If conservatives want to win elections, their platform is going to have to be populist and realistic. That means small government, but the cuts have to start with the left’s sacred cows, rather than expecting the bulk of the Republican electorate to suck it up for the greater good. I would love to see a conservative candidate announce a plan to stop plowing more money into failed Democratic cities instead of announcing yet another bright scheme to slash the military or Medicare.
Likewise the “exporting Democracy” school of conservatives were thoroughly discredited by the Arab Spring. Their agenda is mainstream among the establishment, but conservatives need a sensible realistic foreign policy approach that avoids the extremes of nation building and isolationism, that puts national interests first while at the same time recognizing that we are a world power.
Americans have no interest in fighting wars for futile missions to build democracy. But neither are they willing to sit around and watch a group like ISIS take off. What is needed is an approach that emphasizes decisive military intervention against enemies without regard for collateral damage while minimizing American casualties. We should sharply slash much of our foreign aid budget and look at what actually builds influence and what doesn’t. Foreign aid should be closely interlinked with our economic interests, the way that it is in China, and our international interests. We are not a charity.
The Republican Party in general suffers from an inability to communicate its agenda in ways that people can understand. Conservatives are not immune from this problem. During the Obama years, they compensated by doubling down on opposition. But they haven’t produced a positive, coherent agenda that appeals to people. And they haven’t bridged the gap with ordinary people.
The U.S. has lived through dangerous years before—1968 and 1980 come to mind. Hindsight is often the great redeemer, but both years ended with the American people making sober political choices in the face of a deteriorating international position.
Will that happen again in 2016? Not if either of the two current presidential front-runners wins the office. Not if we think that the central metrics of foreign policy are the size of our carbon footprint or the height of our wall with Mexico. Not if the bipartisan tilt toward economic protectionism and quasi-isolationism becomes the new national dogma. Not if we suppose that turning our back on the world’s great convulsions (or bombing them till they glow) is the best way of escaping them.
The future will be ghastly for that part of the world, and all that borders it. The United States will be somewhat distant from this whirlpool of blood, but only somewhat—we, our allies, and our interests will increasingly be spattered by it.The United States will be somewhat distant from this whirlpool of blood, but only somewhat—we, our allies, and our interests will increasingly be spattered by it. It is disheartening that at a time when countries are desperate for the United States merely to appear to want to lead them out of this, Americans are preoccupied on the one side with a braggart bully billionaire who knows little and cares less about civil liberties and on the other side with the contest between a marginal monomaniac and a terminally deceitful triangulator. Meanwhile, on the beautiful campuses of our oldest and wealthiest universities, mobs of the luckiest young people in the world are whimpering belligerently because they believe themselves to be victims—an obscene notion, if you think about their Syrian and Iraqi contemporaries. This may not be the early 1930s, but it is getting close. And as one might have said back then, this is not likely to get any better.
But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question. This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.
The lesson is that while intervention has risks, so does abdication. The difference is that at least intervention gives the West the opportunity to shape events, often for the better, rather than merely cope with the consequences of doing nothing. As difficult as the war in Iraq was, by 2008 the insurgency was defeated and Iraqis were returning to Baghdad. Only after Mr. Obama withdrew entirely from Iraq and ignored Syria did Iraq deteriorate again and Islamic State advance.
Europeans who dislike an America they think is overbearing should note what happens when the world’s policeman decides to take a vacation and let the neighbors fend for themselves. In the modern world of instant communications and easy transportation, the world’s problems will wash up on the wealthy West’s shores one way or another. If Europe isn’t prepared to handle nearby crises, militarily if necessary, be prepared to accept the refugees.