican foreign policy brand.
A few odds and ends. I
don't think Pletka mentions free trade and energy policy. The Republicans should
own these issues, especially the impending American oil and gas boom. The
impact on America's economic strength at home and strategic flexibility abroad
promise to be revolutionary if properly and comprehensively exploited.
Finally, it's worth
noting that the speed of the GOP comeback will at least in part be determined
by what happens in the world between now and 2016. Pletka is harshly critical of
President Obama's foreign-policy record. I generally don't disagree. But the
fact is that Obama has not suffered some of the mega-disasters that so
obviously plagued the administration of Jimmy Carter and made Reagan's critique
so innately compelling for the American people. No Iranian hostage crisis. No
Desert One fiasco. No hollow military on display. No Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan. While it's clear to Pletka and me that Obama's policies are sowing
the seeds of expanding international instability, chaos and violence, the fact
is that the day of reckoning has not yet come -- when the price for "leading
from behind" will really come due in much higher sacrifices of American blood,
treasure, and honor. Benghazi was but the canary in the coal mine, a
foreshadowing of the super storm yet to hit.
But for now, it must be said that Obama
has largely succeeded in avoiding the worst, in kicking the can down the road. Can
it go on for another four years? I would guess not. But I could be wrong. If I
am, if Obama's luck continues to hold, if the world is such in 2016 that a
plausible case can still be made that the Democrats have been responsible
stewards of America's national security, then whatever the Republicans do in
opposition to get their foreign policy house in order (as necessary and
essential a task as that no doubt is) may not be enough to make an electoral
John Hannah, a senior fellow at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies, served as national security advisor to
Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005 to 2009.
Peter D. Feaver:
The most important thing Republicans need
to understand about U.S. foreign policy today is that Republicans are out of
power and Barack Obama is in power.
That may seem obvious, but much
Republican commentary seems to ignore it. Much of the post-election commentary
seems divorced from the political reality that, especially in the area of
national security policy, Democrats hold not just an advantage, but a decisive one
(politically, that is, not substantively). Yes, Republicans hold the House, and
Democrats lack a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But Obama has a much
stronger political position than, say, George W. Bush enjoyed in 2005 (let
alone 2007), and while second-term Bush faced great constraints on what he
could do domestically, he was able to overcome those constraints in the
national security arena. Obama will likely be able to prevail at least as often
as Bush did.
Republicans will be able to influence
foreign and national security policy, but only on the margins. We can and
should make the case for key priorities -- restoring U.S. leverage in the
Middle East, thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, matching resources to goals in
the Asia-Pacific, etc. -- but we should recognize that Obama will have his way,
and his way will likely increasingly diverge from what Republicans would wish
him to do.
If the dominant theme of Obama's first term was continuity -- despite
campaigning against Bush foreign policy, Obama continued far more of it than
either side would like to admit -- the dominant theme of the second term may
well be change. In the coming years if not months, Obama will likely face
pivotal decisions on Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and defense cuts, and on
each one he is showing signs that he will decide in ways quite different from
how a President Mitt Romney might have done. I am not sure what Republicans can
do to change that trajectory.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once
observed that you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you
had. The same logic applies to the commander-in-chief: Republicans need to
recognize that we wage foreign policy with the commander-in-chief we have, not
the one Republicans wish we had.
The dominant feature of this commander-in-chief
is that he is so determined to avoid errors of commission that he risks
comparable errors of omission. For example, he is so determined to avoid
starting another Iraq war by U.S. action that he has allowed a strategically
analogous problem -- a sectarian civil war spiraling out of control -- to arise
in Syria by U.S. inaction.
Obama's distinctive risk calculus sets
limits on what kind of American foreign policy is viable in the next four
years. How plausible is it to recommend a more muscular approach to Syria or
Iran when this president has been loath to mobilize public support for the very
military escalations in Afghanistan that he campaigned on? How realistic is it
to talk about defense spending at 4 percent of GDP when the president seemed willing to stomach defense cuts amounting to $1.4 trillion through 2023 (if we sum the cuts he has already authorized and credit him as willing to trigger the defense sequester to protect his apparent red lines forbidding cuts to entitlements).
