What Is The Tea Party Foreign Policy?

The Tea Party movement doesn't seem to have a coherent view on foreign policy. Which means that a Tea Party victory will just mean more of the same Republican neo-conservatism.

While we’ve heard from the Tea Party movement quite a lot about fiscal issues, that hasn’t been the case when it comes to foreign policy. Partly, that’s because there doesn’t seem to be much unity within the movement on the issue:

In Washington for a rally several weeks ago, the leader of one of the country’s largest Tea Party groups found himself stumped by a reporter’s question.

Asked whether the Tea Party had a foreign policy platform, and if so, what it was, Dick Armey, the founder of FreedomWorks, hesitated only briefly before admitting, “I don’t think so,” and then turning to a colleague to ask, “Do you see a common thread there?”

Pressed on the issue by a reporter, Mr. Armey added, “I would guess there would probably be a lot of different points of view from the candidates on that.”

Indeed there are. Among the more than 100 candidates who claim Tea Party support, opinions about foreign policy range from severely isolationist to unapologetically assertive of America’s role in the world. And in between are many candidates who appear to have spent little time at all thinking about such issues.

It is not an academic question. Dozens of Tea Party-backed candidates could win seats Congress in less than two weeks. In a closely divided legislature, the views of those new representatives could help shape congressional action on trade policy, nuclear treaties with Russia, Middle East peace negotiations and the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are all asking, what does it mean for foreign policy? Its hard to divine because they haven’t articulated clear views,” said James M. Lindsay, a senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“You can find talking points,” Mr. Lindsay said. “‘We have to go after terrorists.’ But does that mean you want 100,000 troops in Afghanistan? We are left wondering, what exactly would they do?”

With very few exceptions, I would except that you’ll find most of the incoming “Tea Party” Congressmen and Senators adopt whatever the Republican line happens to be on foreign policy at the time, specifically something resembling the neo-conservativism that marked foreign policy during the Bush years. Notwithstanding the libertarian tendencies in the movement, these people are, at heart, populist Republicans, and they’ll adopt the same flag-waving-as-foreign-policy attitude that we’ve seen from the GOP in recent years. Already we’ve seen signs of this as Sarah Palin has taken it upon herself to make it clear within the Tea Party movement that fiscal conservatism shouldn’t apply when it comes to defense spending, and I expect that the same argument will be made when it comes to the foreign policy adventures that the Palin/Hannity/Limbaugh wing of the party seems to love so much.

This doesn’t bode well for the future.

Applying the simplistic populism of the Tea Party to an area as complex as foreign policy usually means endorsement of gun-ho militarism, especially when you consider that Liz Cheney and John Bolton seem to be as popular among certain segments of the Tea Party crowd as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. This is the crowd that thinks that the answer to the Afghanistan problem is more troops, and that bombing Iran will accomplish something other than setting off a general war and economic crisis.

There are differences of opinion within the movement, of course:

Some Tea Party candidates appear inclined to follow the lead of one of the movement’s favorites, Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, a former candidate for president. In a recent letter to Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Paul argued that the same philosophy that drives the economic positions of Tea Party followers should inform their foreign policy thinking.

“As many frustrated Americans who have joined the Tea Party realize, we cannot stand against big government at home while supporting it abroad,” wrote Mr. Paul, father of the Republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, Rand Paul. “We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world.”

Dan Benishek, a Tea Party-backed Republican who is running in Michigan’s First District, said in an interview with The Caucus that he still needed to learn more about foreign affairs. But as a parent of a Navy veteran of the Afghanistan war, Mr. Benishek said he thought  America needed to be careful about how it gets involved in wars.

“My basic position is that I don’t think we should be putting boots on the ground without having a declaration of war,” Mr. Benishek, whose daughter served in Afghanistan, said. “We’ve gotten ourselves into a lot of things that I don’t think they are the right things.”

But for every Dan Benishelk and Ron Paul, there seem to be dozens of Christine O’Donnell’s and Sharron Angle’s, and it seems quite clear that when it comes to foreign policy at least, the Tea Party will just be more of the same Republican jingoism.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    The Tea Party movement doesn’t seem to have a coherent view on anything.

    Fixed that for you.

  2. steve says:

    “What Is The Tea Party Foreign Policy?”

    Renew hostilities with the British?


  3. mpw280 says:

    What is Obama’s foreign policy, besides bowing to two bit dictators and islamic potentates? Fixed it for you! mpw

  4. anjin-san says:

    Cut taxes?

  5. @mpw280

    What is Obama’s foreign policy, besides a basic continuation of Bush’s second term?

    If you really want it fixed, I’d go with that. And if you are going to contest the assertion, specifics would be appreciated.

