23 April 2015

Republican foreign policy: extremes without a center?

Senator Graham of South Carolina is considering a run next year for the Republican presidential nomination. He seems driven by a belief that foreign policy will be the most important issue in 2016, and he has previewed his campaign by defining himself in contrast with a declared candidate, Sen. Paul of Kentucky. Paul himself, perhaps thinking he has gone too far from his father's non-interventionist position, is pre-emptively defining himself in contrast with Graham and his mentor, Sen. McCain of Arizona. The Kentuckian started a spat this week with his strage claim that Graham and McCain were "lapdogs" for President Obama's foreign policy. That sounded almost delusional, given how often those two have criticized the President for "leading from behind," but Paul seems to think that all disagreement with his own foreign policy, whatever that may be, is essentially the same. In response, Graham and McCain described Paul's foreign policy as "behind leading from behind." Rather than lapdogs, McCain said, he and Graham were Doberman Pinschers worrying the President. Obama's erstwhile opponent reportedly illustrated this to an interviewer by barking like such a dog. But given how Iranophobic and Israelophilic Paul has become, presumably in pursuit of primary votes and Sheldon Adelson's money, his critics seem just as delusional. To be fair, however, they're probably judging Paul by the entirety of his foreign-policy statements, not just by his most recent pandering. Still, their stance seems just as absolutist as Paul's; all disagreement with their neocon policy is weakness or "leading from behind." For Graham and Paul there seems to be no middle ground in foreign policy, though the other Republican candidates and potential candidates may want to fill that gap. Of course, GOP opinion is likely to bunch up closer to Graham's end, raising Paul up like the lighter end of a see-saw, elevating him if only by contrast with a pack of exceptionalist sabre-rattlers. I'd be surprised if Paul himself didn't think the U.S. should "lead" in some way, though to be fair his idea of leadership is probably less belligerent than his fellow Republicans' vision. I wonder whether libertarians like Paul assume an inevitable competition among nations the way Republicans do. Republicans like Graham and McCain assume that the only alternative to American leadership is leadership by a less worthy nation or coalition; the core assumption is the geopolitics is a competition in which nations must dominate or be dominated. Libertarians believe in competition, of course, but they idealize it, imagining a kind of utopian competition free from force or fraud that actually becomes a kind of cooperation with the best of all possible results for society as a whole. They may imagine a competition among nations, but without that dominate-or-be-dominated edge. They'll never go for conscious, conscientious cooperation through the vehicle of world government, because that'd be politics, but their belief in a spontaneous order may be preferable to the typical Republican belief in irrepressible conflicts. Of course, Paul will be participating in Republican primaries, so his position is likely to evolve further into an uglier amalgam of libertarian and neocon ideas, but as long as Graham lurks as a potential rival threatening a do-over of the McCain 2008 campaign, the Kentuckian will be able to draw a line keeping himself from selling out any further.

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