GOP Foreign Policy Positions Expose Their Claim To Be A Party Of Limited Government As A Lie

The GOP claims to be a party that favors limited government, but its foreign policy positions reveal this to be little more than a lie.

Greg Scoblete took a look at the foreign policy provisions of the Republican Party’s platform and discovered something very interesting:

The most striking thing to me is the platform’s complete repudiation of the kind of limited government principles espoused in the domestic chapters of the platform. The title of the foreign policy platform is “American Exceptionalism” so you can already tell where this is going: the same federal government that the party does not trust to manage the domestic economy, or whose actions have a distorting and largely negative effect when acting at home, suddenly transforms itself into God’s appointed deputy for spreading freedom to the world’s peoples.

It’s a breathtaking transformation and one that is, ideologically at least, nonsensical. The national security state is the antithesis of limited government.

Daniel Larison comments:

As I said elsewhere today, limited government is a useful phrase for concealing a government of enormous power and intrusiveness. The national security state is the antithesis of a constitutional government of limited and enumerated powers, but that isn’t really the limited government that many contemporary advocates of limited government have in mind. Theirs is the “limited but energetic government” of David Brooks and Paul Ryan, and it includes more than enough room for the national security and warfare state. ”Limited government” is the phrase that big-government conservatives use to paper over the fact that they favor a powerful and activist federal government, albeit one with different spending priorities for the benefit of different interest groups.

These observations are, of course, absolutely correct. You cannot truly be for limited government if you support a foreign policy that presumes active intervention in the affairs of other nation, seems to consider conflict as a weapon of first resort rather than last resort, and is clearly heading in the direction of sacrificing fiscal sanity on the altar of massively increased defense spending. Additionally, Republicans are enthusiastic supporters of things such as the PATRIOT Act, enhanced interrogations (a/k/a torture), increased warrantless surveillance of American citizens in the name of “national security,” and a general attitude toward Muslims and Muslim-Americans that assumes that they are potential threats to the nation. These are not policy positions of people who believe in limited government, they are the policy positions who believes in a strong, activist government in the one area that is guaranteed to lead to expansions of government in other areas of life.

Randolph Bourne, the World War One era progressive who took a strong anti-war position as the United States headed, inevitably, toward fighting a war that it never should have been involved in, once said that “war is the health of the state.”  By this, he meant that war and aggressive foreign policy tend to increase the power of government in other areas of life, with little possibility that the newly assumed power would be given back once the military crisis in question had receded. One look at our own history reveals this to be an accurate assessment of how things work. In each of America’s major military engagements starting with the Civil War, the power of the government has increased significantly during the crisis period, often at the expense of civil liberties, and those new powers were largely never given back. The World War One era was accompanied by major increases in Federal power, including the Sixteenth Amendment, the Federal Reserve Board, and, in the wake of the war, a Red Scare that was in some ways worse than the McCarthy era. World War II and the Cold War led to the rise of the National Security State. The “War On Terror” has led to the rise of the Surveillance State and, as in the post-World War II era, massive increases in the arbitrary powers of the Executive at the expense of Congressional power. Now, the Republican Party seems intent on embarking upon a foreign policy course that makes such increases in Federal power inevitable, at the same time that they are claiming to be the party of limited government.

That’s not to say that everyone in the Republican Party agrees with the course that the Platform wants to take on foreign policy. In his speech last night at the convention,Kentucky Senator Rand Paul laid out a very different vision:

Republicans and Democrats alike must slay their sacred cows. Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent, and Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.

Republicans and Democrats must replace fear with confidence, confidence that no terrorist, and no country, will ever conquer us if we remain steadfast to the principles of our Founding documents.

We have nothing to fear except our own unwillingness to defend what is naturally ours, our God-given rights. We have nothing to fear that should cause us to forget or relinquish our rights as free men and women.

To thrive we must believe in ourselves again, and we must never — never — trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security.

Sadly, though, Paul is in the minority in the GOP. It’s a larger minority than it was when his father started talking about the idea of a more modest foreign policy, but it’s still the minority and, as Matt Welch notes, when push comes to shove the hawks in the GOP keep winning:

A few minutes after Rand Paul wrapped, the GOP’s 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), delivered a stern warning to not even think about cutting military spending.

“We can’t afford another $500 billion in cuts in our defense budget on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making,” McCain said, inaccurately, before insisting that “the leader of the free world must stand with” revolutionaries in Iran and Syria, among other interventionist duties. “The demand for our leadership in the world has never been greater. People don’t want less of America, they want more,” he said. “If America doesn’t lead, our adversaries will and the world will go darker, poorer and much more dangerous.”

It’s hard to imagine a vision of foreign policy more antithetical to that of Rand Paul’s father Ron, who was not given a speaking slot (he has not and probably will not endorse Romney), but was feted last night in a (politically) star-studded four-minute tribute video that — remarkably — did not once mention Dr. No’s foundational critique of U.S. foreign policy.

Two hours later the respectful foreign policy admonitions of Rand Paul were all but washed away by the ovations greeting former George W. Bush national security adviser and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who made the case for renewing Bush-era American exceptionalism.

“I know […] there is a wariness,” Rice said. “I know that it feels as if we have carried these burdens long enough. But we can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don’t lead: Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.”

