Politics being a funny beast, we tend to readily accept the idea of a retired state governor, sometime pundit, and non-candidate for president having a “foreign policy adviser.” Ben Smith of Politico reports that Palin this weekend unloaded what he calls the “neocon” advisers who have been with her since the 2008 campaign (when she was assigned them by the McCain organization), in favor of Hoover fellow and political author Peter Schweizer, who wrote two seminal volumes on Reagan’s handling of the Cold War (Victory and Reagan’s War), and writes at Breitbart’s Big Peace. (H/t: Israpundit)
This is informative news – and on the whole, good news. As Israpundit observes, Palin outlined a doctrine for the use of force in her speech to military families in Denver Monday evening (2 May). He quotes the following passage:
A lesson here then for effective use of force, as opposed to sending our troops on missions that are ill-defined. And it can be argued that our involvement elsewhere, say, in Libya, is an example of a lack of clarity.
See, these are deadly serious questions that we must ask ourselves when we contemplate sending Americans into harm’s way. Our men and women in uniform deserve a clear understanding of U.S. positions on such a crucial decision.
I believe our criteria before we send our young men and women, America’s finest, into harm’s way, I believe that our criteria should be spelled out clearly when it comes to the use of our military force. I can tell you what I believe that criteria should be. I can tell you what it should be in five points:
First, we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake, period.
Second, if we have to fight, we fight to win. To do that we use overwhelming force. We only send our troops into war with the objective to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. We do not send our military and stretch out the mission with an open-ended and ill-defined mission. Nation-building, a nice idea in theory, but it’s not the main purpose of our armed forces. We use our military to win wars.
And third, we must have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending our troops into harm’s way. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly, concisely, then our sons and daughters should not be sent to battle. Period.
Fourth, American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. We will fight side by side by our allies, but American soldiers must remain under the care and command of the American officers.
And fifth, sending our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay. However, we will encourage the forces of freedom around the world who are sincerely fighting for the empowerment of the individual.
When it makes sense, when it’s appropriate, we’ll provide them with support and help them win their own freedom. We’re not indifferent to the cause of human rights or the desire for freedom. We’re always on the side of both. But we can’t fight every war. We can’t undo every injustice around the world.
But with strength, and clarity in those five points, we’ll make for a safer, more prosperous, more peaceful world. Because as the U.S. leads by example, as we support freedom across the globe, we’re gonna prove that free and healthy countries, they don’t wage war on other free and healthy countries.
The stronger we are, the stronger and more peaceful the world will be under our example.
Many volumes could be written on the distinctions between the prevailing ideas on the use of force overseas, but this passage of Palin’s speech, combined with her taking on Peter Schweizer as an adviser, argues for a more Reaganesque than progressive-activist view. I don’t find the “neocon” label particularly useful; Reagan was advised by neocons from the original group dubbed with that label in the 1970s, and so were both Bushes, but this did not make for perfect consonance in their approach to using force overseas. “Neocon” had a particular meaning when it was first coined to describe people of a generally liberal background, especially on social and domestic issues, who held hawkish positions on the Cold War. That meaning has long since gone by the wayside.
To call something “neocon” now is not to put it in the context of any consistent thread in policy. Bush 41, for example, used force for regime-change in Panama in 1989, but didn’t use it to regime-change Saddam in 1991. He restricted himself to evicting Saddam’s forces from Kuwait. He also dispatched military force to supervise the delivery of aid to Somalis, with no intention of resolving the chaotic political situation there – this last enterprise an open-ended use of force on the progressive-activist model.
Reagan used force to regime-change Grenada, ironically in the middle of dealing with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which was a consequence of improperly scoping the purpose and requirements of force in a particular situation. Again, the latter (the Marine barracks debacle) is more characteristic of the progressive-activist model – which is what is currently developing in Libya.
Bush 43 used overwhelming force for regime-change in Iraq, and induced regime-change in Afghanistan with less than overwhelming force, but both were cases of politically justifying absolute regime-change and pursuing it without temporizing. Unifying Afghanistan under new rule has proven to be the insoluble problem in the aftermath, although the regime-change of Iraq has been much more heavily criticized throughout.
Which of these episodes were the result of “neocon” policies? There are plenty of people today who call the Libya intervention “neocon,” because it is expeditionary and related only indirectly to US security. Samantha Power and Susan Rice wouldn’t thank those pundits for calling their humanitarian intervention a “neocon” operation.
Schweizer is a fan of Reagan’s approach, which had no compunction about trying to undermine oppressive governments, but did so by supporting freedom movements where they were indigenous, and arming the insurgents under Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. The commitment of US force was a matter of coming to blows very rarely under Reagan: besides invading Grenada, Reagan conducted a reprisal against Libya in 1986 after the Berlin nightclub bombing, and another one against Iran in 1988 for mining the Persian Gulf and inflicting mine damage on USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG-58). The US armed forces had a high and very active profile during the Reagan years, but the actual use of force was considered necessary very seldom.
I tend to share Israpundit’s view that Schweizer’s advice will involve the sparing and summary use of force – in a shooting role. If you haven’t read his books on the Reagan approach – a comprehensive one that emphasized political and economic campaigns against the Soviet Union – I can highly recommend them. Meanwhile, compare Palin’s five points to the “Weinberger Doctrine,” a rubric that played a major role in US decisions about the use of force in Desert Storm.
As is typical of her, Palin is talking in the terms on which we need to be carrying on the public discussion of national security, our national interests, and interventions overseas. There has been a very long and extensive national dialogue on these topics over the last 100 years; we have never settled most questions as if there were a single answer. Palin – alone among potential GOP candidates – is harking back to the philosophical discussions launched by presidents and candidates like Reagan, Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson (agree with him or not, he launched a substantive debate that colored Democratic positions for the next 40 years), Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
I believe people intuit the need for this debate, as overseas interventions seem to be stalemated in Afghanistan and Libya, and the world begins to behave as if there is no US power. Palin apparently recognizes the need to talk about fundamentals – and love her or hate her, I don’t see anyone else out there doing it.