The real turn in Republican foreign policy

In the wake of the GOP debate earlier this week, there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether Republicans have shifted away from the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and towards offshore balancing or isolationism.  I don’t think it’s a settled question — I’d conclude that it’s partly ...

In the wake of the GOP debate earlier this week, there's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether Republicans have shifted away from the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and towards offshore balancing or isolationism.  I don't think it's a settled question -- I'd conclude that it's partly a genuine realpolitik backlash to the massive costs of Iraq, partly a reflection of public sentiment, and partly a partisan reaction to the fact that it's a Democratic president who's launching wars kinetic military actions nowadays. 

What's more disturbing, however, and uncommented until now, was the total lack of support for freer trade among the GOP field. 

This came through loud and clear through what was said and what was not said in New Hampshire.  Trade didn't come up all that much during the debate.  Tim Pawlenty provided the only comment of substance, and it wasn't a productive one:

In the wake of the GOP debate earlier this week, there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether Republicans have shifted away from the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and towards offshore balancing or isolationism.  I don’t think it’s a settled question — I’d conclude that it’s partly a genuine realpolitik backlash to the massive costs of Iraq, partly a reflection of public sentiment, and partly a partisan reaction to the fact that it’s a Democratic president who’s launching wars kinetic military actions nowadays. 

What’s more disturbing, however, and uncommented until now, was the total lack of support for freer trade among the GOP field. 

This came through loud and clear through what was said and what was not said in New Hampshire.  Trade didn’t come up all that much during the debate.  Tim Pawlenty provided the only comment of substance, and it wasn’t a productive one:

[N]umber one, we’ve got to have fair trade, and what’s going on right now is not fair.

I’m for a fair and open trade but I’m not for being stupid and I’m not for being a chump. And we have individuals and organizations and countries around this world who are not following the rules when it comes to fair trade. We need a stronger president and somebody who’s going to take on those issues.

In presidential campaigns, this amounts to "don’t expect to see any new trade deals anytime soon."  As for the other dimensions of globalization, well, peruse the section on immigration provided you have a green card if you dare.  No one said anything about the positive economic and demographic benefits America receives from immigration. 

The other thing that was striking was what wasn’t said during the debate.  All of the candidates focused like sharks with frikkin’ laser beams attached to them on the economy.  The standard GOP litany of solutions for jump-starting the economy were offered:  tax cuts, cutting regulation, tax cuts, cutting government spending, tax cuts, reigning in the Fed, tax cuts, ending Obamacare, tax cuts.  Not one of the candidates, however, mentioned trade liberalization as part of their fornmula for getting America moving again. 

To be fair, this isn’t as bad as when Obama and Clinton were debating over who would eviscerate NAFTA faster in 2008 (and funny, isn’t it, how that never happened).  And it’s not like I was a huge fan of Obama’s trade policy.  To be just as fair, howeever, at least the current president completed KORUS negotiations and signaled strong interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  I get the sense that no one in the GOP field is going to stick their neck out on international trade or investment.  For the party that claims to be in favor of lower taxes and regulation, this is a travesty

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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