A Foreign Policy Election?

Violence Escalates As Kiev Protests Continue

Wouldn’t that be an excellent idea? The choices an American president has to make today – from Mexico to Russia to Syria and Iran – are fiendishly tough, in the wake of Bush’s revelation of the severe limits on American military power. We could do with an airing of what exactly our options are in restraining Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Putin’s neo-fascist regime in Russia. But we appear stuck in a miasma of public forgetfulness – a state of affairs which only a few, like Rand Paul, seem to want to challenge. Matthew Feeney wonders how Paul will fare:

A lot could change before the 2016 presidential campaigns begin in earnest. However, assuming there is no major shift in American opinion before Paul’s widely expected White House bid begins, it unfortunately looks like Paul’s positions on foreign policy, which ought to be taken seriously given the current state of American foreign affairs, will be mostly overlooked by an American public that continues to be largely indifferent about foreign affairs.

Larison isn’t so sure:

Normally, no politician can run and win on a platform defined mainly by foreign policy views, but when a politician holds views that line up with public opinion they will still get the attention of quite a few voters. Because hawks in both parties are hostile to what Paul represents, there will also probably be disproportionate attention paid to Paul’s foreign policy views by critics, which will make more voters aware of them and could have the unintended effect of driving some voters in Paul’s direction.

Millman expects that, should Paul get the nomination, that “the general election will turn on economic issues.” He imagines a Clinton-Paul race:

Hillary Clinton has almost no incentive to bring up foreign policy, except to contrast her considerable experience with Paul’s greenness.

She won’t run on the need to confront evil in Syria, or Ukraine, or wherever; she’ll run on competence, not ideology. Her overwhelming incentive is going to be to focus on Paul’s economic and budgetary views, and his leadership role in some of the most ignominious moments of the Congressional GOP’s budgetary hostage-taking. (That, and play identity politics.) That is the contrast she is going to draw, and Paul is going to have to own it.

Larison pushes back:

As an advocate for arming the Syrian opposition, pushing for regime change in Libya, and backing escalation in Afghanistan, Clinton routinely took the more hawkish side in every internal administration debate, and that put her on what proved to be the wrong side of some of the most important decisions of the first term. For that matter, the main reason that Clinton is ever credited with foreign policy competence is that she reliably takes the conventional and “consensus” position on every major issue. In other words, her claim to competence is that she sticks to a predictably hawkish line.

Millman goes another round:

My point was not that Clinton actually has a record of competence in foreign policy; I don’t think she does. I agree, in fact, with pretty much all of Larison’s criticisms of her foreign policy record. I just don’t think Clinton is going to run on a platform of “She’ll keep us at war.” Rather, she will claim that she has the experience to know how to negotiate effectively and get results without war, and the clout to build a broad coalition of international support when the use of force is necessary. Whereas, she’ll portray Paul as a naive ideologue who doesn’t understand how the world works. Her actual foreign policy preferences are quite close to Senator McCain’s, but she won’t make jokes about bombing Iran, and won’t present herself as the heir to “bear any burden, pay any price.”

For my part, I wonder if we are currently under-estimating the public’s interest. We’re in a period before mid-terms when foreign policy is usually dormant. It may perk up as the presidential contest looms on the horizon. And I have to say a contrast between Paul’s principled non-interventionism and Clinton’s restrained McCainism would be quite a tonic. And I suspect Paul would score a few points.

(Photo: General view of Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police forces in Kiev on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. By Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.)