Last week, the House Republican leadership released their “Pledge to America” in an attempt to outline the Republican plan for governing. Yet, despite being 45 pages long and having an entire section devoted to national security, “the Pledge” almost completely ignores the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” are mentioned only once and that was only in reference to Iran. The failure of the Pledge to address the wars exposes both a shocking disregard for those fighting and dying on the part of Republican-initiated wars, as well as a clear absence of any of the ideas about how to bring these conflicts to an end. It also demonstrates that the Republican Party is now completely divided on foreign policy. The emergence of the Tea Party movement may have energized the right-wing base, but it also has exposed a sharp split over foreign policy between nativist-isolationists and war-seeking interventionist neoconservatives. The only thing that seemingly unites the diverging groups is Islamophobia. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment of national security realists, once the counter-balancing force to both these strains, have seen their influence in the party rapidly shrink. Much of the disarray is a result of the disastrous Bush years, which has seen national security increasingly emerge as a political strength for progressives, especially after progressives campaigned successfully against the war in Iraq in 2006 and 2008 and with President Obama polling higher on his handling of national security than on other issues. This poses a real challenge for the right. As the Center for American Progress’ Brian Katulis concludes, “The Bush administration’s ‘global war on terror’ and overall reckless approach to foreign policy may end up doing to Republicans what the Vietnam War did to Democrats for many years: leave them stuck in the past as they refight defense policies, internally divided and searching for a coherent message on national security.”
WHAT WARS?: The Pledge’s failure to address the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is striking considering that just a few years after, Bush declared himself a “war president” and Republicans were more trusted on national security than Democrats. There now appears to be no unified GOP position on Iraq or Afghanistan, defense spending, or global engagement. The emergence of the Tea Party movement has exposed a split in which limited government libertarian conservatives clash with those seeking to expand the power and reach of the national security apparatus of the state both at home and abroad. The New York Times‘ Peter Baker writes in Foreign Policy, “When it comes to foreign policy, the unity of the Tea Party stops at the water’s edge. Its leaders are hopelessly divided over everything from the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism policies to free trade and the promotion of democracy abroad. And with the Tea Party increasingly serving as the Republican Party’s driving force, the schism underscores the emerging foreign-policy debate on the American right. So recently united behind President George W. Bush‘s war on terror, Republicans now find themselves splintering into familiar interventionist and isolationist factions, with the Dick Cheney side of the party eager to reshape the world versus the economic populists more concerned about cutting taxes at home than spending them on adventures abroad.” Katulis notes, “The last time Republicans were so sharply at odds was the party’s debate with its isolationist wing before World War II.” He adds that “dissension in the Republican ranks was on full display in the conservative reactions to the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy this spring. Conservative foreign policy analysts couldn’t decide whether to accuse the Obama administration of plagiarism or treason. Some praised the strategy as a continuation of the Bush administration’s approach; others condemned it as a recipe for weakness and an appeasement of America’s enemies.” The split was also evident when Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele was ferociously repudiated by neoconservative torch-bearers after advocating not to “engage in a land war in Afghanistan.” Yet, as Baker notes, “when nearly half a million Tea Party supporters voted online to define their campaign agenda, not a single one of the 10 planks they agreed on had anything to do with the world beyond America’s borders.”
ISLAMOPHOBIA UNITES: In the eight points put forward in the Pledge’s national security section, there is no plan or concept for how to engage the world. Instead, the one area that appears to unite Republicans is nativist bigotry toward Muslims and Hispanics. Five of the eight points within the Republican plan on foreign policy actually have more to do with immigration policy and keeping people out of America. It is no coincidence that this past summer, right-wing Islamophobic protests emerged across the country, ginned up by a combination of Tea Partiers and neoconservatives. Groups like “Keep America Safe,” led by Elizabeth Cheney and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, sought to stoke fear and hate of Muslims over the Islamic community center in New York and other neoconservatives like Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Studies claim that Sharia law is threatening to take over the U.S. As CAP’s Matt Duss assesses, “in order to reposition themselves to retake the reins of power, the Cheneys must rescue the ‘global war on terror’ from the ash heap of history, and they’re doing this by playing the one card they’ve got: fear. Their larger goal, then, is to resuscitate the neocons’ post-September 11 vision of a world in which the United States, unbound by rules or reality, imposes its will on friend and enemy alike.” These claims also play well off the conspiratorial fears of Tea Partiers who believe that President Obama is a Muslim who wasn’t born in the United States and of those that believe “their country” is being taken away from them by immigrants.
SHRINKING OLD GUARD: One group that is rapidly loosing sway within the Republican Party is the former old guard made up of traditional foreign policy realists. This group includes conservative stalwarts and the Secretaries of State of every Republican President in the last 40 years, including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, and Colin Powell. While skeptical of international entanglements, they also understand the need for America’s global engagement. Perhaps no other issue exposes how far much of the Republican party has moved to the right than the debate over the New START treaty with Russia. The treaty updates and extends a treaty that was negotiated by President Reagan and ratified under President George H.W. Bush by a senate vote of 93-6. After months of review, it is now likely that the New START treaty will be ratified if brought to a vote. Since the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote which saw three Republicans Richard Lugar, Bob Corker, and Johnny Isakson vote for the treaty, it should have the support of enough Republicans to reach the 67 votes needed for ratification. While the committee vote on New START was seen as a shocking level of bipartisanship, the mere fact that the treaty has not moved more rapidly through the senate and the level of disagreement on the right is a sign of the declining influence of the Republican foreign policy establishment, which has almost unanimously come out in support of the treaty. New START has the support of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Colin Powell, James Baker James Schlesinger, Stephen Hadley, and the unanimous backing of the top brass of the U.S. military. Yet the Republican leadership in the Senate have yet to support it, and the Heritage Foundation,GOP Sens. James Inhofe (OK) and Jim DeMint (SC), and Mitt Romney have all opposed the treaty.