In a previous article, I suggested “the DeSantis doctrine” has three components. First, win elections and govern effectively. Second, push back against the woke-industrial complex. Now I lay out the third component: the DeSantis doctrine in U.S. foreign policy.
Internationally, there is typically little call for state governors to develop an elaborate foreign policy stance. However, Florida has an unusually big footprint overseas as well as in the United States, and Governor Ron DeSantis has spoken out on several important international matters. He also has a record of statements and actions on national security issues going back to his years in Congress.
During his time as a U.S. House Representative, from 2013 to 2018, DeSantis was critical of the Obama administration’s foolish attempts to accommodate Communist Cuba. In Congress, DeSantis supported aggressive measures relating to the targeting and detention of suspected Salafi-jihadist terrorists. He criticized Pentagon waste but supported a strong U.S. military with all the budgetary implications. He called for U.S. aid to Israel. He was furthermore an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama’s nuclear arms control giveaways to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Once Donald Trump was elected president, DeSantis applauded that administration’s withdrawal from the ill-fated Iran deal. The Floridian also rallied to Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea. In other words, all mainstream Republican positions during those years.
As governor of Florida since 2019, DeSantis has continued to call attention to the depredations of left-wing dictatorships in Latin America, including those of Cuba and Venezuela. He has signed legislation designating one day of the year to honor the victims of Communist regimes while insisting that schoolchildren learn the truth about it. For those of us with ancestors who managed to escape the Soviet Union, it’s gratifying to see this departure from the usual left-liberal reticence in condemning Marxist atrocities. And of course, many Floridians know from firsthand experience how rotten Communism really is.
Speaking of Marxist-Leninist dictatorships: in relation to the People’s Republic of China, DeSantis has said and done things indicating he understands the scale of the challenge. As he pointed out in his September speech to the National Conservatism conference in Miami, free trade with China demonstrably failed to soften one-party rule. It enriched that regime while leaving it more threatening than ever before. DeSantis appears to grasp that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence is a transnational threat, not simply a conventional military one. Last year, he signed into law measures requiring companies that do over $100,000 in business with Florida to disclose any ties to China. He banned the CCP-affiliated Confucius Institute from state colleges and universities. And he has called on the Florida state legislature to block Chinese companies from buying up real estate in the Sunshine State. As he noted while visiting Bonita Springs last month:
If you look at the Chinese Communist Party, they’ve been very active throughout the Western Hemisphere in gobbling up land and investing in different things…and when you see how they’ve wielded their authority - especially with President Xi, who's taken a much more Marxist-Leninist turn since he’s been ruling China – that is not in the best interests of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases.
Over at the New York Times, Bonnie Kristian recently worried that a President DeSantis might be insufficiently committed to accommodating anti-American dictatorships overseas. I must admit this fear does not keep me up at night. The editor of Modern Age, Dan McCarthy, strikes me as more persuasive when he points out that refusing to accommodate the mullahs of Iran does not necessarily equal support for some gigantic nation-building expedition to overthrow them. If we survey the DeSantis record carefully, we can see he does not quite fit preconceived notions of what a Republican must believe. For example, in 2013, as then-President Obama was ramping up plans for “unbelievably small” airstrikes against Syria, Congressman DeSantis questioned the utility of the administration’s half-baked plans. As he said at the time:
The Obama administration has not articulated a clear objective for using military force in Syria, much less a plan to achieve that objective. This is all the more problematic given the realities of a Syrian civil war in which Assad’s dictatorship (supported by Iran and Hezbollah) is fighting so-called rebels that are populated with Sunni Islamic supremacists and Al Qaeda fighters.
Not exactly the neoconservative position. And yet the governor clearly favors robust deterrence. A year ago, when Putin attacked Ukraine, DeSantis called out the Biden administration for failing to prevent the invasion. During the summer of 2021, DeSantis characterized Biden’s chaotic disengagement from Afghanistan as terribly weak and likely to invite further aggression. The governor was right about that. At the same time, he has confessed to certain doubts about prior U.S. strategies in Afghanistan. He once said: “After 9/11, we needed to go and rout the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But I think in hindsight, we should have come home after that. I think trying to do democracy and all that, I think has been very problematic.”
When it comes to the much-vaunted global institutions that liberal internationalists revere, DeSantis shows no special deference. “I look at these people at the World Economic Forum,” he says, “and I’m like, they just view us a bunch of peasants.” They certainly do. The World Trade Organization, he points out, paved the way for the stupendous rise of the People’s Republic of China. The World Health Organization mismanaged and wrongly acquiesced to that same regime over the Wuhan virus three years ago. The United Nations—an organization that boasts numerous tinpot dictators within its ranks—has even had the temerity to critique Florida state laws in criminal policing. DeSantis laughs that off as a badge of honor. As he says, summing up his whole approach as governor, “I am basically the protector of the state’s freedom and opportunity.” So, he pushes back against the woke-industrial complex whether its demands emanate from inside or outside the United States. If Davos doesn’t like it, tough luck.
All things considered, when DeSantis’s statements on foreign policy matters are taken as a whole, he comes across as neither a hyper-interventionist, nor a dove, nor a liberal. Instead, he comes across as someone who favors a strong U.S. military, together with a certain care and decision in using it. Multilateral institutions receive no automatic submission in his view. Nor do anti-American dictators who insist on diplomatic, economic, and strategic concessions from the United States. Taken together, this is an outlook sometimes described as Jacksonian. We could do a lot worse. In fact, we frequently have.
So, there you have the broad possible outlines of a DeSantis doctrine: the protector. First, win elections and govern effectively. Second, push back against the woke-industrial complex. Third, guard against America’s self-described enemies overseas.
Of course, there are those spanning the ideological spectrum who insist that no U.S. president can possibly do all three things at once.
And what I’d like to know is: why not?
Colin Dueck is a Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, and a senior non-resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Image: Hunter Crenian/Shutterstock.