GOP's Anti-Obama Stance Hurts Its Shot at Foreign Policy Comeback

Article excerpt

The latest skirmish in the Republican Party's civil war devolved into name-calling late last month as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, referring to pork-barrel spending, christened New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie the "King of Bacon." But the fight had less to do with government waste (and the governor's waist) than with national security and foreign policy. A week earlier, Mr. Christie started the fight by labeling Mr. Paul's restrained approach to foreign policy "esoteric" and "dangerous."

Of the many clashes now splitting the Republican Party, it is the foreign policy battles that highlight the party's core problem: It defines itself by what it's against, rather than what it's for. While the neocons' badly drawn map of Iraq led the GOP into the foreign-policy wilderness, it's the party's anti-Obama compass that is keeping it from finding its way back.

From the late 1960s until the latter days of the Iraq War, Republicans dominated American foreign policy. The party was flush with sharp minds and clear doctrine. Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft steered the realist policies of Presidents Nixon and George H.W. Bush; Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle infused the Reagan administration with neoconservatism. The Democrats, meanwhile, were seen as weak-willed and witless.

Only when public opinion turned against the Iraq intervention did the Democrats gain the upper hand. President Obama "made the call" that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. He brought American troops home from Iraq and began to wind down US military presence in Afghanistan.

Yet by 2012, it looked as though Republicans could sidestep their foreign-policy disadvantage. A lengthy economic recession and languid recovery meant domestic policy took center stage. Republican war hawks gave way to deficit hawks. A few committed tea party Republicans even offered to put the Pentagon budget on the chopping block.

But when it came to confronting foreign policy directly, the party was hamstrung by its central tenet: opposing Barack Obama - even when this wasn't in the party's, or the country's, best interests. In domestic politics, this has earned the GOP a reputation as "the Party of No." In foreign policy, it has triggered a retreat to neoconservatism. That retreat means Republicans are blowing their best chance to reclaim their foreign-policy dominance in the eyes of the American public.

Mr. Obama's second term has not been kind to his foreign policy reputation. In the last few weeks, his approval ratings on the subject have plunged, nearing his all-time low. The Syrian civil war daily demonstrates the limits of American influence. And in Egypt, where Obama launched his Islamic outreach efforts in 2009, the deputy prime minister Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi recently charged that the US has "turned [its] back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that."

Yet instead of using the administration's blunders as a path out of the foreign-policy wilderness by offering a strong, viable alternative, leading Republicans have scouted out an even more unpopular position. Even as opinion polls show the American public has little appetite for military adventurism, the GOP has doubled down on neoconservative posturing. A phalanx of senators like John McCain and Marco Rubio has called for greater intervention in Libya, Syria, and even Iran, while deriding the president's restrained approach as "disgraceful."

The alternative for the Republican Party is Rand Paul. …