“But the GOP debate in New Hampshire was a big success in two ways. First, there was no obvious candidate from Crazytown, which was a boon to the party’s reputation and brand, and which may help it more easily shake itself out and pick an electable candidate. In a functionally 50-50 nation and in a campaign in which Democrats hope to spend a billion dollars, this could turn into a significant benefit. Second, and more important, the foreign-policy discussion, though limited, was marked by a new sobriety. There was no spirit of adventurism, there were no burly promises of victories around the corner and lights at the ends of tunnels. It was more muted than that, more realistic, different in tone and tenor from four and eight years ago. This signaled a real shift, and a heartening one…
“Does this suggest a return of isolationism, as some critics have said? No, and not necessarily by any means. Isolationists think they can be isolated, which is just another form of romanticism and unreality. We live in the world. We will never again be apart from it; trade and technology wouldn’t allow us to if we wanted to. We have real alliances and real foes. But there is little taste now for what is fast becoming an old vision that progress can be made and U.S. security enhanced through invasion, pacification and occupation. There is little taste for the idea that we can easily, or even arduously, force the complete cultural change of other hearts and other minds. Terrorism is a threat. There are many ways to fight it.
“But the larger point is that sometimes parties step away from themselves, stop being what they are. The Democrats are doing it now, in their soggy interventionism in Libya. So it’s especially good to see the Republicans start to return to themselves, to their essential nature as a party, which was invented to be genially sober, like Lincoln, optimistic but not unrealistic, like Reagan, and accepting that life has limits and it’s not unpatriotic to say so.”
“And who is the John McCain of 2012? No one. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy appears to have exhausted itself after only a decade. There are two extremely large and obvious reasons for this shift. First, the policy was given a good shot, and didn’t exactly work out as planned. America wasn’t greeted as a benevolent hegemon in Iraq or pretty much anywhere else, and regime change proved to be an extremely crude instrument for the shaping of a better world order. Reeling from the epic bender of the Bush years, the American public is in the midst of a foreign-policy hangover. The first question about the world from the New Hampshire audience was “Osama bin Laden is dead. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years. Isn’t it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?” The second was, Can’t we start closing our military bases around the world? Can’t we, in short, have less?…
“And this, in turn, forces a question: Are Republicans really the heirs to the Reaganite foreign-policy vision? So far, the party line on strong defense has held; that’s the one part of government that’s good, not bad. But how long can that giant exception last? How long, that is, before conservatives acknowledge the reality that defense spending consumes a massively larger fraction of the budget than welfare spending, foreign aid, and all the other convenient bugbears? If small-government conservatism really has decisively defeated national-greatness conservatism, then its advocates may turn against the whole apparatus of the neo-Reaganite foreign policy.”
“Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Tuesday criticized presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stance on Afghanistan, warning that Republicans stood the risk of looking like former President Jimmy Carter if they followed Romney’s lead on the issue.
“‘From the party’s point of view, the biggest disaster would be to let Barack Obama become Ronald Reagan and our people become Jimmy Carter,’ said Graham, according to the Hill…
“‘I was incredibly disappointed,’ Graham said, of the debate, according to the Wall Street Journal. ‘No one seemed to have a passion for the idea that we’re fighting radical Islam and the center of that battle is Afghanistan.'”
“The heart of the problem rests with President Obama, to be sure. As I, Marc Thiessen, and others have written on many occasions, the president has done precious little to explain why we are fighting in Afghanistan, what are interests are in Libya, and what his view of America’s role in the world should be. Small wonder that people are confused about end games when the commander in chief himself appears not to have one. But that’s not the whole story.
“When the center of gravity of the GOP appears to be shifting away from a robust defense of American leadership, American interests, and American allies in the world, it’s right to wonder whether there isn’t something more fundamental going on. And when those who label themselves disciples of Ronald Reagan start calling for America to look inward, to shy away from the world’s problems, to cut the military, cut commitments, and otherwise bug out from the international arena except when it comes to making money, it’s hard not to hear an isolationist duck quacking.”
“‘The president’s done a lousy job of communicating and managing our involvement in Libya, but I will be no part of an effort to de-fund Libya or to try to cut off our efforts to bring Gadhafi down,’ Graham said, later adding that Obama ‘needs to step up his game with Libya but Congress should sort of shut up and not empower Gadhafi.'”
“‘I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today?’ questioned McCain, saying the isolationism is a stark departure from traditional Republican foreign policy positions. ‘That is not the Republican party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people for all over the world.'”