Republican Hawks Have an Agenda for Ukraine, Iran, China, ISIS, and the Pentagon Budget

Fronts in the battle for the GOP's foreign-policy vision


The Republican Party as a whole might not have firm plans for the next two years, but there are factions within the party with extensive agendas already. Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, who has a lot of contacts among the GOP's hawks, reports that they're

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planning an ambitious battle plan to revamp American foreign policy: everything from arming Ukraine's military to reviewing the ISIS war to investigating the U.S. intelligence community's role in warming relations with Iran.

In an interview Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has already discussed a new national-security agenda with fellow Republicans Bob Corker and Richard Burr, the likely incoming chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Burr and Corker and I will be working closely together on everything," McCain said. "For example, arms for Ukraine's [government], examination of our strategy in the Middle East, our assets with regard to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the region, China's continued encroachment in the South China Sea."

McCain's "first order of business" at his committee, Lake writes, "will be to end the budget rule known as sequestration, which requires the U.S. military to cut its budget across the board." Lake also notes that several new saber-rattlers will be joining the old-timey hawks in the Senate, with Tom Cotton of Arkansas getting the most attention. To read the rest of Lake's report, go here.

Not every Republican is on board with the neocons' agenda, of course. Daniel McCarthy, editor of the antiwar American Conservative, has posted a detailed assessment of how the more dovish wing of the GOP will fare in the forthcoming intraparty fights. He isn't optimistic:

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[W]ith Bush's downfall came a need to redefine the Republican Party's ideology and brand. After the country as a whole repudiated Bush by turning to Democrats in 2006 and 2008, the GOP also repudiated him by turning in 2010 to the Tea Party and a new brand of liberty-minded Republicans exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash. These "liberty movement" Republicans were few in number but represented a qualitative change in tone and policy emphasis for the GOP, particularly on national security and foreign policy. One could easily imagine Republicans of this sort as the wave of the future, if the GOP were to have any future at all: these were the kind of Republicans who might represent a viable conservatism in an increasingly diverse country where marijuana is legal and same-sex marriage commands majority support. Their anti-authoritarianism and commitment to cultural federalism suggested a way forward for the party. Win or lose in years to come, they were certainly not the same Bush brand that voters had rejected in 2006, 2008, and indeed 2010.

Yet now Bush is ancient history….Republicans today can once again employ their familiar decades-old ideological armament against a militarily inept, big-spending, socially liberal Democrat. These weapons have done the trick for decades—until the Bush disaster deprived them of their effectiveness—so who needs new ideas?…

[T]he public does have some say in all this, and it has shown to have no appetite for the decades-long wars that Tom Cotton's Republican Party appears to portend. The market for realism and non-authoritian politics remains. But can anyone organize the institutions and policy-making cadres to serve this demand? If not, there is little chance of a lone politician or small group of liberty-movement Republicans redirecting their party, much less their country, away from futile wars and executive consolidation: we will be back to the Bush and Clinton era, with Rand Paul as lonely a dissenter as ever his father was. At least, that is, until the Cottons and Clintons lose another, bigger war and plunge the country into something even worse than the Great Recession. Then we'll get change without the hope.

The biggest open question may be the effect of the ISIS war, which is likely to drag on a while without very satisfying results. If the public turns against it in the next two years, the hawks will be on the defensive again. But then, with the liberty Republicans' informal leader—Rand Paul—also endorsing military action against ISIS, he might find himself tarred with the same brush. For now, at any rate, the party's pro-war faction has what it usually has: the upper hand.