Earlier this week, an acquaintance of mine complained that,
"There is nothing inherently "conservative" about the war in Iraq, and nothing inherently objectionable to the idea that we should have a more humble, skeptical and cautious foreign policy. The way that Paul, Hagel, et al, have been virtually drummed out of polite Republican circles for arguing that we should be more cautious and skeptical is eternally frustrating to me. Even if I disagree with them, it's a valuable perspective - and, in the grand scheme of foreign policy, more often right than (wrong)."
The problem Ron Paul and Chuck Hagel have is not truly that they're disagreeing with most of their fellow Republicans, it's that they're disagreeable fellows who’ve adopted the offensive rhetoric of the Left as their own on foreign policy.
The people who back the war in Iraq -- which even included the majority of the Democrats in the Senate until the war became unpopular – aren’t doing so because they are malevolent people. People who support the war in Iraq (myself included) believe it's just and honorable, we believe that America is a decent country, and we hold the foreign policy views that we do because we think those policies are best for our nation.
If you rant about neocons maliciously tricking America into war and an American empire, excuse the terrorists for attacking us on 9/11, falsely accuse the President of lying to get us into war, and suggest impeaching Bush over a war that was initially even supported by the likes of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Chuck Hagel, you can't expect to be embraced by conservatives who agreed with Bush then, agree with him now, and think your arguments are insulting. Put another way, you can argue for a more "humble and skeptical" foreign policy without being a jerk about it -- and we definitely do need people to do just that.
Our current foreign policy, bizarrely, seems to be largely left over from the Cold War, which has been finished for more than 15 years. In addition, the Bush administration has introduced a mishmash of other policies designed to fight the war on terror, some of which are more effective than others.
Take Iraq, for example. We could have simply tried to replace Saddam with another strongman, one who would have been friendly to us, when things didn’t go as well as expected. But instead, we’ve done the honorable thing. We didn't cut and run when the going got tough and we have spent an enormous amount of blood and treasure to try to further democracy in that country. But, as we get to the point when the surge should be drawing to a close, it's time for the Iraqis to start shouldering most of the burden for defending their own nation.
At the close of America's Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin said that Americans have "A Republic, if you can keep it." Well, it's about time for us to say the same thing to the Iraqis.
That being said, we should still keep troops in that country to help them with logistics, air power, and to target Al-Qaeda, but we're very close to the time when the Iraqi forces should be the ones keeping order in the streets and when necessary, doing all the bleeding and dying to keep their country free while American troops move into support positions.
It can also be fairly argued that Americans are too involved in other parts of the world. We give away too much foreign aid to people who do nothing in return and don't appreciate what we give them. Take Afghanistan, for instance. We were the number one donor of food to that country when Al-Qaeda targeted us on 9/11. With that in mind, we should start examining every dime in foreign aid that we hand out to figure out what we get in return.
If we're giving a nation money, is it voting for us or against us at the UN? How does its population feel about us? What are they doing for us? How is giving them money furthering our interests? Granted, we can't always expect that we're going to get as much in return as we give out, but when we're running a large deficit and being vilified day in and day out across the world by nations that are holding their hands out and demanding favors, it's time to start asking some hard questions about foreign aid.
Then there are our foreign bases; how many of them do we need in a post-Cold War world? Certainly, we should be able to shut down some of them or replace them with bases run by skeleton crews in more strategic places that could be rapidly ramped up in a crisis. Moreover, with these bases, we need to remember that we're pumping massive amounts of American dollars into foreign economies, even though our troops aren't necessarily welcome in those nations, while we're simultaneously closing bases back home in the United States. If we have a choice between closing a base in a foreign country or one on our home soil, all other things being equal, Americans should want to see the foreign bases closed.
For example, consider the situation in South Korea. China is unlikely to invade at this point and South Korea is a bigger, richer, and more technologically advanced nation than North Korea, so they shouldn't need our help to defend their country in a conventional war. After we convince the Norks to get rid of their nukes, why should we continue to stay in South Korea when we're wildly unpopular with the younger generation there?
