Henry Martin Jackson, congressman or senator from Washington State for more than 40 years, died in 1983. His anti-Communist politics as an influence on the Democratic party seemed to die with him, which was a pity. Not that there weren’t gasps of his type of rhetoric from Democrats when the world-as-it-is made that inescapable. I mean, say, in the Balkan crisis, or after 9/1,1 when most Democrats seemed to find an inner Jackson. Save those dramatic bursts of inspired patriotic song, the rhetoric of “staunch defender of liberty around the world” among the Democrats has been lacking. Rightward foreign policy with leftward domestic policy has always actually been a strong stand in America. The Left knows this, and even our president has been known to throw “strong foreign policy” talk around, while avoiding the actual policy in most practical ways.
Hillary Clinton, in her efforts to distance herself from the Obama cdministration in which she served, has taken the most rightward stance on foreign policy that may be possible for a Democrat. Although, given modern politics, the Republicans; farther Right, our Ron Paul Right as well as much of the Tea Party, is anti-interventionist, saying, Let those folks take care of themselves. Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky, positioning himself for his run for the presidency, certainly leans in that direction and could pull all Republicans in that direction.
So what is Right?
Apparently, that polar tug in the Republican party has neo-conservatives nervous. How nervous? According to Jacob Heilbrunn, on the opinion page of the New York Times this weekend, nervous enough to consider supporting Hillary for president. In “The Next Act of the Neocons,” he describes the history of the movement and says, “It’s not as outlandish as it may sound. Consider the historian Robert Kagan, the author of a recent, roundly praised article in The New Republic that amounted to a neo-neocon manifesto.” That was ”Superpower Don’t Get to Retire” and is a long and descriptive argument for the good America has done in the world.
Today, however, Americans seem overwhelmed by the difficulty and complexity of it all. They yearn to return to what Niebuhr called “the innocency of irresponsibility,” or at least to a normalcy in which the United States can limit the scope of its commitments. In this way America has perhaps returned to the mood of the 1920s. There is a difference, however. In the 1920s, it was not America’s world order that needed shoring up. Americans felt, mistakenly as it turned out, that it was Britain’s and Europe’s job to preserve the world order they had created. Today, it is America’s world order that needs propping up. Will Americans decide that it matters this time, when only they have the capacity to sustain it?
Heilbrunn: “It’s easy to imagine Mrs. Clinton’s making room for the neocons in her administration. No one could charge her with being weak on national security with the likes of Robert Kagan on board.” Yet she would have to cope with the rest of her party, for whom American intervention in world affairs has been the Great Satan of the placards waved during anti-American protests around the world. If Republicans go to an isolationist candidate, I am sure that political stance could play well in the general election. But could Mrs. Clinton make it through the primaries to get there, taking the Scoop Jackson position within her party? Since Republicans cannot afford to lose the tea-party wing, any candidates in our primaries will have a similar problem. Can we afford to lose the neocons to accommodate that wing of our party? Aside from the party politics, Republicans are still digesting the lessons, if any, from the foreign policy of the Bush years and the difficulties we still cope with subsequently. It’s an argument we might not win, as in there may be no compromise.