Byline: Merrill Matthews, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
It's time for conservatives to have an open and honest debate about foreign policy. What, exactly, does a conservative foreign policy look like?
Arguably, it has been 30 years since we last had such a debate, when Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter, who was as bad on foreign policy as he was on domestic. Those were dangerous times and Reagan campaigned for changing direction, challenging Soviet expansionism and restoring the strength of, and respect for, the U.S. and its military.
George Bush 41 promised to stay the course when he ran for president, and Bob Dole offered no foreign policy vision in his 1996 presidential campaign.
In the 2000 election, Bush 43 promised not to engage in nation building, and then, after 9/11 and invading Iraq, became the biggest nation builder since the Marshall Plan. And as a presidential candidate, John McCain wanted to double-down on Mr. Bush's policies.
With some exceptions - e.g., Pat Buchanan and current Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul - most conservatives were unwilling to criticize George W. Bush's foreign policy, even if they had concerns.
For one thing, they wanted to show solidarity with our soldiers in uniform. Perhaps more important, Bush supporters and a number in the neoconservative camps decried any criticism of Mr. Bush's foreign policy or democracy-building efforts as disloyalty or being soft on terrorism. And so conservatives have largely avoided a real foreign policy debate for decades - and it shows.
Conservatives generally agree on the basics of a pro-growth economic policy - i.e., lower taxes, cut government spending, reduce regulations, etc. - but I cannot identify one agreed-upon principle behind a conservative foreign policy. The GOP presidential candidates mostly criticize President Obama's policies.
But that approach carries its own problems. After spending two years attacking Mr. Bush's foreign policies as a senator and presidential candidate, Mr. Obama has largely embraced them - much to the chagrin of the left. If the Republican strategy is to attack Mr. …