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.