Where Have All the Realists Gone?

Domestic politics explain the Republican presidential candiates’ love-affair with the Bush Doctrine.

It's become almost trite to bemoan the lack of real debate in Washington when it comes to foreign policy-especially in a time when people are maneuvering for jobs and don't want to say anything too controversial. Regardless, things still are what they are. In a bloggingheads exchange that took place on Monday, Mark Schmitt, of the New American Foundation, and Ross Douthat, of The Atlantic, asked the important question: of "why there aren't more/any realists in the Republican-Primary debate?" In the wake of what has almost been unanimously agreed to be a catastrophe in Iraq, it is surprising not only that Bush's rhetoric is still appealing, but that top-tier Republican candidates have chosen to take on a More-Bush-than-Bush strategy in hopes of luring voters. Schmitt proposes that this is largely a result of domestic politics-specifically, the shaky domestic politics of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. The idea being that none of these three candidates is particularly strong on the domestic front and therefore opt to change the topic to whom is going to bring the biggest, most-spectacular victory in Iraq (i.e. Mitt Romney claiming that he is perplexingly going to "double Guantanamo"); each one hoping that by changing the issue to foreign policy, the focus will be off their domestic-policy shortcomings. Not to mention that in the absence of a domestic agenda, it's a risky move to adopt a more limited, nuanced strategy abroad.

In a follow-up blog post Douthat concurs with Schmitt's domestic-policy explanation by citing a Washington Post poll that lists 65 percent of "leaned Republicans" still believing that Bush is leading the Republican Party in the right direction. The numbers don't necessarily indicate that primary voters are turned off by realists-rather they show how much the base still has faith in George W. Bush, who has been far from adopting a realist foreign policy-strategy. When it comes to explaining the lack of realists, this strong loyalty points to one reason why there hasn't been more of a push for a Scowcroftian shift among the candidates; namely that the sort of "crusades" that Bush has become famous for still carry some allure for the Republican base.

Nicholas J. Xenakis is senior editor at The National Interest.