by David Beilstein
Daniel Foster of National Review Online weighed in on the Chuck Hagel nomination. Mr Foster does a able job summing up the political inertia unfolding around Mr Obama’s pick of the former Nebraska senator.
Why? Consider what Hagel’s nomination signifies. Unlike his predecessor, who called the defense cuts built into the sequester “disastrous,” Hagel thinks they’re A-OK. And that’s precisely why he’s the president’s man. As David Brooks put it, Hagel has been nominated “to supervise the beginning of [a] generation-long process of defense cutbacks,” necessitated both by the president’s ambivalence about American global hegemony and by his preference for butter over guns in our impending debt and entitlement reckonings. Hagel is also functionally neutral in the Arab–Israeli conflict, an avowed opponent of military intervention in Iran, and (after his rebirth as an Iraq War skeptic) a maximally circumspect foreign policy “realist” who would be more than content to oversee a net U.S. withdrawal from global hotspots (including, but not limited to, Af-Pak).
Mr Foster’s thinking here is confusing to me. Even non-isolationists of a robust conservative stripe have traditionally been more than skeptical of U.S. Military intervention. While I’d be the first to say the isolationism of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson (pawned off as the traditional conservative approach) is comical – but it equally is not the teleological design of neo-conservativism. This does not mean America abandons the world – but it does suggest that America is radically prudent where and when it does get involved in the past. The Republican Party has long since forgotten that theme – learned through Reagan’s experience of Beirut, Lebanon.
No matter. Mr Foster does his spirited best in documenting Mr Obama’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome when it comes to foreign policy.
This constellation of foreign-policy views is not too different from that of candidate Obama, circa 2007, 2008, or even 2009. That such views are nonetheless leftward of the actual policies that have emerged from the Obama administration may sound odd, but in fact reflects how outside the foreign-policy mainstream those views were and to a certain extent still are. Even if the military-industrial complex isn’t the evil conspiracy of caricature, it is nevertheless real, and governed by dynamics that cut across electoral cycles. This is why the civil servants and contractors who populate the foreign-policy and defense bureaucracies, along with their symbiotic appropriators in Congress, often overwhelm the wide-eyed political promises of newly elected executives and why presidents are often more hawkish than they had been as candidates.
This all might be chalked up to mere inertia; but there’s also, and more importantly, a bipartisan preponderance of policymakers and policy-influencers — from think tankers to congressmen — who are more bullish on the use of American power, and more dispositionally pro-Israel than is the president. This has made it difficult for President Obama to actualize candidate Obama’s foreign policy, and explains why he has not been able to sever himself more cleanly from the Bush era. Installing Hagel gives him a powerful ally in this fight, and four years to maneuver without the political massaging (i.e., timely pivoting toward pro-Israel groups) necessitated by a reelection campaign. That Hagel is nominally a Republican, and thus can coat the policies in a patina of bipartisanship, doesn’t hurt either.
What does nominally Republican mean? This seems to suggest Republicanism is inherently classical liberal. But this cannot be true.
Also, it would do the reader well if Mr Foster recognised Mr Hagel’s nominal Republicanism results from his ideas about the state – not about foreign policy. Many conservatives (think Pat Buchannan) would agree with most of what Mr Hagel believes foreign policy-wise.
Mr Buchannan’s magazine The American Conservative, and many of his recent bestselling books are dedicated to a more classical, hence paleo-conservative [meaning restrained] approach to American use of force. The former Nixon speech writer beat William F Buckley, Jr (by way over a year) coming out against the Iraq War and he did not do it based on leftist premises – but classically liberal ones.
Mr Foster’s prose does more to establish the notion the GOP has a large foreign policy problem than anything else. They are, as a party, between a rock and hard place. The effort to use U.S. Military intervention in order to shape the world and build the future’s tomorrow [Wilsonian democracy projects] – one of shalom and democracy – was discredited by the handling of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
And there is large evidence such aims are neither conservative or of the Framer’s vision. At the same time – the world abroad is dangerous. Enemies of America abound.
The threat to freedom germinates.
But to move forward politically means a cogent and cohesive foreign policy Republicans can run on that puts various classical liberal interests front and center – [putting America’s interests front and center] – thus allowing for the support to win national elections and better secure and preserve our unique and special civitas.