For the first time in a decade, it seems, the Republican Party doesn’t know where it stands on foreign policy. Instead of being united around George W. Bush’s vision of democratic revolution, conservatives are increasingly divided over what lessons to draw from America’s post-9/11 interventions.
But while this division shows up in the current presidential field, it’s distilled to its essence in two high-profile Republicans who aren’t running (not in 2012, at least): Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Rubio and Paul substantially represent the neoconservative and paleoconservative wings of the Republican party.
Douthat on Rubio:
Rubio is the great neoconservative hope, the champion of a foreign policy that boldly goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy. In the Senate, he’s constantly pressed for a more hawkish line against the Mideast’s bad actors. His maiden Senate speech was a paean to national greatness, whose peroration invoked John F. Kennedy and insisted that America remain the “watchman on the wall of world freedom.”
Douthat on Paul:
Paul, on the other hand, has smoothed the crankish edges off his famous father’s antiwar conservatism, reframing it in the language of constitutionalism, the national interest and the budget deficit. (As Matt Continetti noted in The Weekly Standard, “Whereas Ron Paul criticizes U.S. interventionism in tropes familiar to the left — anti-imperial blowback, manipulation by neocons, moral equivalence — Rand Paul merely says America doesn’t have the money.”
The difference in approach to foreign policy is most clear in Obama's recent incursion in Lybia:
Both senators have criticized President Obama’s handling of the intervention. But Rubio has argued that we should be striking harder against Qaddafi, while Paul has dismissed the war as both unwise and unconstitutional.
Douthat expresses my own view, eloquently:
The country is weary of war, but the story Rubio tells, with eloquence and passion, is still tremendously appealing — the story of a great republic armed and righteous, with no limits on what it can accomplish in the world.
This is a story that many conservatives — and many Americans — want to believe. Once, I believed it myself.
But that was many years and many wars ago, and now I think Rand Paul is right.
We are a republic, not an empire. Making war on nations that have not made war on us is deeply immoral and deeply foolish. Qaddafi is an evil man, with much innocent blood on his hands, but the Libyan civil war is not our war.
True conservatives eschew war unless it is unavoidable and clearly in the national interest. Wars of ideology and wars of assertion of national elan are wars of facism and of the left (facism-national socialism- is of the left), and have no place in a genuinely conservative foreign policy. The Republican party has traditionally been isolationist, which is wise, and the interventionalist foreign policy so dominant among modern Republican elites has been grafted onto the party by neo-conservatives, who are Republican converts from the left and who have not lost their 'world revolution' instincts.
Conservative foreign policy is instinctively isolationist, and the Republican party, under the sway of the Tea Parties, is becoming much more conservative, which is a very good thing.