Ross Douthat had some interesting things to say the other day, Rand Paul, Realism, and Republican Reform. It is mostly about how Rand Paul, in terms of foreign policy, is a non-interventionist (His best quality!) but is trying to re-brand himself as a realist like Colin Powell.
The problem that Rand is having is that in the Republican Party, no one listens to him because he doesn’t think the best thing in the world is spending all our money on the military and going to war as often as possible. By becoming a realist, he can make more acceptable arguments like, “Sure we could go to war with Iran but it would cost a lot of American lives and money.”
Republicans Don’t Like Reality-Based Foreign Policy
I’m sure you’ve already caught the problem with this approach: Republicans are just as much against reality-based foreign policy as they are against non-intervention. Douthat rightly notes that Republicans don’t have a general foreign policy platform.
Instead, they just have gut feelings: military spending is good; Iran is bad; Israel is always right; and, of course, “We’re number one!” Douthat claims that the party could be sold on a realist platform, but that it requires that people like Rand Paul actively sell it.
Why Douthat Is Delusional
What Douthat is missing about Republican foreign policy thinking is the same thing Ezra Klein missed about Republican economic thinking: all the things they care about are not created equal. Above all else, Republicans want a foreign policy platform that tells them that America is the best and baddest.
They don’t particularly want to go to war with Iran over vague Israeli ideas that a country in the region might someday have a nuclear bomb like they themselves have. They just want to make a big deal of the fact that if America goes to war with some country, that country is fucked (regardless of all the recent lessons from history).
It is good that Douthat is talking about ways that the Republican Party could actually change as opposed to just talk nicer. But his hopes are bound to be dashed, for the same reason that everyone else in the party only wants to deal with cosmetic changes. The main thing that drives Republican voters is the thought that America has gone hopelessly wrong. This requires dramatic changes. And the voters are no closer to accepting a realist approach to foreign affairs than they are measures to make the economy more egalitarian.