What Conservative Foreign Policy Looks Like
Neither John McCain nor Rand Paul get it right.

Senators Rand Paul (left) and John McCain


Andrew C. McCarthy

Limited does not mean small, for these are not small tasks. The most significant function of government, national security, is what our foreign policy must serve. This is where Reagan got it right and today’s Republican leaders get it tragically wrong.

At a time when fellow travelers on the left and “realists” on the right wanted to come to some understanding with the Soviet Union, Reagan rightly saw Communism as an evil that could not be moderated or accommodated. It was an implacable enemy that had to be resisted and defeated. That did not mean military invasions on every front. It meant organizing American foreign policy around the conviction that Communism was the enemy of liberty, that it was aggressively revolutionary, and that it had to be opposed by whatever instruments of government made the most sense. There might be ambiguity about how the United States would respond in a given set of circumstances, but there was no ambiguity about who the enemy was or that our overarching goal was to defeat him.


Today, the enemy is Islamic supremacism, which inevitably reigns whenever Islam is imposed as a governing system. We must abandon the notion that this Islam is a religion.

In last weekend’s column, I noted that the Obama administration and the GOP’s McCain wing call al-Qaeda operatives “extremists” in order to “avoid the inconvenience that what they are ‘extreme’ about is Islam.” Well, it works the other way around, too. There are millions of “moderate” Muslims, but what makes them “moderate” is that they ignore (or reimagine) the political and supremacist tenets of Islam.

That’s fine. We want to ally with Muslims who, in the spirit of the Western Enlightenment, allow for a separation of religion from politics in their doctrine. But that separation is necessary precisely because whenever a political system proclaims itself as “Islamic” — whenever it establishes Islam as the state religion and makes sharia the foundation of its law — it is inevitably hostile to liberty and equality.

In Spring Fever, I recount the rueful observation of an authentic Muslim democrat who bristled at the West’s delusional celebration of Erdogan’s “Turkish Model” of “Islamic democracy”: “We are a democracy,” he asserted. “Islam has nothing to do with it.” When Islam defines the democracy, it’s not one.

The Islamic societal system is today’s totalitarianism — so much so that it finds a reliable ally in the hard Left. Much like Soviet-era Communists, moreover, Islamic supremacists unabashedly regard us as an “enemy” to be “conquered” while we romp about their camp desperately seeking “moderates.” The Islamic system is not nearly as fearsome as the Soviet superpower, but our blindness to its evil, and thus our abetting of it, compensate for this deficit.

Like Communism, Islamic supremacism threatens America and the West comprehensively — it attacks both forcibly and culturally; it pressures without and infiltrates within. A conservative national-security policy would respond in kind. Instead of promoting the charade of Islamic democracy, it would let nature take its course overseas: Allow the Islamic system’s hopeless backwardness to collapse of its own weight while promoting champions of real Western democracy — not just popular elections but individual liberty and minority rights. You can’t empower democrats, including truly moderate Muslims, without making it attractive to be one, and unattractive to be the other guys.

Domestic policy should align with this approach. We must be done once and for all with the folly of “outreach” to “moderate Islamists” — to say nothing of the insanity of consulting with “moderate Islamists” in the formulation of national-security policy. What makes a Muslim an Islamist is his Islamic supremacism — his preference for the Islamic system. That is the antithesis of moderation, particularly in a country built on individual liberty. That an Islamist eschews violence, or at least says he does, is welcome; it does not, however, make him moderate — ACORN is not moderate even if it resists the methods of the like-minded Weather Underground. Besides, “moderate Islamist” is the euphemism du jour for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslims who love America will never rise until our political class ends its infatuation with the Muslims who envision conquering America.

A conservative foreign policy would set itself firmly against Iran and Assad, as well as against al-Qaeda, the Brotherhood, and their state sponsors. It would not choose sides between them in their Syrian free-for-all. It would make the defeat of all of them — of Islamic supremacism — its strategic objective. It would tactically use the opportunities afforded by our diplomatic, economic, intelligence, military, and leadership capabilities to make it happen.

And it would work.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.