Republican Convention 2016

RNC Foreign Policy Platform: More Spending, Things Are Awful, Obama Sucks

Republicans can make it better because they're Republicans, argue Republicans.


Paul Hennessy/Polaris/Newscom

The Republican party released its platform (PDF) today, dedicating an entire section, entitled "America Resurgent," to what amounts to their foreign policy vision. It is a lot of words spilled to justify a simplistic and counterproductive idea—that more defense spending equals better defense. It declares the party is of "peace through strength," much like the 2012 platform did in its "American Exceptionalism" section.

"Our country faces a national security crisis, and only by electing a Republican to the White House will we restore law and order to our land and safety to our citizens," the platform reads, disabusing anyone of the notion Republicans would seek to avoid hyperbolizing the threats that animate America's disastrous foreign policy. "Tyranny and injustice thrive when America is weakened," the party declares in its platform. "The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet." This from the party whose presumptive presidential nominee has praised the dictator Saddam Hussein for the way he cracked down on his population.

At one point, the party platform echoes Year 2000 George W. Bush, insisting it did not support nation building. "We must rebuild troop numbers and readiness and confirm their mission: Protecting the nation, not nation building," the party declares. "The United States should meet the Reagan model of 'peace through strength' by a force that is capable of meeting any and all threats to our vital national security." The promise rings hollow considering the foreign policy vision the party lays out.

"All our adversaries heard the message in the Administration's cutbacks: America is weaker and retreating," the party declares. "Concomitantly, we honor, support, and thank all law enforcement, first responders, and emergency personnel for their service," it continues. The entire platform is dedicated to "the men and women of our military, of our law enforcement, and the first responders of every community in our land" and to their families.

Repubicans' narrow view of defense spending neglects the realities of the developing 21st century. The background cost of the U.S. military is about $2 billion a day—that's the cost of maintaining a military that can then turn around and be used as it was in 2011 to intervene in the civil war in Libya. Although the Republicans mention Benghazi several times in their platform, they do not draw much of a connection between the incident (and the broader deterioration of security in post-war Libya) and the interventionist urges the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton satisfied with their actions in Libya.

A military equipped to be deployed for interventions like the one in Libya tends to be deployed for interventions like the one in Libya, which, thanks to Republicans and Democrats, come with little if any Congressional authorization or even oversight. In its platform, the Republican party essentially argues for a military capable of nation-building while insisting that was not its goal.

"Successive years of cuts to our defense budget have put an undue strain on our men and women in uniform," the party says in its platform. "This is especially harmful at a time when we are asking our military to do more in an increasingly dangerous world."

The party goes further, identifying three national security threats—Russia in Ukraine, China in the South China Sea, and the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East—and calling them the "results of the administration's unilateral approach to disarmament."

Yet while China's more aggressive posture in the South China Sea and elsewhere has also perplexed the Obama administration, it should surprise neither Republicans or Democrats, coming as it does on the heels of a much vaunted 'Asia pivot' by the Obama administration easily interpreted as an attempt to contain China and its regional influence. Blaming suboptimal defense spending on the rise of the Islamic State is rich as well, especially coming from the party whose most recent president launched the invasion of the Iraq that contributed significantly to the ability of an entity like the Islamic State to flourish in the Middle East.

Later, the platform notes that the Middle East is "more dangerous now than at any time since the Second World War," laying the blame on the Obama administration not prioritizing "America's national interests, the trust of friendly governments, and the security of Israel." Friendly governments, of course, aren't the same as democratic governments. Republicans are here complaining about the perceived lack of support by the Obama administration of regimes like Egypt's—setting aside the debate over the Arab Spring and democracy in the Middle East, such a complaint runs counter to Republicans' insistence that a "strong" America prevents tyranny. As for the old Israel argument, Obama has been as "pro-Israel" as pretty much all his relevant predecessors, and perhaps even more so. Less controversially, the platform declared that the party believed the Iran deal was a "personal agreement" between Personal Obama and the other "negotiating partners" that could be overturned by a successor. This is generally true.

