Here's How Republicans Can Fix Obama's Disastrous Foreign Policy
One (admittedly American-centric) history of the Cold War is that Democrats did stupid sh*t and Republicans cleaned up after them. Whether it was Korea, Vietnam or Jimmy Carter, Republican administrations frequently found themselves fixing the messes of their Democratic predecessors.
The pattern of Democrats doing stupid stuff and Republicans cleaning up after them has largely been absent in the post-Cold War era. This may be changing.
In his new book, The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today, Colin Dueck not only argues that Obama’s foreign policy has been a disaster for the United States, but also outlines a Republican grand strategy to fix America’s foreign affairs.
An associate professor of political science at George Mason University, Dueck is well-qualified to discuss these topics. His first book, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy, explored how America’s liberal principles have combined with international pressures to push the country to adopt certain grand strategies at crucial historical turning points. Dueck’s second book, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II, traces the evolution (and especially the continuities) in Republican foreign policy from Robert Taft to George W. Bush.
The Obama Doctrine is almost two books in one. In the first half, Dueck puts forth a relentless critique of Obama’s foreign policy, the gist of which he has outlined on The National Interest before. As Dueck writes in The Obama Doctrine, the “most distinctive and consistent emphasis” of Obama’s foreign policy “is on U.S. retrenchment and international accommodation in order to focus on progressive policy legacies at home.”
This strategy, Dueck contends, has largely prevented global affairs from impeding on Obama’s ability to implement his liberal domestic agenda, which he argues president has been fairly successful at passing. Moreover, he acknowledges that Obama has had some notable successes abroad, including killing bin Laden and using drone strikes to keep al-Qaeda on the run.
Nonetheless, Dueck argues that Obama’s foreign policy successes have been “more modest, uneven, and episodic” than the president would have you believe. He also points out that most of these successes have come “by embracing more hard-line strategies of deterrence, containment, or even (in the case of al-Qaeda) rollback.”
In general, Dueck concludes that Obama’s foreign policy has been a failure, the consequences of which America is only beginning to feel. “In reality,” he writes, “Obama’s primary and overarching emphasis on strategic retrenchment, international accommodation, and domestic priorities has allowed multiple security threats to germinate overseas in ways that already hold very dangerous consequences for American interests.”
Dueck sees little reason to believe that Obama will begin correcting his foreign policy mistakes during his remaining years in office. For one thing, as noted above, one of the central objectives of the Obama doctrine was to prevent international affairs from encroaching on the president’s ability to advance his progressive domestic policies. “From his particular perspective [then], the Obama doctrine has been a striking success.”
More to the point, Dueck notes that “political psychology and historical example” have both shown that “most presidents tend to keep operating on inbuilt policy assumptions, even when contrary evidence piles up.” This tendency is particularly prevalent in “highly educated, self-confident, and intelligent people with certain core ideological convictions—a description that certainly fits the current president.” Obama, Dueck concludes, “is therefore particularly unlikely to admit or even perceive that a foreign policy based upon faulty international assumptions is failing or has failed.”
It will thus be up to Obama’s successor to save U.S. foreign policy. The second part of The Obama Doctrine provides a blueprint for how a Republican administration can go about doing this.
Dueck begins the second part of The Obama Doctrine by sizing up the contemporary foreign policy landscape within the Republican Party. While maintaining that “Republicans are engaged in a healthy internal debate over some alternative foreign policy approaches, which is exactly what you would expect of a party out of power,” Dueck nonetheless concedes that “Republicans are more evenly divided over foreign policy issues today than at any time since the early 1950s.”
Dueck maps out three major foreign policy camps within the Republican Party. The first camp is the “conservative anti-interventionists” led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who “are a significant political force and faction in relation to foreign policy issues within the Republican Party.” While Dueck believes that Paul is a serious presidential contender, and anti-interventionism is growing especially among the grassroots, he usefully points out that anti-interventionism is not even widely held among members of the Tea Party, much less the Republican Party as a whole.