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Robert Merry in the National Interest Wednesday sees encouraging signs that the days when public opinion was powerless over foreign policy may be ending. After noting the extraordinary amount of public opinion and congressional pushback against Obama’s desire to bomb Syria, making it the least popular foreign war in living memory prior to its launch, Merry writes that “What we’re seeing is the emergence within the American political consciousness of a sense that the country’s national leaders have led it astray on foreign policy.” The American people have many good reason to think that, he points out: the foreign policy elites of both parties have been dead wrong about the positive results of every major foreign police contretemps of the past two decades, from Somalia to Libya and everywhere in between.
Merry concludes that we’ll soon see “voter punishment directed at those who can’t seem to get the message. It’s going to be an interesting time in the politics of American foreign policy over the next few years.”
Voters usually don’t get a chance to punish anyone on foreign policy, as pretty much all viable major party opponents on the national level believe in the same expensive and destructive mess of perpetual war for perpetual security. Which is why the dueling Obama/Paul speeches are such an encouraging sign of a sea change in American politics. Only if the GOP nominates Rand Paul in 2016 will the American people have a realistic chance to actually decide if they agree with warmaking as a neutral policy tool for the executive exclusively or not. (While other Republican likelies also failed to jump on Obama’s bomb Syria bandwagon, analysis of their histories indicates that’s more about partisanship than a reliably more cautious foreign policy.) Paul’s speech, it should be noted, was not any official GOP response to Obama, but merely his own policy entrepreneurship, the sort of thing which served him very well in the March drone filibuster.
Non-interventionists can and will hope for a more full-blooded and passionate defense of peace and minding our own business as a positive value from their most prominent national spokesperson, but Rand Paul is not his father. We have a couple of years until the next presidential race begins in earnest, and the American people will gladly forget Syria even exists if the administration stops scaring them about it.
But this week’s dueling presentations from president and senator on the politics and policy of warmaking made for a debate that the American people have not been permitted to have on foreign policy for decades. The Republican Party just needs to remember that they can run against the foreign policy of managing the world now, since they can blame it on Obama—and it is politically safe and even smart for them to run on a foreign policy true to the Constitution and dedicated to actual American defense.