Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy
The GOP seems to have squandered away it’s traditional strong suits- national security and foreign relations. For a party which has been ravaged by what many consider extremist elements to ideas which now seem tired and out of step, the Republicans are seeking an anchor, something which might tether their fractious party, together.
In a rapidly changing world, foreign policy might be the glue the party needs. Richard Nixon ended the war in Vietnam and opened up China, Ronald Reagan stared down Gorbachev in Helsinki and at the Berlin Wall. Republican administrations oversaw the reunification of Europe and united the nation after 9/11.
And then came the wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan and the global war on terror.
There were successes and their were failures but mostly, we became tentative which only exacerbated failures. What is clear is the 21st century cannot be understood through the lenses of the 20th century.
The GOP needs to reestablish their credibility. The voters have established that as a fact, not as an opinion. While the party has a long way to go, starting fresh with foreign policy is a good first step.
Needed: This past fall was not kind to U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It became increasingly clear that Afghan security forces were not going to be ready for the 2014 transition. The New York Times highlighted the administration’s failure to persuade the Iraqi government to allow a residual U.S. force to stay in the country, leaving Baghdad ever more at the mercy of Tehran. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought publicly over how to respond to Iran’s advancing nuclear program. The administration’s much-touted “pivot” to the Pacific seemed like more talk than action, as the United States passively watched tensions rise between China and Japan. And then, the administration tripped over itself repeatedly in trying to explain the fiasco in Benghazi, Libya.
Yet despite all this, Obama not only won the election in November but was more trusted by the public than Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, on foreign policy and national security issues. The Pew Research Center’s last preelection poll, for example, found that more voters trusted Obama than Romney on foreign affairs, by 50 percent to 42 percent, and CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys showed similar figures. Tracking polls suggested that the foreign policy debate helped halt whatever momentum Romney had.
This was all a big change from the past. Republicans had previously possessed a decades-long advantage on foreign policy. Exit polls have shown that voters consistently trusted Republican presidential candidates over Democratic ones on foreign policy from the Vietnam era until 2012. So Obama’s edge cannot be chalked up simply to incumbency. And if this exception becomes a trend, it will pose a serious problem for the Republican Party, significantly altering the political landscape. Foreign policy is rarely the decisive issue in presidential campaigns, but it does matter: even voters who profess not to care about the rest of the world need to feel comfortable that their candidate can be the next commander in chief. A candidate’s command of foreign policy acts as a proxy for assessing broader leadership abilities. As of right now, far too many Republicans flunk that test.