Republican foreign policy is in crisis. The populists who were against foreign entanglements are now 100% for foreign entanglements and attacking their fellow anti-interventionists as #NeverTrumpers. Trump has sent a carrier group to North Korea. He bombed the Syrians and Russians in Syria. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, there is no doubt that this is not what the populists ran on in 2016. Were they wrong in 2016? Maybe. That isn’t the point.
The point is that the GOP is in foreign policy crisis mode, trying to figure out what they stand for, what they stand against, and why.
The EU, the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Saudis, the Jordanians, and the Americans have already made a mess of Syria. Yemen is a disaster (no one is talking about that though). North Korea is performing 10 minute, quick-strike exercises against Japan and South Korea in the lead up to what they believe could be a nuclear war (Quartz). The United States has done a horrible job of choosing allies in Syria (NBC). Meanwhile, people suffer. President Trump let Russia, Iran, and Syria know that there are actually “red lines” he won’t allow them to cross. This has caused faux-outrage in the Iranian, Russian, and Syrian world and press. If you’ll notice, however, they haven’t done anything about it. They were testing Trump. Trump passed.
Clearly, the Trump Administration intends to let this civil war take place, without antagonizing the Kurds, the Turks, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Russians, the Saudis, Hamas, or the Jordanians. However, if any of them step out of line, and use biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, they can expect a swift response from the White House and the United States military. Good.
What about North Korea? Trump seems to be preparing the US for war with one third of President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.”
North Korea is trying like hell to demonstrate that if Trump tries to constrain them, they’ll misbehave and misbehave badly. Yet, with China, South Korea, and Japan being the primary stakeholders, there is no indication that there is a multilateral policy in response to North Korean aggression.
If Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have their way, the United States would be at war in the Pacific, Persia, and the Near East. Is this really where the Republican Party wants to go? Three wars in four years? Donald Trump spoke about America First and about avoiding foreign entanglements, yet he seems willing to go to war with the world, or willing to risk war through a demonstration of American strength.
Is President Trump wrong?
I don’t think so.
Yes, he lied to the American public, but the American public demands that. Yes, his foreign policy is built upon cement foundations of hypocrisy, but so was the entirety of his campaign.
President George W. Bush was 100% right about North Korea being a threat – the question is, what can we and what are we willing to do about it? Up until now, the answer has been nothing. Why? Because South Korea and Japan will experience 99% of North Korea’s wrath. Attacking North Korea could cost tens of millions of South Korean and Japanese their lives. An attack on Iran would destabilize Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan (if Pakistan, then China), and India. What we can we do? Russia and China and India will have a say.
We destabilized Libya and Egypt and Iraq and Afghanistan. What did we gain? Well, we made it very clear to Iran and North Korea that the United States will not ever attempt to destabilize a nuclear power. We’ve made it clear that if you want to avoid Russian or U.S. or EU influence, build a nuclear arsenal, and we’ll all respect you.
Is that the message we want to send?
Apparently not. Apparently so.
President Trump seems willing to deal harshly with Bush’s Axis of Evil. Warmongers like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham will support him. Will the rest of the party? Will the Democrats? President George W. Bush was right about the threat that Iran and North Korea posed to the industrialized world. Will we oppose the populists that support global action against our enemies? Will the populists?
If we do, do we end up strengthening a political movement likely to undermine the foundations of liberty and justice in the United States? These are the questions the Republican Party is dealing with today. These are hard questions.
Do we destroy Syria? Do we destroy North Korea? Do we Destroy Iran?
We need answers. We need consensus. We need to know.