It is fine for Republicans to hold the administration
accountable in the public square for its choices, but Republicans also have to
recognize that a Republican playbook implemented by the Obama team would likely
not produce the kind of results Republicans want.
Of course, this approach sidesteps a
larger and ultimately more important issue: What ought to be America's role in
the world, and how can Republicans persuade the voters to embrace that role in
2016? Danielle Pletka makes a very useful contribution to that larger effort, and in
coming blog posts I hope to make mine, too. But before we can get that right,
we have to acknowledge where we are and where we aren't.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University. He co-moderates the Shadow Government blog at ForeignPolicy.com.
It is not the best of times for Republicans on foreign policy. Having
just lost another presidential election and being the minority party in the
Senate (the congressional branch with the most involvement on foreign policy), the
GOP finds its center of gravity relegated to the House of Representatives and
state governors' mansions, where foreign policy ranges from a secondary (the
House) to non-existent (governorships) issue. Exit polls from the 2012 election
show that the GOP has lost its historic advantage on national security to
Democrats in the minds of the American people. It is an appropriate time for
Republicans to take stock of where we stand on foreign policy, and Danielle Pletka's
article is a welcome spur to this effort.
debate within the party is the logical next step. Here I would remind my fellow
Republicans that our more partisan critics in places like the media and the
Democratic Party have favored attack lines they will employ no matter what path
we pursue. If the GOP unites around a particular national security platform, we
will be derided for "squelching dissent" and "being hijacked by ideological
extremists." Whereas if the GOP has a substantive internal debate on foreign
policy and multiple camps emerge, we can expect stories about "the GOP in
disarray" and "internal feuding and incoherence." The lesson in this? Have the
debate because it is a constructive and needful thing to do; just don't enlist
persistent critics of the GOP as referees.
So what should a
GOP foreign policy look like? An unappreciated but essential part of foreign
policy is accurately reading the state of the world and the tides of history. Past
Republican successes have come in part from enduring principles and competent
implementation, but also from a proper appreciation for the state of the
international system and America's capabilities at that particular historical
moment. Thus Teddy Roosevelt at the dawn of the 20th century accurately saw the
opportunity for the United States to look beyond its continental preoccupations
and assert itself as an emerging global power. Dwight Eisenhower at mid-century
realized the need for America as a global superpower to build a Cold War
strategy based on balancing domestic economic growth and national security
needs with a prudential but still assertive international posture. Richard Nixon,
taking office during a time of overextension and strategic vulnerability,
perceived the imperative to reconfigure the global chessboard in ways more
favorable to America's diminished hand. Ronald Reagan, who won election amidst
national decline and global diminishment, abandoned the conventional wisdom in
pursuing a strategy of renewal at home simultaneously with a more assertive
posture abroad. George H.W. Bush inherited a strong nation and presided over
the end of the Cold War and restructuring of the international order while
avoiding overreach. George W. Bush realized that the Sept. 11th attacks
demanded a new counterterrorism paradigm, of both tools and doctrines. The twin
facts that the United States has not been attacked since and that the Obama administration
has maintained this paradigm testify to the success of this strategy.
Mindful of this
history, the question for the future of Republican foreign policy should begin
not with where we think the Democrats may be wrong, but
with what we think the state of the international system is today and how it
can be shaped in ways favorable to U.S. interests and consonant with American
values. Like many other Republicans, I share Pletka's reverence for Reagan's
presidency and agree that his values offer a good starting point for foreign
policy today. But updating the Reagan legacy for the 21st century means
appreciating how Reagan's day differed from our own even as his principles
This does not mean abandoning our critique of where the other
party gets things wrong. Judging from recent trends, I suspect the Obama administration's
second term might present some particular opportunities for the GOP to offer a
compelling alternative, especially leading up to 2016. As Peter Feaver and I
have pointed out
before, the Obama administration's successes
in the first term largely came when following the Bush playbook, such as
preserving the policy and legal framework for the war against jihadist
terrorism or a dual-track strategic posture in Asia of both balancing and
engaging with China. The Obama administration's failures in the first term,
however, were generally sui generis,
reflecting either poor judgment or deferred action on hard issues, and sometimes
Unfortunately, those hard issues are only getting harder. To take
just one example, the White House should realize it has a serious problem with
its Syria policy when senior French officials disparage its posture as "waiting
from behind." Nor do other
places look good: Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea are all
situations where the Obama administration's current policy lines and
assumptions are not promising. Republicans have a chance to say how we think
these things could be handled better.
