In the classic noir novel The Big Sleep, the world-weary private eye Philip Marlowe muses on a man’s final resting place in a dirty sump: “You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.”
Nothing better captures a somnambulant Republican Party’s new foreign policy of “The Same, Unless…”
Yet the alarming developments in the “New Egypt” – whose “Twitter Revolution” appears a retweet of the Iranian Revolution – should stop the drowsy party from hitting the snooze alarm and drifting back into that nightmare where they’re racing naked for a meeting with their accountant.
Yes, there remain Republican foreign policy stars who know the “Thrilla in Manila” wasn’t fought between Joe Frazier and Muhamed Morsi; but these hawks have been pigeonholed and are only allowed to fly the coop after “one damn thing or another” proffers the chance to embarrass President Obama and scare up some domestic votes.
Alternately, when a foreign policy crisis lacks sufficient electoral rewards or, worse, risks them, the GOP establishment “plays it safe;” parrots the President’s line; and, in true bipartisan fashion, hopes for the best – i.e., everyone forgetting this inconvenient fact when the party later wings a few attacks on the President’s now “failed policy.”
In hindsight, the GOP lagging a President who’s “leading from behind” in the international arena is the result of drawing unsound lessons from sound defeats.
Recall the “Arab Spring” followed the “Iraq Summer” of 2006 – so named by the leftists staging demonstrations against Republicans (and some Democrats) who preferred victory to surrender in Iraq. The Left’s efforts underscored the public’s widespread anger and angst over Iraq, which proved a key factor in the GOP losing Congressional majorities. By 2008, despite the Surge’s astounding success, a war-weary American public kept foreign policy on its list of reasons to reject the Republican agenda. The party lost the presidency and was voted into a deeper minority.
Rather than reassess its foreign policy positions, for the 2010 elections a routed party establishment decided its “rebranding” required narrowing its electoral appeal to an almost myopic focus on economic and fiscal issues. It added foreign policy to social issues on its list of taboos that “smart” Republican candidates sidestep or forsake. The GOP’s recapture of the House in 2010 appeared to validate this new strategy.
However, this overlooked the obvious: this mid-term election was a rare referendum election on a radical, divisive piece of domestic legislation, Obamacare. Not unreasonably, foreign policy issues’ salience would be temporarily diminished, just as many domestic policy issues’ salience was temporarily diminished in the 2002 midterms following September 11th. Of course, following such an election, foreign policy issues would gravitate back to their position as key factors voters consider – especially as America remains a nation at war with our troops stationed in harm’s way.
Nevertheless, based upon a misreading of past drubbings and present improvements, a new Republican foreign policy was born. Akin to its older domestic policy sibling, “The Same, But Less,” the GOP’s new foreign policy is “The Same, Unless.” It is typified by the GOP’s response to the birth and backward baby steps of the “New Egypt.”
When the “Arab Spring” hit Egypt and the American media in 2011, rather than craft and advocate its own proposed course, a wary Republican establishment foxily embraced or excused the President’s policy of hastily abandoning President Mubarak before the adoption of a sound transition plan: notably, the holding of the scheduled election; the adoption of a constitution that subordinated the powers of the state to the rights of the people (and, by the way, would have preemptively proscribed the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Morsi’s power grab); the exclusion from the process of political organizations that advocated violence in the pursuit of its goals; and the affirmation of the Camp David Accords, the free navigation of the Suez Canal, and other extant vital international interests.
Unversed in the GOP’s new “The Same, Unless” playbook, Ambassador John Bolton and a few others had the poor taste and good judgment to warn that, as in the Iranian Revolution, Egypt’s broader popular movement would be hijacked by the most highly radicalized and organized minority – namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.
These deviants were promptly excoriated by the media and foreign policy “experts” across the political spectrum.
Ergo, at the time, the GOP establishment concluded its “The Same, Unless” policy was a winner and doubled down on the mute button in foreign affairs during the 2012 elections.
This time, let’s do a better job culling lessons from the ashes.
Amidst the host of post-election recriminations, all agree the economy was the paramount issue. But unlike what the Democrats did in 2006-08, by design the GOP’s “The Same, Unless” policy could not adequately provide voters with another key electoral consideration: foreign policy. Once the party downplayed foreign policy, it lacked the credibility to instantly return it to the fore. A prime example is the Republicans’ inability to command the issue and compel answers to the administration’s role regarding Benghazi.
We could go on, but here’s the nub: ultimately, you can’t greet “Morning in America” if you’re asleep. For the sake of our nation and world, “The Party of Reagan” can’t arise, unite, and lead with the zombie foreign policy of “The Same, Unless.”
Will Republicans glean the right lessons from past elections and return to a foreign policy of “peace through strength”? Or will the GOP continue to sedate itself with the inebriating myth that a party shirking its duty to defend America from her enemies abroad is somehow “electable”? If inclined toward the latter, won’t they at least heed a lesson from Philip Marlowe, if not me:
“On the way downtown, I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double scotches. They didn’t do me any good.”
“The Same, Unless” won’t do a world of good either.
Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter is a guitarist, native Detroiter, and recovering Congressbum.