Saturday, June 18, 2011

After a turbulent decade abroad, the Republican Party turns inward

Neoconservative foreign policy is dead -- or so I infer from the first Republican presidential debate, held June 13 in New Hampshire. None of the seven candidates talked about the moral purposes of American power. Quite the contrary: Those who addressed the current bombing campaign in Libya opposed it as a distraction from "national interests." Those who talked about the war in Afghanistan spoke of getting out rather than winning. And none showed any eagerness to talk about foreign policy at all; the subject absorbed a bit under 10 percent of the two-hour debate.

How times have changed! Fifteen years ago, William Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs titled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." They chided the conservatives of the day for embracing a "tepid consensus" on foreign policy consisting chiefly of Kissingerian realism, and proposed in its stead President Ronald Reagan's policy of "military supremacy and moral confidence." They argued that the end of the Cold War era had left America with unrivaled power; rather than retreating from a destiny thrust upon it by history, America should accept its new role as the "benevolent global hegemon." They concluded that the United States should marshal its military, diplomatic, economic, and, yes, moral force in order not only to preserve the global order but to make it more like our own: more democratic, more committed to free markets.

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