The Republican flirtation with dovish noninterventionism is over. It wasn’t much of a fling.
For five years, we’ve been hearing that foreign policy and national security issues would split the Republican party. The new noninterventionists, we were told, buoyed by war-weariness and deep concern over government spending, would mount a serious challenge to the more hawkish, internationalist traditions of the Republican party.
The supposed paradigm shift was always much more about big personalities and media hype than substantive change. That’s not to say there was nothing to the speculation. Some Republicans celebrated the automatic cuts in defense spending required by the sequester, and others contributed to the misinformation about the terrorist surveillance programs. But whatever the real temptations of a GOP return to Robert Taftian isolationism and permanent cuts to national security budgets, they’re pretty much gone.
Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina, Alaska, New Hampshire, Iowa, Arkansas, and elsewhere are running with a heavy emphasis on their hawkishness. New Jersey governor Chris Christie is hitting Barack Obama on his handling of ISIS. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech on October 6 at the American Enterprise Institute on rebuilding U.S. defenses—three weeks after Marco Rubio gave a speech entitled “American Strength: Building 21st Century Defense Capabilities.” Rand Paul, the most outspoken of the new noninterventionists, and a man who has spent much of his time in the Senate railing against hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, is now echoing their calls for airstrikes on terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
“The conservative coalition has always been hawkish,” says Brad Todd, a Republican strategist involved in several campaigns this cycle. “The few doves in the Republican coalition like Rand Paul always get exposed for not being conservative on foreign policy in times of crisis. The doves believe in a false premise—that disengagement brings peace instead of chaos. The same theory has failed in every era of American foreign policy since the 1800s, and it will fail again.”
He adds, “I do think the mess Obama is creating overseas will be a major factor—and a disqualifier—in the 2016 primaries.”
Accoridng to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released last week, 69 percent of Republicans call themselves “hawks” and just 25 percent identify themselves as “doves.” Those percentages are even more interesting considering the hackneyed definitions the pollsters assigned to those descriptors. A hawk, they said, is someone “who believes that military force should be used frequently to promote U.S. policy” and a dove believes “the U.S. should rarely or never use military force.” (I know many reputed hawks who believe that “the U.S. should rarely or never use military force,” but should be prepared to do so when absolutely necessary.)
Among the most-discussed prospective candidates, the reemergence of these issues probably benefits Marco Rubio as much as anyone. Rubio, who serves on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, has made a priority of national security since his arrival in Washington in January 2011. And it was a point of emphasis for him in the 2010 campaign that sent him to Congress.
According to several people close to Rubio, the senator has not made a final decision about whether he’ll run for president in 2016. But a recent interview made clear that if he does run, he will do so as a proponent of U.S. global leadership and military dominance.
Rubio called for dramatic increases in defense spending. He said the United States should be prepared to send ground troops to Iraq if necessary to defeat ISIS. He argued that the United States must “be able to project power into multiple theaters in the world.” He said that the United States should embrace its role as a superpower and “conduct a multifaceted foreign policy.”
These are views that will be popular with the Republican primary voters Rubio will need if he decides to run for president, and they will no doubt be shared by most of his prospective rivals. But Rubio didn’t stick to arguments that will play well in focus groups.
Rubio said he wished President Obama had committed the United States more deeply in post-Qaddafi Libya. He called Republican support for the sequester “short-sighted and a mistake.” And Rubio not only embraced foreign aid, he contrasted U.S. foreign aid, which he says is driven by humanitarian and moral concerns, with China’s transparently interest-driven aid.