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Reform Conservatism's Blind Spot: Foreign Policy

July 17, 2014 in Economics

By Justin Logan

Justin Logan

Should conservative foreign policy be reformed? If so, you wouldn’t know it by reading Reform Conservatives.

For those poor souls outside the conservative wonkosphere, a brief explanation may be in order. Reform Conservatives, or “reformocons,” have been designated a conservative genus by the New York Times’ chronicler of conservatism, Sam Tanenhaus. (One might quibble with Tanenhaus’ credential as a conservative taxonomist, considering he labeled Bill Clinton, David Souter, and Barack Obama “Burkean conservatives,” but never mind that.)

Reformocons’ founding document arguably was Ross Douthat’s and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party, a tome that was as much political wake-up call as it was policy manifesto. The book’s first page declared that “a bollixed war and a record of domestic mismanagement [had] cost [Republicans] both houses” of Congress, and that as a result, the GOP needed to regroup intellectually and politically.

The book, like the reformocon writing that followed, said nothing about how to reform conservative foreign policy. But any Reform Conservatism worthy of the name ought to have something to say about the matter. The reasons are both political and substantive.

The arguments for reforming conservative foreign policy are strong. So why aren’t they being made?”

First, the political: the public loathes neoconservative foreign policy and has learned more from its follies than have elites. While many Republicans have a special place in their hearts for Dick Cheney, due in part to his virtuoso ability to aggravate liberals, the substance of Cheney’s foreign policy views are deeply unpopular, among Republicans, Democrats, and independents, especially.

The political terrain for neocons is perhaps most favorable on Iran, but even there it isn’t very favorable. The most recent poll indicated 61 percent of Americans support a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear program that would leave it with enrichment capability, compared to 35 percent who support the hawkish alternative of zero enrichment and sanctioning third-party nations who do business with Tehran. More generally, Americans tend to ask impertinent questions of the foreign policy elite, like why they should pay for the defense of wealthy clients and allies who can defend themselves. On Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, the armed Wilsonianism favored by the entire GOP foreign policy elite is unpopular.

It’s true that foreign policy is rarely electorally decisive, but giving neocons control over it is a good way to increase its salience to the public. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, the GOP crippled itself …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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