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.