It’s the sentiments of McCain and Rice, not those of Paul, that are the ideas of the GOP, and I have no doubt we will hear something very similar from Governor Romney in his speech tonight. What it reveals, though, is the hypocrisy of the Republican Party’s commitment to “limited government.” Quite simply, you cannot claim to be for limited government at the same time you are promoting a foreign policy that leads, inevitably, to big government. As long as the GOP remains committed to that goal, it’s claims to be a party of limited government are little more than a lie.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    The military is to make sure arabs give us our oil. American exceptionalism in that sense.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Senator Rand Paul, born on third base by virtue of his father Ron Paul who has been in elected office since 1976, talking about the evils of Government. That’s f’ing hilarious.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Meh. Politicians can multi-task. Governments too.

    It’s not logically inconsistent to want a limited government domestically and a powerful military with which to destroy one’s enemies globally. Sovereign governments, oh, say, merely for thousands of years, have treated risks from external enemies differently from pocketbook issues at home. Apples, oranges. Guns, butter. So on, so forth. Principles can’t be excuses for de facto suicide pacts. Lastly, and most importantly, the Chamberlain approach to foreign policy works about as well as jumping into a fire or riding a train to oblivion, if you catch my drift.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Meh. Politicians can multi-task. Governments too.

    It’s not logically inconsistent to want a limited government domestically and a powerful military with which to destroy one’s enemies globally. Sovereign governments, oh, say, merely for thousands of years, have treated risks from external enemies differently from pocketbook issues at home. Apples, oranges. Guns, butter. So on, so forth.

    Principles can’t be excuses for de facto suicide pacts.

    Lastly, and most importantly, the Chamberlain approach to foreign policy works about as well as jumping into a fire or riding a train to oblivion, if you catch my drift.

  5. Stonetools says:

    The Republlcans, since Reagan, somehow just doesn”t see Defense spending as government spending. It’s some other, holy thing and it can never, ever be cut.
    In the same way, the military just isn’t part of the government for Republicans. They can talk about inefficient government bureaucracy all day and not mention the biggest, most expensive government bureaucracy of all. Go figure.

    Based on that , I’m not all surprised that the party of limited government loves military action. In their mind, military action isn’t government action.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Oops, echo, echo.

  7. rudderpedals says:

    Republicans and Democrats alike must slay their sacred cows. Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent, and Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.

    Now he’s doing the Both Sides Do It dance, not that there’s any equivalence between Americans eating and out of control peacetime military spending.

  8. george says:

    These observations are, of course, absolutely correct. You cannot truly be for limited government if you support a foreign policy that presumes active intervention in the affairs of other nation, seems to consider conflict as a weapon of first resort rather than last resort, and is clearly heading in the direction of sacrificing fiscal sanity on the altar of massively increased defense spending.

    That’s basically it. The best they can argue is that as Tsar Nicholas says, they want limited government at home, big government (military branch) abroad. But I don’t think that really works, because paying for that big military comes out of the domestic pocket – basically, that big military is paid for by domestic tax payers rather than the countries its attempting to control. Meaning in practice its still a big domestic government.

    But the odd part is how they believe that government, which they consider to be inherently inefficient, suddenly becomes efficient when its trying to govern foreign countries. Even if that didn’t seem theoretically dubious, its clearly nonsense in practice – unless their argument is that they don’t care if its inefficent in controlling foreign countries. But that just brings back paying for its inefficiency domestically – ie again, big government.

    The GOP has, like the Democrats, for the last half century at least wanted big government. They just want different forms of it (military, drug war, moral standards – ie the bedrooms of the nation). But to the Democrats credit, at least they’re honest about wanting big government. The GOP lies about their desire for big government, somehow trying to pretend that the military isn’t part of the government, or that moral laws aren’t examples of the government interfering with people’s day to day lives.

    The funniest thing is when the GOP talks about the nanny state, while simultaneously being for the war on drugs, or suggesting moral laws. I sometimes wonder that they can keep a straight face. Again, the Democrats too want a nanny state, but at least they’re honest about it.

    Or as the saying goes, don’t piss on my back and tell me its raining.

  9. Herb says:

    “As long as the GOP remains committed to that goal, it’s claims to be a party of limited government are little more than a lie.”

    Now what made you think they were a party of limited government in the first place?

  10. An Interested Party says:

    It’s not logically inconsistent to want a limited government domestically and a powerful military with which to destroy one’s enemies globally.

    And these dangerous enemies are who, exactly? Hugo Chavez? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Kim Jong-un? Yeah, these are the reasons we need to spend as much on defense as just about every other country on Earth combined…

    Lastly, and most importantly, the Chamberlain approach to foreign policy works about as well as jumping into a fire or riding a train to oblivion, if you catch my drift.

    Sorry sweetie, but your drift is foolish and doesn’t even remotely apply to present geopolitical circumstances…

  11. We could try to build a good argument for the GOP, that American Exceptionalism is about an exportable freedom, and that our military is out there to bring other people on board … but it breaks down pretty quickly.

    Do Exceptionalists think that others really want to be like us?

    If they do, force is unnecessary. If they don’t, it isn’t freedom.

  12. superdestroyer says:

    Just another reason of why the Republicans are irrelevant and are doomed to fade away. Too many of the establishment Republicans that there should be no limit on government, its size, its spending, or its scope. They believe that politics is amounting getting control of government, rewarding their friends, and punishing their enemies.

    What the idiot establishment Republicans fail to understand is that every dollar spent by the federal (and state and local governments) makes the Democrats more powerful and makes the Republicans less powerful.

  13. Barry says:

    “Sadly, though, Paul is in the minority in the GOP. ”

    Is he? Has Rand lived up to his words yet? He’s a Senator, with filibuster powers.

    What has he filibustered?

  14. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “It’s not logically inconsistent to want a limited government domestically and a powerful military with which to destroy one’s enemies globally. ”

    Did you even read the post?