How the GOP has screwed itself on foreign policy

Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course. I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course.

I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an essay in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. It's entitled "Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy." A small taste:

So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party's foreign policy.

Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course.

I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an essay in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. It’s entitled "Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy." A small taste:

So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing — the "global war on terror" — and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party’s foreign policy.

Since 9/11, Republicans have known only one big thing — the "global war on terror" — and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don’t act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation.

Read the whole thing. A few additional notes:

1) I wrote this more than close to two months ago, and it was put to bed six weeks ago. That’s an eternity in policymaker time, and I was worried that my primary thesis — that the GOP’s foreign policy thinking has devolved — would be proven wrong as party elders recognized that the November election required a rethink. Thankfully for my essay — and unfortunately for the country — the GOP has continued to act in a blinkered manner when it comes to cabinet appointees and treaty ratifications. There’s little you can count on in Washington anymore — except the ideological rigidity of the GOP.

2) My preferred title would have been "How the GOP has Screwed Itself on Foreign Policy," but that was a nonstarter. I think my title is more accurate, however.

3) Lest one conclude from this snark — not to mention my 2012 election snark — that I’m happy about this state of affairs, I find the whole situation remarkably depressing. Democracies do not function terribly well when one of the two major parties either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what it says on matters of foreign policy. It basically gives a pass to the other guys because they sound… well…. less crazy. I’ve been thoroughly underwhelmed by the Obama administration’s foreign policy machinations as of late — but because I don’t see a viable alternative being put forward by the GOP, it’s tough to be too critical.

4) Will this essay make a difference? I have my doubts, but we’ll see. Foreign affairs remains one of the few policy arenas where there is some degree of cross-party consensus. It was this consensus that killed Mitt Romney when he stumbled on foreign policy matters during the 2012 campaign. That hopeful note aside, I fear that this consensus is breaking down. I understand that Foreign Affairs is planning a response essay by someone more firmly ensconced within mainstream GOP foreign policy thinking. I look forward to starting a dialogue. Mostly I hope that the GOP’s foreign policy wonks appreciate the hole that’s been dug. As I note later in the essay:

Every additional year the party is locked out of the executive branch the experience and skills of GOP foreign policymakers will atrophy while those of their Democratic counterparts will grow. It took the Democratic Party a generation to heal politically from the foreign policy scars of Vietnam, and several years in office during the Clinton administration to develop new cadres of competent mid-career professionals. And public inattention to the subject doesn’t help, offering few major opportunities for rebranding. So the GOP has its work cut out for it.

5) Footnoting is impossible in a Foreign Affairs essay. Still, I wanted to acknowledge Colin Dueck’s Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II as a very useful resource as I was drafting this article.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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