From the July/August 2009 issue of The National Interest.
THE REPUBLICAN Party is not in trouble. It is in peril. In 2006 it lost control of Congress. In 2008 it lost the presidency. And in 2010 it may lose again unless the party changes course, particularly in foreign policy, where it has, by and large, enjoyed a commanding lead over Democrats for decades.
The GOP long championed pragmatism in foreign policy, marrying diplomacy with force, prudence with vigilance. America is served best by a coldly austere assessment of its ambitions and the resources required to fulfill them. It is a strategic approach that emphasizes the assertion of national interests, but also shuns wantonly antagonizing foreign powers-and this was once emblematic of the GOP.
Then came September 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Writing in this journal shortly after George W. Bush's reelection in 2004, Robert F. Ellsworth and Dimitri K. Simes warned, "Continuing to follow the prescriptions of the neoconservative faction in the Republican party may damage President Bush's legacy, imperil the country's fiscal stability and complicate America's ability to exercise global leadership." Since then, all three have come to pass. Bush's tenure has become a byword for incompetence. America's economy is in shambles. And its ability to exercise leadership has indeed been seriously compromised.
Now that the idea of America as the redeemer nation has been debunked, it might seem obvious that the Republican Party would embark upon a rethinking of the Bush administration's insalubrious approach to foreign affairs-a toxic mixture of unilateralism and crusading universalism. Ascribing more importance to experience than radical innovation has, after all, been a fundamental conservative tenet for centuries. "I have always understood, absolutely to prescribe," Edmund Burke observed in parliamentary debate in 1774,