Past Is Present
Bush and the Future of Republican Party Foreign Policy
TREVOR B. MCCRISKEN
For all the talk of the “neoconservative moment,” the “Bush revolution” in U.S. foreign policy, and the related claims that his radical departures would define the direction of U.S. foreign affairs for years to come,1 much of George W. Bush’s response to the foreign policy challenges he faced while in office was rooted in familiar territory for American conservatives. The main characteristics of the Bush administration’s foreign policy were (1) an emphasis on U.S. primacy in world affairs and a tendency toward unilateralism; (2) a largely black-and-white view of the world, the U.S. role within it, the threats the United States faces, and the relative positions of allies and adversaries; (3) claims to the universal advancement of democracy, freedom, and liberty while defending and promoting U.S. interests; and (4) a willingness not only to threaten but to use the military force of the United States in order to advance political objectives. Each of these core characteristics of the administration’s foreign policy drew upon a rich heritage of conservative foreign policy making in the Republican Party. By drawing on evidence from the foreign policy legacies of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, this chapter argues that Bush operated largely within the tradition of conservative American foreign policy. When he departed significantly from this tradition, he faced criticism not only from Democratic opponents but also from among conservatives. The departures that were most heavily criticized were those where the administration was perceived to lack the prudence and caution that had characterized conservative foreign policy in most previous Republican administrations, particularly over the use of force and attempts to forge new democracies. It was in these areas that John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign saw the greatest need for correction and that the future path of conservative foreign policy thinking is likely to focus.