With the 2016 election now less than 28 months away, something is happening in the Republican Party that doesn't appear yet to have a counterpart on the Democrat side—potential Republican contenders are arguing substantively over what kind of foreign policy the party and its 2016 standard-bearer should support. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got the ball rolling last month when he blamed the unrest in the Middle East on George W. Bush's Iraq war.
Eight years ago, Paul's father, then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) was the only Republican candidate that questioned the wisdom of George Bush's hyper-interventionist foreign policy. Republicans lost the 2008 election with a candidate, John McCain, who openly embraced the bulk of Bush's foreign policy. Four years later they lost again with another candidate, Mitt Romney, who openly embraced the bulk of Bush's foreign policy.
In the 2016 election, it's the Democrat candidate that's all but guaranteed to openly embrace the bulk of Bush's Obama's Bush-based foreign policy. And while a lot of the potential candidates on the Republican side are ready to reject Obama's foreign policy as not enough like Bush's, Rand Paul is doing his best to show that the Republican party has alternatives—alternatives that are good for its electoral success, good for America's fiscal health, and good for world affairs.
Texas Governor Rick Perry will have none of it. Writing in The Washington Post Perry likened the threat of a bunch of religious extremists waging a way against governments in the Middle East with the existential threat to the free world the Soviet Union posed, arguing:
In the face of the advancement of the Islamic State, Paul and others suggest the best approach to this 21st-century threat is to do next to nothing. I personally don't believe in a wait-and-see foreign policy for the United States. Neither would Reagan.
Reagan led proudly from the front, not from behind, and when he drew a "red line," the world knew exactly what that meant.
Paul is drawing his own red line along the water's edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world.
Paul rejected Perry's contentions in an op-ed published by Politico, arguing that he has not, in fact, advocated doing nothing in Iraq, and that his and Perry's and Obama's views on what to do in Iraq aren't all that different:
Perry says there are no good options. I've said the same thing. President Obama has said the same thing. So what are Perry's solutions and why does he think they are so bold and different from anyone else's?
He writes in the Washington Post, "the president can and must do more with our military and intelligence communities to help cripple the Islamic State. Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes."
The United States is actually doing all of this now. President Obama has said he might use airstrikes in the future. I have also been open to the same option if it makes sense.
I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq, which include armaments and intelligence. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat. I also want to stop sending U.S. aid and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Perry doesn't even address. I would argue that if anything, my ideas for this crisis are both stronger, and not rooted simply in bluster.
If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I'm somehow "ignoring ISIS," I'll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry's opinions.
It's an old story—during the 2012 election many of the Republican candidates supported a residual force in Iraq, something Barack Obama supported too, yet during the election cycle Republicans and Obama supporters both pretended otherwise. In the end Obama benefited while Republicans sunk another election. The trouble with basing foreign policy on appearing "strong" is that it ignores whether the foreign policy is sound, choosing to bank on nationalist fervor instead.
The urge to "do something" in the face of Islamist advances in Iraq is strong, especially for politicians who fear looking "weak" in the eyes of what they assume is a militant-minded voting population. But as I argued last month, "doing nothing" in Iraq could be the best option for combatting ISIS—we will keep being drawn into slaying monsters overseas until the people overseas learn to slay them themselves. In the 2000s American men and women fought and died for Iraqis freedom. For the Iraqis to keep and preserve it, they will have to learn to fight for themselves.