Fumbling Toward War: The GOP’s Foreign Policy of Hate


“Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is the be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
– Lord Palmerston, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Speech to the House of Commons, 1848

If you contrast the wise and pragmatic views of Lord Palmerstone with the rhetoric coming out of the Right of the American political spectrum, you see at once the problems facing America will not be ameliorated by Republican victories in 2014 or, gods forbid, 2016.

Republican foreign policy, as we stand at the cusp of the autumn of 2014, can best be described as a tortured and terrifying admixture of religious dogmatism, political ideology, and corporate thirst for profit, an alchemy destined to keep America at war with somebody, somewhere, for any reason that can be conjured, in order to keep the profits flowing.

Republicans have not always thought this way. Chuck Hagel warned at Foreign Affairs magazine in 2004:

Initiatives to promote political reform should be based on realistic assessments of the needs and dynamics of each country, not on ideological orthodoxy. As Henry Kissinger has noted, “a foreign policy to promote democracy needs to be adapted to local or regional realities, or it will fail. In the pursuit of democracy, policy — as in other realms — is the art of the possible.

In 2005, Hagel attacked the Bush administration over the Iraq War and in 2006 said, chillingly, “There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq.” One 2006 poll showed Hagel to be more popular with Democrats than with Republicans.

It should be noted that Chuck Hagel was afterward nominated by President Barack Obama to be his Secretary of Defense, despite the fact that Hagel supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama did not, revealing that Obama was less wedded to ideology than Hagel.

Tellingly, W. James Antlee III wrote at The American Conservative on July 28, 2014,

There is a reason the campaign against Chuck Hagel was so fierce and Jon Huntsman’s inability or unwillingness to appeal to conservatives was so disappointing. With Republicans like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft aging out of government service, it’s possible that the conservative foreign-policy establishment could become a realist-free zone.

But at the same time Antlee is condemning a rigid devotion to ideology, he is embracing Christian just war theory, arguing that “just war theory is an approach to moralizing foreign policy with a long Christian pedigree that is compatible with a strong national defense but actually limits the resort to arms.”

If, as Antlee asserts, “Conservatives who dissent from the reflexively hawkish status quo are presently at a disadvantage,” then embrace of just war theory seems a strange way to rectify the situation. History has taught us that conservative Christians can find ways to justify a unjust war, as when Rick Santorum defended the indefensible, the Crusades:

The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.

For Santorum, if you hate on the idea of just war, you hate on Christendom itself, and therefore spit in the eye of God.

Or as in when the Iraq War became the latest religious crusade.

President Bush set the tone when on September 16, 2001 he called for a global “crusade” against terrorism, and the idea of a holy war caught on. This idea of a crusade caught on, and many conservative Christians came to see it as a war against the forces of Satan, as when Lt. General William “Jerry” Boykin told a congregation in Oregon that Islamic extremists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. … And the enemy is a guy named Satan.”

Much as Americans rail against Jihad, they are more than willing to wage the Christian equivalent, the crusade. If ISIL is now waging Jihad on Americans on behalf of a caliphate real or imagined, it is only because they are dancing to a tune we called.

Though Donald Rumsfeld defending Boykin by saying that the War on Terrorism was “not a war against a religion,” for Republicans, the war on terror has very much become a war against a religion – Islam. In the Republican foreign policy lexicon, the word “Muslim” is now seen as synonymous with “terrorist.”

You can see the fruits of “just war” theory in the words of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson the other day:

Robertson was promoting his book when Sean Hannity asked “America’s preacher” to weigh in with his foreign policy insight on how America can best respond to radicalized Muslims in ISIS. Like a good preacher, Robertson promptly whipped out his trusty Christian bible and began citing scripture and verse. He read a passage from 1 John chapter 5 where he claimed god almighty divided the world into “two groups of people; the children of god, or Christians, and those under the power of the evil one” he claimed was ISIS and likely all Muslims. He also cited god’s words in Proverbs 8:36 that “all who hate me, love death.” The two scriptures led him to conclude that America has a simple foreign policy choice in dealing with George W. Bush’s spawn; “you either have to convert them, or kill them. One or the other.”

Right out of the Bible. Appeal to just war will not get us out of this mess, because it got us into this mess, and rather than moderate a Republican foreign policy, it will inflame it.

Chuck Hagel, if the Republican Party – which sees war as the answer to every circumstance – does not, would seem to have understood Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s injunction that, “Continuity of policy is not sacrosanct against diversity of circumstance.”

Hagel identifies “Terrorism [as] a historic and existential challenge that redefines traditional notions of security”:

A wise foreign policy recognizes that U.S. leadership is determined as much by our commitment to principle as by our exercise of power. Foreign policy is the bridge between the United States and the world, and between the past, the present, and the future. The United States must grasp the forces of change, including the power of a restless and unpredictable new generation that is coming of age throughout the world. Trust and confidence in U.S. leadership and intentions are critical to shaping a vital global connection with this next generation.

According to Hagel, again in Foreign Affairs,

[A] Republican foreign policy for the twenty-first century will require more than traditional realpolitik and balance-of-power politics. The success of our policies will depend not only on the extent of our power, but also on an appreciation of its limits. History has taught us that foreign policy must not succumb to the distraction of divine mission. It must inspire our allies to share in the enterprise of making a better world. It can do so by remaining true to seven principles.

This sounds more like the Obama foreign policy than anything even remotely possible coming from a Republican. For Republicans today, foreign policy IS a divine mission, with even our national borders established by God. How in the world can the word realpolitik (realistic or practical politics) ever be used in conjunction with any reference to Republican foreign policy?

Though, for example, Minnesota Republican lawmakers criticize President Obama’s foreign policy, Republicans have not only, as The Washington Post puts it, reclaimed “their status as the party of hawks,” but more alarmingly, as MSNBC warns, “potential 2016 GOPers lack foreign policy experience.”

There is nothing quite so frightening to the imagination as a bunch of warmongers who don’t know what they’re doing controlling the most powerful military arsenal on earth. What could go wrong? President Obama may have fumbled his way to peace, as some have charged, but how is fumbling your way to war in any way an improvement?

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