Just over fourteen years ago America’s foreign policy shifted almost as fast as the towers came down in New York. The neo-con/interventionist view that America should play an active role in shaping the governments of other countries was broadly adopted both by political leaders and by rank and file voters in both parties.
As the wars dragged on, however, the newfound popularity of interventionism predictably waned. Democrats were the first to lose their enthusiasm. Katie Couric famously questioned the Bush administration’s foreign policy in 2006 with her typically professional question for then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, “Who made us the boss of them?” By 2008, however, many Republicans were also beginning to grow skeptical of the interventionism they had embraced in 2001. Congressman Ron Paul became the face of the non-interventionist Republicans allowing him to place third in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 and to win them outright in 2012.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]In 2002 Republicans, with the support of a majority of Democrat Senators, took the nation to war citing the risk of a deranged dictator using weapons of mass destructions. By 2013 the pendulum had swung so far back to the non-interventionists that when President Obama wanted to bomb Assad’s regime in Syria in order to deter future use of WMDs he could not find majority support in either party.[/mks_pullquote]
Largely through the efforts of Ron and Rand Paul the Republican electorate rediscovered Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the military industrial complex and Pat Buchanan’s admonitions about using the military only in the face of a compelling “national interest.” In 2002 Republicans, with the support of a majority of Democrat Senators, took the nation to war citing the risk of a deranged dictator using weapons of mass destructions. By 2013 the pendulum had swung so far back to the non-interventionists that when President Obama wanted to bomb Assad’s regime in Syria in order to deter future use of WMDs he could not find majority support in either party.
Then came ISIS. There were news reports of the mass execution of prisoners. There were reports of forced marriage, rape and slavery. There were reports of forced conversion and genocide. By the time Americans heard about the beheading of children and the placing of their heads on spikes we weren’t really interested in whether or not America had a compelling “national interest” in the middle east. Non-interventionism was out. We (Americans of both parties) wanted to go over there and kill the bastards. Even Rand Paul expressed his support for “destroying the Islamic State.”
But how long will this last? When the military struggle with ISIS has dragged on for years and the reports come in that those who are taking their place are committing their own atrocities will the American people simply oscillate back to non-interventionism? Are Americans of both parties (to varying degrees) simply going to wander back and forth from one deeply held set of convictions to its polar opposite depending on the most recent news placed in front of them?
America needs a foreign policy that can survive contact with reality. The neo-con/interventionist worldview couldn’t survive the reality of the instability of post Saddam Iraq. The non-interventionist anti-war/compelling interest worldview couldn’t survive the reality of the existence of ISIS. The suggestion that nothing as brutal as ISIS would ever arise without American intervention is a cop-out that cannot survive any familiarity with the reality of world history. The absence of a coherent foreign policy is a bi-partisan problem so it doesn’t get the attention that contentious partisan issues receive, but that probably makes it all the more worthy of serious consideration.