I’ve wrestled with Andrew C. McCarthy’s writings on foreign policy since the start of the Arab Spring. I am one of those conservatives who agreed with George W. Bush’s articulation of human rights and democracy as the core values of a muscular U.S. foreign policy (as opposed to Jimmy Carter, who placed them at the core of a weak one). So McCarthy’s analysis of the dangers of the Arab Spring were challenging–and necessary.
I had the opportunity to talk briefly with McCarthy before appearing with him on Hannity last month to discuss Mark Levin’s new book. I told him how much his views had affected me. What was missing from the Bush picture was the importance of civil society–sorely lacking in the Arab world. Before, I had expressed that through my own understanding of political transitions, noting that Bush was pushing too soon for democracy in places–i.e. the Palestinian Authority–where violence was still central to political culture.
McCarthy has tackled the emerging John McCain-Rand Paul divide in the Republican Party by reminding his readers at National Review that there really is a nascent conservative view of foreign policy, albeit one that lacks a political spokesperson (such as Ronald Reagan once provided for the conservative worldview).
A conservative foreign policy would set itself firmly against Iran and Assad, as well as against al-Qaeda, the Brotherhood, and their state sponsors. It would not choose sides between them in their Syrian free-for-all. It would make the defeat of all of them — of Islamic supremacism — its strategic objective. It would tactically use the opportunities afforded by our diplomatic, economic, intelligence, military, and leadership capabilities to make it happen.
And it would work.
In foreign policy, McCarthy says, that would mean supporting only those countries and movements that are “champions of real Western democracy–not just popular elections but individual liberty and minority rights.” And in domestic terms, that means ending the hapless outreach to “moderate Islamists” in favor of a robust patriotism that makes room for, but does not bend over backwards for, American Muslims.
McCarthy’s key insight here is that the kind of government needed to carry out a conservative foreign policy is indeed a limited one–not the “energetic” one of Bill Kristol and David Brooks, nor the small one favored by Rand Paul, but one that prioritizes: “What conservatives want is a central government that does very few things–only the ones it is expressly assigned, the ones only a national government can do–but does them exceedingly well.” That means making national security a priority–“where Reagan got it right,” he says.
“Limited does not mean small,” McCarthy says (original emphasis), though conservatives would prefer a smaller government than the one Barack Obama has foisted upon us–while cutting defense! In shrinking it, we should not continue to harm government’s most essential function. With the debt ceiling battle looming, that should be a unifying conservative theme. And in the wake of the Syria debacle, McCarthy’s arguments should prompt us to regroup and present a real alternative to Obama’s failed leadership.