The Spectacle Blog

Republicans Debate Foreign Policy

By on 6.20.11 | 10:42AM

Ross Douthat picks up on a theme I explored in a column last month: the intraconservative foreign policy debate, as personified by Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. He writes:

Rubio is the great neoconservative hope, the champion of a foreign policy that boldly goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy. In the Senate, he's constantly pressed for a more hawkish line against the Mideast's bad actors. His maiden Senate speech was a paean to national greatness, whose peroration invoked John F. Kennedy and insisted that America remain the "watchman on the wall of world freedom."

Paul, on the other hand, has smoothed the crankish edges off his famous father's antiwar conservatism, reframing it in the language of constitutionalism, the national interest and the budget deficit... In a recent address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Paul presented himself as the real foreign-policy "moderate" - neither an isolationist nor a Wilsonian idealist, but someone who believes we should be "somewhere some of the time" without trying to be "everything to everyone."

Even this moderate dissent from hyperinterventionism is too much for John McCain, who denounced the Republican presidential field as "isolationist" for what were, aside from Ron Paul, fairly mild criticisms of the Obama administration's policies in Afghanistan and Libya.

But that's exactly what bothers McCain. Under Bush, Republican skepticism of war would have been confined to Paul and a few other outliers. Now it is creeping into the mainstream of the GOP, reviving, as I wrote last week, a debate that broke out during the 1990s. Douthat concludes his piece by discussing Rubio's "story of a great republic armed and righteous, with no limits on what it can accomplish in the world."

"This is a story that many conservatives - and many Americans - want to believe. Once, I believed it myself," Douthat writes. "But that was many years and many wars ago, and now I think Rand Paul is right." Douthat isn't alone.

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