    And in regards to the bowing: click

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    What is Obama’s foreign policy? Attacking New Mexico with a coalition from South America and Mexico?

  7. G.A.Phillips says:


  8. G.A.Phillips says:


  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Cut taxes?***That would be a better foreign policy the selling are youth into Chinese indentured servitude, hmmmm…………

  10. Joe Callan says:

    “fiscal conservatism shouldn’t apply when it comes to defense spending”

    Yeah, but the country is only getting more bankrupt by the second. We can only do so much deficit spending before the rest of the world stops financing our ability to bring war to their neighbors, right? I mean, I would hope…

  11. anjin-san says:

    > fiscal conservatism shouldn’t apply when it comes to defense spending,

    Which pretty much conclusively proves that these folks are not actual fiscal conservatives.

    On another note, are those stupid Bing rollover popups the most annoying thing in the history of the internet?

  12. michael reynolds says:


    I hate Bing because of those goddamned things. And I was starting to like them for image search.

    So very Microsoft: do something half right and still manage to make us hate it.

  13. sam says:

    google ‘how to prevent bing popups’ — looks like there might some relief for windows folks: I’m still looking for some linux relief from these annoyances.

  14. sam says:

    Ok, for Linux Opera (and probably Windows, too — haven’t checked), see if this works for you:

    To get rid of the Bing popups, click Tools -> Preferences -> Search delete Bing from the list of search engines.

    To get rid of those vibrant ad popups, click Tools -> Preferences -> Advanced select Content from the menu on the right, then at the bottom of the content menu, click the Blocked Content button. Click the Add button and add this: http://*.intellitxt.* ( I saw some one posting that you can also add http://*.vibrantmedia.* I added both.)

    You’ll have to close and restart the browser for the changes to take effect.

  15. sam says:

    That should have been

    select Content from the menu on the left

  16. Juneau: says:

    What is the Kiwanis’ Club position on Foreign Policy? How about your local PTA? What about your neighbor? The TEA Party is not (yet) a political party, it is a political movement – made up of individuals from all walks of life. The question is not applicable. Yet.

  17. Moneyrunner says:

    First of all, the Tea party movement is just that, a grass roots movement animated by high taxes, a major increase in deficit spending and borrowing, and a significant increase in government intrusion into he private lives of American citizens. You may notice that none if these issues directly address foreign policy.

    However, one other characteristic of Tea Party people is disdain for the “credentialed” jerks who sneer at the beliefs and the patriotism of Middle America. They don’t appreciate being referred to as racists who, because they have lost their jobs, are bitter and clinging to their guns and their religion. They don’t appreciate being told that they are acting irrationally, rejecting “reason and science,” because they’re afraid.

    And they know what the people who refer to “foreign policy adventures” and who refer to them as “simplistic” are not exactly simpatico with the people whose taxes support the institutions that supply the tenured jerks with a lifetime job with lots of downtime.

    Just a little feedback. Because the people who attend Tea Party rallies are not the illiterate hicks you imagine them to be. They can actually go to the Internet and read what you think of them.

  18. Tea Partier says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that people who otherwise seem rational, lose their minds when they start talking about the TEA Party or the movement that holds the moniker. Nowhere in the TEA Party is a set of policies that are the “official” planks. “Policies” are the domain of the politician or wonk, the kind of people who don’t think in terms of principle, but in terms of controls. Everyday people don’t think that way. We don’t bureaucratize our own lives, by creating complex written rules to govern our decisions. And we don’t see the wisdom in doing so for the nation, either. But wonks and aparatchiks do, and they debate them endlessly in gory detail, attempting to prove that one set of controls is better than another set of controls. You know, kind of a “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” type of nonsense.

    Each time the politicians dream up something, it adds hundreds or thousands of pages of new rules intended to apply to someone, or perhaps even all of us, rules and strictures that rarely produce outcomes that could be described as “vaguely sensible” and generally more accurately described as “really stupid”.

    Business has learned that massive overhead of layers of management and strict 10 year plans are the means to sure-fire failure. Every business has to fight the tendency to over-control from the top, and ends up re-structuring every now and then, when analysis at some crisis point or impending crisis prompts a rational analysis of how things are working.

    Which, is to say that the TEA Party is little more than a rational analysis, brought on by attention paid due to the impending crisis at hand. We don’t need more layers of management, we don’t need more things managed for us by Congress, we don’t need hundreds more of federal offices and rules and controls. Of course, there are some ideologues who believe in 100% control from the top down, and believe that’s the only possible success – because they consider the people at large to be incapable of being self sufficient. These people have congregated themselves in Congress, and that’s why you see the antagonism.