Inboden is a distinguished scholar at the Strauss Center for International
Security and Law and an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs
at the University of Texas-Austin. He previously served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House, and co-moderates the Shadow Government blog at ForeignPolicy.com.
I agree with Danielle Pletka
that the Romney campaign was all over the map, and nowhere convincing, on
foreign policy. But I disagree that the strategic circumstances necessitate Reaganesque
stances on national security. Nor do I think that is a winnable argument for
Republicans with the American public.
What the public wants ought
not to be the sole determinant of our national security policies -- every
conservative applauds Edmund Burke's insistence that he owed his constituency
his judgment, not just his vote. But public opinion does matter in every
democracy, and it matters especially for the United States because the main
limit on our power is our willingness to use it.
My very strong sense is that
voters don't want to hear it right now; they aren't amenable to our arguments
for an assertive policy to advance our values in the world. We made that case
too glibly in the Bush administration, and managed it too poorly, for voters --
even Republican voters -- to trust our judgment. We will have to earn our way
back into their confidence.
Pletka makes passing,
critical reference to Dwight Eisenhower's unwillingness to intervene in
Hungary. And she's absolutely right that Eisenhower clamped down on advocates
of rolling back Soviet expansion. He understood that 1950s voters still
taking solace in a willful innocence after World War II, who elected him to end
the Korean War, had no stomach for liberating Hungary. And, after all, the president
is the person who ultimately has to decide how much to risk and pay for what we
attempt in the world.
Public indifference to how
the wars are concluded -- President Obama has paid no price that I can
ascertain for ending rather than winning our wars -- suggests Americans are in
about the same place now. Just as the Vietnam War cast a long shadow over
American willingness to take an active role in refashioning the international
order, Iraq and Afghanistan are casting their pall over public support for
interventions very much in our strategic interest, like Syria or Iran.
We will miss lots of
opportunities to shape the world in better ways as Americans turn inward. But
we Republicans ought also to acknowledge that we squandered the public trust
with rosy projections of the cost of the wars and colossal mismanagement for
far too long. We delegitimized our own strategy and we are still paying the
price for it. President Obama's fecklessness in Iraq and Afghanistan has only
added a general skepticism that wars as we now fight them are winnable at all.
It will not be enough for
Republicans to argue that we know the right thing to do. We will need to
demonstrate we know how to achieve it, and at a price the American people are
willing to pay. I suspect it will take another decade of absorbing the
consequences of allowing the world to grow more dangerous before Americans
would be willing to consider another war on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan. We
delay rather than hasten that time by advocating a Reaganesque assertiveness rather
than an Eisenhower restraint.
Kori Schake is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy.
Paul D. Miller:
Danielle Pletka writes
that Republicans and Democrats are divided on foreign policy most fundamentally
by values. Republicans believe in "a moral imperative for U.S. power in the world"
which leads them to support the growth of democracy worldwide, implying that
Democrats do not. Nonsense. Democratic presidents have been so idealistic and
fervent in their pursuit of a moral foreign policy that they gave us a name for
it (Wilsonianism), a doctrine (Truman), and a hapless precedent for how not to do
Republicans do a disservice when they try to make promoting democracy
a partisan issue. It is much safer to recognize the broad bipartisan consensus that
has existed at least since the McKinley administration that American power should
tilt the playing field of history towards freedom.
