Do Republicans have a foreign policy? Do they even have a debate about foreign policy? Not as far as I can tell. I share the concerns about Rand Paul’s views raised by Bret Stephens and Rich Lowry, but the Paul controversy is little more than the seal on the GOP’s foreign-policy vacuum.
The democratization project in the Middle East has failed, yet Republicans (like Democrats) are loath to admit this, or to discuss alternatives. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are the reliable GOP public voices on foreign policy, yet I don’t believe they speak for more than a minority of Republican base.
Voters are being asked to choose between omni-interventionism, on the one hand, and Paul’s neo-isolationism on the other. No one has articulated a tough policy in defense of America’s national interests that falls between these two poles. Yet that is where the voters are, and rightly so.
A genuine foreign-policy debate would split the party, which is why we aren’t having one. Yet Americans are leery of both GOP hawkishness and Obama’s misguided mix of humanitarian interventionism, internationalism, and retreat. The public will move in our direction, but only if assured that there’s a difference between utopian dreams of democratization and a tough-minded defense of America’s national interests.
This is a problem for the party, but also an opportunity for a GOP presidential candidate willing to articulate a hawkish policy that nonetheless breaks with the McCain-Graham line.