President Obama’s foreign policy has divided the Right into two camps: the hawks and the realists. The hawks believe in a muscular foreign policy and continue advancing the Bush freedom agenda. Their leader, John McCain, is a steadfast supporter of Obama’s wars. The realists question the efficacy of the president’s foreign policy and think America is wasting blood and treasure in its overseas operations. The dispute will affect the GOP presidential nomination process; its outcome will shape the upcoming presidential election.
Conservatives worry about the president’s war aims. The war in Afghanistan is nearly a decade old. 100,000 American troops are still on the ground there. The operation costs $2 billion a week, eating away 1/6th of the defense budget. This week the president announced he was winding down the surge, which he launched in a December 2009 speech at West Point. 30,000 servicemen will come home by September 2012. But even after the draw-down, American troop totals in Afghanistan have doubled since Obama assumed office.
Our military look more like Peace Corps volunteers than soldiers. At a time of austerity at home, U.S. troops continue building roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan. The template, a feature of the counter-insurgency strategy, hoped to boost Afghan civil society and strengthen the institutions necessary to create a stable state. Unfortunately that hasn’t engendered good will between our troops and Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who recently called U.S. forces “occupiers” of his country.
President Obama called Afghanistan the good war while campaigning in 2008. Since assuming office, he has rarely discussed our involvement there. He is uncomfortable talking about the war and hasn’t spent time building up support for it. It’s no surprise that support for Afghanistan has eroded on his watch.
Popular support has also collapsed for the “non-war” in Libya. The president got involved in the conflict earlier this year and promised the operation would last weeks, not months. That didn’t happen. The administration struggled to define its mission and refused to commit land troops to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi
Critics said the president was leading from behind as the operation dragged on and turned into a stalemate. As American involvement in Libya continued past the 60th day, many said the president was in violation of the War Powers Act, which requires Mr. Obama to seek congressional approval to continue military operations. .
Hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham support the president wholeheartedly. They condemn the realists in their party, and call them isolationists for not embracing intervention in Libya. McCain said the War Powers Act didn’t constrain the president. Graham told fellow Republicans to “shut-up” about the conflict. These neo-conservatives put country first, just like McCain said he would during his presidential bid in 2008. They won’t play politics with national defense. Hawks believe America has a responsibility to fight evil and has an obligation, as the world’s lone superpower, to serve as a global policeman.
They have media support throughout the conservative movement, from the principle neo-conservative monthly Commentary to the Weekly Standard and on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter in the Bush administration, articulated the hawk’s position in a recent Post column: commitment to Afghanistan is still in our national interest; Obama’s surge worked; the president should finish the job.
Realists disagree. A coalition of libertarians and paleo-conservatives, from the Ron Paul wing to the Pat Buchanan faction, think the hawks’ agenda has wrecked the GOP. They condemn the Manichaean worldview that developed during the Bush years (GWB famously said: “you’re either with us or you’re against us”) and think the effort to end tyranny around the globe (that GWB laid out in his second inaugural), was a sign that Republican foreign policy was divorced from reality. Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal pundit called such aspirations “dreamy” and “disturbing.”
Many Tea Party Republicans, who came to Washington after the November 2010 election, share the realist position. They think Republicans can’t tackle big government if the party continues supporting perpetual war. These Kucinich Republicans, as the Wall Street Journal referred to them, share a war-weariness that’s spread across the country.
Yesterday the GOP controlled House of Representatives rejected the administration’s Libya policy, but refused to cut funding for the operation. This dichotomy has plagued the Right for a while. Speaker John Boehner has carried water for Mr. Obama for the last several weeks. Earlier this month, he offered a resolution that kept his caucus from jumping ship and endorsing a proposal from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, which called for an end of U.S. involvement in Libya. 87 Republicans signed onto the Kucinich plan, but Boehner’s position carried the day.
The Libyan operation has also brought questions about the viability of NATO, the military alliance in charge of combat operations there. NATO was formed in 1949 to combat the communist threat posed by the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. collapsed twenty years ago and communism is no longer an existential threat to the U.S.
Americans have shouldered the burden for Europe’s defense since the Cold War began. In effect, American taxpayers financed the European welfare state, which grew because the continent no longer had to worry about military spending. Europeans still think they’re under the American umbrella, a generation after the Cold War ended: since 9/11, US defense spending has doubled while our NATO allies have cut theirs by 15%.
Realists think NATO is an archaic institution that no longer has a raison d’être. Some believe Americans should end the alliance and make the Europeans pay for their own defense.
Hawks claim the Libyan debacle is a result of failed American leadership that began when American forces handed over control of the operation to NATO. Though they express reservations about the Obama’s execution of the wars, they will continue supporting the Obama foreign policy.
The hawks still make up a majority of the GOP. But realists know America is not the economic power it once was, and has lost plenty of blood and treasure in its decade long War (s) on Terror. This faction of the GOP has gained momentum over the last year and will likely shape the party as it approaches Campaign 2012.