True, some Democrats began to betray their century-old
heritage by overreacting to Iraq. Barack Obama sounded some vaguely realpolitik-y notes in his campaign and
his first year in office. But Democratic realism died a silent and unmourned
death in the sands of Libya. Obama and his advisors couldn't resist the
opportunity to cleanse America's image by undertaking a pure humanitarian mission
unsullied by the least connection with strategic interests. We are now safely
united again in a grand
strategy of spreading the democratic peace.
The real split between the parties is in deciding how, when,
where, and why to foster democracy abroad, in answer to which the Obama
administration has been incoherent and inconsistent. The Republican response --
Pletka's included -- so far, is to call for leadership and money, neither of which
constitutes a strategy. Calling for more defense spending doesn't fit the bill
unless we explain what that spending is for and what interests will go
unsecured if we fail to allocate the money. And calling for more "leadership"
is equally void of meaning unless we explain where we are going and why we
think America -- and the world -- should follow.
We don't have to have grand philosophical debates. We can pick
specific issues that illustrate the parties' differences and hammer on them relentlessly.
I know I sound like a broken record, but we could start by tackling head-on the
biggest crisis the United States is currently engaged in that top American officials
are resolutely ignoring: not Syria, but Afghanistan.
Just because the average voter stopped paying attention years
ago, and elected officials followed suit soon after, does not mean the United
States no longer has interests there. Democrats performed an astonishing and
shameful about-face between 2008, when it unanimously affirmed it as the good
war to which we absolutely must devote more resources right now,
and 2010, when their president led the way by no
longer believing the war was winnable despite clear
evidence to the contrary, and announced an intention to withdraw our
forces without specifying how we will mitigate the obvious damage to American interests
that will result from allowing terrorists to regain safe-haven in a large swathe
of South Asia.
Mitt Romney missed a large and obvious opportunity to
differentiate himself from the president by going on the attack on Afghanistan.
Republicans can and should be out front explaining
what our interests are and how
we can win. Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates was absolutely right
when he insisted that the Pentagon focus on the wars we were fighting rather
than the hypothetical wars of the future. That is still true. If Republicans
want to win back their foreign-policy credentials, they should stop their scripted
apoplexy over Syria, Iran, and China and say something intelligent and
relevant about the war in which American troops are still dying. That's the
least we owe our soldiers.
Paul D. Miller is an assistant professor of International
Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
He previously served as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National
Security Council staff from 2007 through 2009. The views expressed here
are his own.
Thomas G. Mahnken:
I agree with the vast majority of what
Danielle Pletka writes in "Think Again: The Republican Party." As a result, rather
than joining the post mortem of last
year's election, I'm going to focus my attention on the agenda for the future.
Republican national security strategy has
traditionally been characterized by a sober view of the international environment
and strong support for national defense. In common with other conservatives,
most Republicans believe that things could -- and quite possibly will -- be
worse. But Republicans have been at their best when they have coupled wariness
of potential foes with an abiding confidence in America and its values.
An emphasis on power and values is needed
now as much as ever. In recent years, a new orthodoxy has taken hold among
policy elites, including more than a few Republicans. That view argues that
with the war in Iraq over and that in Afghanistan
winding down, the United States should embrace a narrower (or, more politely, a
more "selective") conception of its role in the world. Accordingly, the United
States can afford to make major cuts in defense spending. Indeed, the new
orthodoxy holds that resources spent on defense can be better -- and more
productively -- spent elsewhere: That is, the United States should move from
practicing nation-building abroad to building the nation at home.
This view, which often bleeds over into declinism,
deserves to be challenged. A national security strategy built upon traditional
tenets of the Republican foreign policy offers a potent counterpoint to the new
orthodoxy. Five premises are central to such a policy.
the United States is an exceptional nation. The new orthodoxy errs in downplaying America's strengths. These
include our considerable (though neglected and decreasing) advantages in sea and
air power, our alliances with some of the world's most prosperous democracies,
and our considerable domestic energy reserves. It also sells America short by
downplaying the fact that for centuries the United States has been a magnet for
the world's best and brightest. The United States is truly exceptional in that
it is one of only a handful of countries (with Australia, Canada, and Israel)
that can attract talented individuals from across the world and make them
productive, successful members of our society within the span of years. Republicans
could make immigration a winning issue by backing measures to lower the
barriers to skilled, educated workers becoming American citizens. Imagine, for
example, if every graduate professional degree in the basic and applied
sciences came with a green card attached.
