Politics & Policy

Josh Hawley Rejects ‘Progressive Universalism’ In Maiden Foreign Policy Speech

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) in Washington, D.C., July 11, 2019 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) offered a glimpse into his foreign policy views during a speech on Tuesday, taking aim at a “progressive universalism” that pervades the bipartisan foreign-policy consensus and calling on policymakers “to preserve, protect, and defend our unique American way of Democracy.”

Hawley’s remarks during an event at a DC think-tank, the Center for a New American Security, are his first major comments on foreign policy. In recent months, the freshman senator has been vocal in economic and free-speech debates, proposing regulation of social media’s “addictive features,” as well as introducing legislation to move federal departments to economically depressed areas.

Hawley has also been outspoken about the rising threat of China amid Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and controversy over the NBA’s stance on the rights of its employees to support Hong Kong.

Last month, Hawley lambasted American corporations like the NBA for not having “backbone” to stand up “to the demands of one of the world’s most brutal regimes in the pursuit of profit.” Hawley also visited Hong Kong to meet with protesters, and introduced legislation on October 31 to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials complicit in the crackdown on demonstrators.

But Hawley has been relatively quiet on broader questions of American foreign policy during his time on Capitol Hill.

“Hawley is the polished, welcome face of the new right, and doubtless has a bright future. His willingness to break with braindead conservative orthodoxy on America’s economic problems should be applauded. On foreign policy, personally, I would like to see him put a little more meat on the bones,” Curt Mills, a senior writer at The American Conservative, told National Review in the buildup to the speech. Mills, who raised questions on Hawley’s foreign-policy views in a piece in July, said, “It’s one thing to call yourself a ‘realist’ and an anti-neocon. We’re all realists now. Show us some details.”

Hawley’s Tuesday speech took a much broader angle, and argued that both Republicans and Democrats have failed “the American middle” by engaging in “metastasizing commitments” due to a misplaced confidence in the notion that false progressive values and institutions would spread in the New World Order.

Hawley criticized the Left for pushing America into “multilateral bodies and patterns of cooperation,” while simultaneously critiquing the Right for using military force to attempt to build “a world of democracies.”

“In the decades since the Cold War, Right and Left together have steadily expanded American commitments, have steadily expanded America’s military footprint, have steadily expanded America’s military involvement in every theater of the globe, in all manner of projects — from election monitoring, to punitive airstrikes, to humanitarian aid,” Hawley said. “It is time for a new departure, based on America’s needs in this new century. Because the point of American foreign policy should not be to remake the world, but to keep Americans safe and prosperous.”

Hawley emphasized that the unique tradition of America — “the first republic in the world founded on the political power of a broad middle class” — underpins a freedom “premised on the dignity and power of the working man and woman” that illustrates American foreign interests.

While he condemned the idealism that defined American foreign policy in the early-aughts and led to costly interventions aimed at remaking centuries-old societies in the American image, Hawley also paid lip-service to the importance of spreading American values, urging the creation of “an international order where we can practice our unique way of democracy,” while also maintaining a “system where nations can make their own choices.” How to bring about these goals simultaneously was omitted from the speech.

In keeping with his focus on the interaction between American corporate power and the Chinese state, the freshman senator urged American policymakers to refocus not on inculcating American values in a land that is hostile to them, but rather on the more realistic goal of containing Beijing’s malign influence.

“Let me be clear, our task is not to remake China from within,” Hawley stated. “Rather, it is to deny Beijing’s ability to impose its will without, whether it be upon Hong Kong, or Taiwan, or our allies and partners — or upon us.”

Hawley laid out a plan for tackling China that includes reinforcing ties with allies in the region and rebuffing Chinese influence — including the Belt and Road initiative — in other regions. Hawley also seemed to criticize the longstanding U.S. policy of engagement in the Middle East, saying “American might is not limitless, nor are the lives and treasure of the American people. Now we must make hard choices and articulate clear priorities in order to meet the challenge before us.”

“Ours must be a foreign policy for the people who built this country; one that honors our workers by protecting their livelihoods; protects our way of life by thwarting hegemons; and respects our service members by asking them to sacrifice only for a justified purpose and only with a reasonable plan,” Hawley concluded. “Our purpose in the world is informed by our character at home, and by our enduring aspiration to be a free people. Our unique way of democracy is a gift — to us and to the world. Now we must rise to defend it again in our day.”

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