The GOP Needs to construct its own foreign policy narrative

On Tuesday, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb — who many remember as former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and even more recall as a respected novelist and fierce Marine of the Vietnam era — stood at the podium of the National Press Club and announced that he’s at least considering a run for president in 2016.


He was frank that he’s assessing support and will decide in several months if he’s all in. And, as expected, he was asked questions about positions already being staked out by the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and how he felt given his expertise —and there’s no doubt he’s an expert on matters of national defense — about our current engagement with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The takeaway was that we have a very incoherent foreign policy in these matters and we’d do well to develop and communicate a more concrete set of strategies. “It is not a healthy thing when the world’s dominant military and economic power has a policy based on vagueness,” he said. And that’s a reasonable thought. Somewhere in there was also the mention that we shouldn’t be an occupying force in that region of the world, but that was hardly a surprising position for someone known as one of the harshest critics of the Iraq War under Bush.

He also talked about economic fairness and even touched on corporate cronyism, as is typical of someone at least attempting to hash out a platform. But the talk of war is of interest because, almost immediately following his speech, media pundits that were in attendance began tweeting and writing that Webb had given an impassioned “anti-war” speech, possibly to set him in opposition to “hawkish” Hillary Clinton.

My first thought after seeing those excited murmurs was: were these people at the same event that I was? Second: Oh, right. This is how the media helps establish the lines and even inform the candidates what the public wants to hear. Third: Well the Democrats are already staking out ideological territory, while the Republicans are…*crickets*.

In short, it’s unclear if Webb is running — he’s still deciding himself — but he’s making an argument. And in so doing, he’s giving Clinton ideas to counter and negotiate as she fundraises with the big shots and refines her own platform. In case there was any doubt as to whether or not she would run:

As Clinton, 66, was in New York on Sept. 21 for the annual Clinton Global Initiative gathering, the leading pro-Clinton super PAC held an event for more than 70 supporters at the Pacific Palisades home of producer Howard Gordon and wife Cambria. The event was organized by the Ready for Hillary super PAC, which bills itself as a group “encouraging” Clinton to run while laying the financial “groundwork” for a campaign. Several of those at the gathering, co-hosted by producer Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller, told THR that they believe Clinton likely will declare her candidacy soon after the November midterm elections. …

So just where is the GOP? What are their arguments? While the left side of the aisle is busy constructing the narrative, where’s the plan from the right, even from the candidates that are busily trying to win the Senate?

As radio demi-god Mark Levin reportedly said at the Media Research Center’s Gala last night (and this is a quote from Twitter so take it with a grain of salt), “Maybe if the GOP ever gets an agenda that makes any sense, they’ll beat the loony left.”

Perhaps, like Hillary, the GOP is waiting for some defined platform at which to gnash teeth and pound fists. Some are already arguing that at least one of the new breed of young Republicans — who bring the not-even-thinly-veiled stripe of libertarianism with them — does have a coherent and consistent plan, specifically on foreign policy:

The consistency here is that Mr. Paul always opposed military actions aimed at countries and forces in the Middle East that weren’t aligned with the true enemy, which is Islamist radicalism. Not only are such policies errant and wasteful, but they unnecessarily arouse anti-Western passions in an unstable region, thus increasing the instability. This is the story of American foreign policy since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Paul does support military actions aimed at curbing the spread and power of Islamist radicals positioned to establish a territorial base in the heart of Islam from which they can threaten the rest of the Middle East and eventually the West.

There’s nothing inconsistent or ad hoc in this policy formulation. In fact, it makes more sense than the ideas and concepts that have been driving American foreign policy — and generating ever greater Mideast instability — over the past 14 years.

And then there are those who are certain the GOP doesn’t need an agenda to win, at least as far as the midterms are concerned:

The idea rests on the assumption that to actually win the election, voters must have a clear idea of what you’re for, because only then will they vote for you. But look at recent midterm elections. Every one in the last two decades years was a dramatic victory for one side or the other. Republicans took back Congress in 2010, dealing a stunning blow to Barack Obama. Democrats did the same thing in 2006. Republicans bludgeoned Democrats in 2002, with the aftermath of 9/11 upending the traditional win for the opposition. Four years earlier, Democrats managed the same kind of upset, with the Clinton impeachment debacle turning voters away from the GOP. In none of those cases was the outcome determined by some positive agenda for governing.

But, as Jim Geraghty at National Review points out, the easy out of being non-interventionist and an anti-war cheerleader is waning, if not already dead, as the country faces boots on the ground (call them whatever makes you comfortable) in the Middle East. It’s not a great situation. No one likes war and the libertarians — and former Sen. Webb — are right to tread cautiously and express their disdain for engagement, particularly without consent of Congress.

That being said, the Democrats, through candidates who may not run, and via those who certainly will, are already defining how they plan to address the reality of world affairs. The new crop of GOP movers and shakers — and this article is right to suggest they are untested on foreign policy — needs to begin to construct a narrative of their own if they want voter support. Sometimes the best offense is simply a good offense.

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