The new orthodoxy also sells America
short by downplaying the power of American values. Support for democracy abroad
is in America's strategic interest. Failing to foster democracy, or abandoning
new democracies, is hardly a recipe for a safer, more secure world.
the United States has an exceptional role to play in the world. Global leadership is a choice. As former
Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned shortly before leaving office, "The tough
choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people -- accustomed
to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades - want their
country to play in the world." However,
if the United States chooses not to exercise its leadership, the best we will
get is chaos; the worst we will get is leadership by those who do not share our
values. The United States today does not have the luxury of Britain in the late
19th and early 20th centuries -- there is no like-minded great power to pass
the baton to. Isolationists (or, more politely, "offshore balancers") assume
miracles in arguing that if the United States pulls back, others will preserve
a balance of power favorable to the United States.
Third, the world continues
to be a dangerous place.
America may be war-weary, but its competitors are not. If we do not
look after our own interests, we cannot expect others to do so for us. Although some parts of the world (Europe,
for example) are clearly safer and more secure than in decades past, other
parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Asia, are less secure. Al Qaeda
is busy setting up safe havens on the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa.
Iran continues its quest for nuclear weapons, and North Korea is advancing its
nuclear and missile capabilities. Of particular concern is China's ongoing military
modernization, a portion of which is aimed at coercing U.S. allies and denying
the United States access to the Western Pacific. Moreover, the United States
appears to have underestimated the scope and pace of China's fielding of new
weapons, including those designed to counter U.S. power-projection forces. Over
the past decade the weapons most needed to respond to such developments have
received short shrift in the Pentagon budget. As a result, the United States
faces an increasingly unfavorable military balance in the Western Pacific.
our investment in national defense is a net benefit, not a cost. In historical terms, the United States spends relatively
little on defense. We have also derived a lot from that investment. The new
orthodoxy has the relationship between economic and national security wrong. It
is not a case of a tradeoff between nation building at home and abroad. Rather,
prosperity at home depends upon American engagement abroad.
Defense spending provides tangible
benefits to the American people both internationally and domestically. Internationally,
American military dominance has benefited the United States and the world as a
whole. The fact that the U.S. Navy has commanded the maritime commons has
allowed trade to flow freely and reliably, spurring globalization and lifting
millions out of poverty. It is unclear whether the stability that American
military dominance has yielded would continue in its absence. As Joseph S. Nye,
Jr. famously noted, security is like oxygen: You don't notice it until it
begins to run out.
Domestically, defense does more to
stimulate the U.S. economy than most things the U.S. government spends money
on. The defense budget creates jobs and spurs the development of new
technology. It is hard to think of other categories of government expenditure
that do as much to stimulate economic growth.
Although the United States has spent
considerable sums on defense, modernization has lagged. As a result, U.S. Air
Force aircraft are on average more than 23 years old, the oldest in Air Force
history, and are getting older. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling
tankers are more than 40 years old, and some may be as old as 70-80 years
before they retire. The U.S. Navy is smaller now than it was before the United
States entered World War I, and is getting smaller. Only full-scale
recapitalization will reverse this trend.
we need to show confidence in America. Republicans are right to be concerned about foreign threats,
but they need to be alive to opportunities as well. Ronald Reagan was effective
not only because he took the threat posed by the Soviet Union, but also because
he was bullish on America -- much more so than the so-called "realists" of his
There is much that the United States can
do today to harness its enduring strengths to meet today's threats. A recently published
volume that I edited provides some ideas about how the
United States can compete more effectively with China, but such an approach can
also be adapted to meeting many of the other challenges we face.
A strategy based upon these tenets may
run against the current political tide, but draws upon a deep tradition of
American foreign policy. It is also the right strategy for the United States to
preserve its historical role in the world.
Thomas G. Mahnken is a visiting scholar at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at The Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images