The platform continues by amazingly declaring that the Obama administration "so mishandled the Arab Spring that it destabilized the entire region." Again, this doesn't square with Republicans' insistence that a strong U.S. foreign policy was a deterrent to tyranny. The Arab Spring began as protests against tyrannical governments, often backed by the U.S. In such a reality, the most substantive opposition to such governments will tend to be of the extremist religious variety. Radical Islamist groups who may have taken advantage of the Arab Spring were empowered to do so by America's long-standing support for the region's tyrannies. The Republicans pivot seamlessly in their platform from the complaint of Obama mishandling the Arab Spring to regret that protests failed in Syria and that the U.S. did not intervene. "Understandably, our allies fear for their future in a region far more dangerous than it was eight years ago," the party concludes. The party says it supports "transition to a post-Assad Syrian government" as well as pushing Hezbollah out of Lebanon and calls unequivocal support for Israel "an expression of Americansim."

The party also staked a harder-line on China than it did in 2012. "China's behavior has negated the optimistic language of our last platform concerning our future relations with China," the platform declares. "The liberalizing policies of recent decades have been abruptly reversed, dissent brutally crushed, religious persecution heightened, the internet crippled, a barbaric population control two-child policy of forced abortions and forced sterilizations continued, and the cult of Mao revived." Irrespective of how accurate Republicans' descriptions are, the idea that a break in a decades-long trend of liberalization warrants forsaking all optimism is shaky at best.

While the Republicans repeated their call for European members of NATO to increase their share of defense spending, they did not, unlike their presumptive nominee, call for any kind of re-evaluation of the 70-year-old alliance forged in the early days of the Cold War. Instead, Republicans insist they'll "meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union." In other words, more spending. The platform also envisions a role for the United States in the process of economic integration in Central Asia.

The platform thanks Mexico and Canada for being "partners in the fight against terrorism and the war on drugs," noting further that the "Mexican people deserve our assistance as they bravely resist the drug cartels that traffic in death on both sides of our border." Unsurprisingly, there was no reflection on the merits of the drug war in the first place. The platform also called the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations a "shameful accommodation to the demands of its tyrants." The party insists it cannot "welcome the people of Cuba back into our hemispheric family" until "after their corrupt rulers are forced from power and brought to account for their crimes against humanity."

While re-affirming the perceived benefits of the U.S. in remaining in the United Nations, the platform does insist the U.S. "should no longer tolerate its managerial scandals, its Human Rights Council composed of some of the world's worst tyrants, and its treatment of Israel as a pariah state."

The platform also stressed America's role in defending "religious liberty" around the world and insisted on foreign aid that "must serve America's interest first." Foreign aid, the Republicans argue, "must not only project the best of American values, but must work to create self-sustainability and leverage the resources and capacity of the private sector." Apparently Republicans' belief in a private sector that can thrive free of government intervention does not extend beyond America's border (and given their record of supporting government interventions in the private sector that comport with their agenda, it may not extend within America's borders either, only in rhetoric.)

Amazingly, for as much hay as Republicans make about Democrats not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," it's only invoked twice in the Republican platform. First in a short section about Republicans' continued commitment to spending on Africa and the spread of radical Islamic terrorism in Africa and again when explaining why the U.S. must support human rights (except, implicitly, when such rights might leadg to an unfriendly democratic government). "To those who stand in the darkness of tyranny, America has always been a beacon of hope, and so it must remain," the platform declares. It would surprise many people who live and have lived under tyrannies backed by the U.S. government. "Radical Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat to personal freedom and peace around the world." If you go back to the top of the "America Resurgent" section, you'll note radical Islamic terrorism was also implied to have contributed to a lack of "law and order" in the U.S. And, as the Republican platform tries to convince us, only more spending, and a Republican president, can make the world great again.