Moreover, why are we still backing Taiwan? How does that help us and what exactly has Taiwan done for us lately? Granted, if we were to cease doing so, they would probably quickly develop nuclear weapons to keep China at bay, but they’re unlikely to sell them or use them for aggressive purposes. So, perhaps we should consider giving them some forewarning and then part as friends.
The same could be said of many European countries, where we're essentially defending them for free while they criticize us relentlessly and take the money they should be spending on their own militaries to use for social programs. Then, unsurprisingly, when we need their help militarily, they're unable and worse yet, unwilling to give us much of a hand. George Washington once said,
"The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."
Unfortunately, we have developed a "habitual fondness" for Europe in this country that has led us astray from our interest. Yes, our partnership with Europe after World War II was very beneficial during the Cold War. However, because of socialistic policies, secularism, and demographics, Western Europe is starting to circle the drain. NATO, which was formed to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down," no longer has a purpose in the post-Cold War world and even if it did, Western Europe's militaries have degraded so much that it's a hollow shell of a military alliance. That's not to say that we should tell Western Europe to take a hike and quit NATO tomorrow, but it is time to look beyond Europe to find new allies that may be useful deep into the 21st century.
Along similar lines, what are we getting out of these "peacekeeping missions" that we undertake, often at the behest of Europe or the UN? Nothing but expense, hassles, and sneers. Let someone else do all the fighting next time Somalia or Kosovo blows up while we give moral support and contribute a few hundred non-combat troops to help out.
Speaking of the United Nations, you could make an excellent case that we get very little out of membership in the UN, while that organization imposes a heavy burden on our country. The UN is corrupt, ineffective, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. So why shouldn't we start working on a functional league of democracies that actually want to cooperate, on a limited basis, for the good of the world as we see it? Anything that weakens the UN, strengthens democracies, and guards our country's sovereignty over time is probably a good thing, isn't it? Plus, over time, as the League of Democracies gets stronger, perhaps we can end our membership in the United Nations altogether and leave that organization in the dustbin of history, where it belongs.
Next up is our policy in the Middle East. We certainly need to do whatever it takes to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons and thereby starting a nuclear arms race across the Middle East. We should also strive to find more effective ways to cripple and/or eradicate terrorist organizations with a worldwide reach while we use soft power to promote democracy in the region and hamper radical Islam.
But, let’s talk about Israel for a moment. We certainly need to continue to support our only true ally in the Middle East, but isn't it time that we bowed out of the "peace process," such as it is, over there, and let the Europeans try their hand at it? After all, we've been involved in trying to negotiate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians for decades and we haven't accomplished a thing beyond occasionally forcing the Israelis to make bad deals so that an American President can wave around, in a Chamberlainesque fashion, meaningless peace agreements that ultimately solve nothing. The fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians is probably going to continue indefinitely until one side or the other is slaughtered and driven off its land and all the jaw-jaw in the world is unlikely to change that. So, why not continue to support our friends, the Israelis, but let someone else take a futile crack at making a peace agreement that isn't in the cards?
Additionally, since every candidate, Democrat and Republican, seems to be harping on "energy independence" in order to cut down the amount of oil money we're sending to the Middle East, perhaps we should actually drill for oil off the coast of Florida, California, and in ANWR. It also might be a fine idea to build some more nuclear power plants. We can build solar plants, wind farms, and plant Switchgrass until the cows come home, but it simply won't produce enough power to significantly reduce the amount of oil money we're sending overseas. At some point, the politicians need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. If you want "energy independence," you need to support drilling along with more nuclear and coal plants. If you don't want to drill or build more nuclear and coal plants, then you should stop pretending that you’re serious about reducing our reliance on foreign oil.
Summing it all up, this isn't a call for pacifism, isolationism, or even for a policy of non-intervention. America does need to stay engaged in the world and there are times that we need to use force to ensure that our interests are protected. However, we also need to have an America-first foreign policy that is structured to deal with the problems and conditions of this century, as opposed to the problems and conditions of the last century.