Peter Beinart comments on a recent NYT article reflecting Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisers’ complaints about the candidate:
It’s the kind of thing that usually happens near the end of a campaign, when all hope is lost: Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy team is trashing him to the press. On Afghanistan, one adviser told David Sanger of The New York Times, “None of us could quite figure out what he was advocating.” Another acknowledged that when it comes to Iran, “I’m not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own.” A third admitted that “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office.”
What’s going on? Part of it is simply Romney, whose lack of foreign-policy experience and apparent lack of strong foreign-policy convictions are inviting internecine warfare among his staff. …
Well, yes. Romney doesn’t have any apparent beliefs about any matter of public policy. He just wants people to have to call him “Mr. President.”
But the problem goes deeper. Republican foreign policy may be crashing against reality’s shoals.
Once upon a time, leading figures in the GOP foreign-policy establishment thought a lot about the limitations on American power. The guiding assumption of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy was that the United States no longer had the money or will to wage war against communist movements across the world and would thus have to make deals with the Soviet Union and communist China in hopes of getting them to restrain those movements themselves.
Money and “will”, maybe, but also capability. I always thought it to be the key conservative insight in response to overreaching domestic and foreign government policies of the 1960s: actions have unintended consequences, and professed good intentions alone don’t give us the ability to make everything we want better in a cost-effective manner.
As on domestic policy, the party has moved further and further right—not just to the right of Nixon and Kissinger, but to the right of Reagan as well. The Gipper, it’s worth remembering, sanctioned Israel for bombing Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. Today, by contrast, Republican foreign-policy advisers not only support Israel bombing nuclear facilities in Iran; they urge the U.S. to do the job itself.
Not sure it’s fair to the tradition of conservatism to call this a move “to the right”, any more than the Bush administration & GOP Congress’s cheerful destruction of the surpluses was a move “to the right”. It’s just part & parcel of the Republican Party’s abandoning of rational views on all matters of public policy, because emotion-inducing slogans are just as effective in getting votes from ignorant whites.
Supporting an aggressive U.S. military posture is today almost as central to Republican foreign policy as cutting taxes, spending, and regulation is to Republican domestic policy. And yet that posture has never been more at odds with the existing limitations on American power. As much as many GOP foreign-policy hands want to accuse Barack Obama of surrendering in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer and fewer Americans see those wars as anything but a waste. As much as prominent Republican foreign-policy hands urge bombing Iran, the leadership of the U.S. military appears deeply opposed. And with the federal government facing increasingly savage budgetary tradeoffs, the Republican insistence on ever-higher defense spending looks increasingly delusional.
If anyone voted on foreign policy issues, that would be quite a conundrum indeed for the GOP.
Beneath the fratricide in the Romney foreign-policy camp lies the deeper problem that, at least since Sept. 11, GOP foreign policy has largely assumed that limitations of public money and public will should not constrain American foreign policy. And during the primaries, when Romney advocated bombing Iran and rejected negotiations with the Taliban, he embraced those assumptions, too. …
Again, it’s not just “will”, it’s capability. We were never going to occupy Iraq into glory. Yes, Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein, but they didn’t want to be “liberated” by the US, any more than Tea Partiers trembling with fear and rage over Obama-Pelosi health insurance reform being rammed down their throats want to be liberated by China.
Post title is from a song brought to mind by the first line in Beinart’s article: “I ask myself, ‘Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”” The GOP is eager to promise those things in the pursuit of failure made certain by the mismatch between maximal rhetoric and our lack of omnipotence.