The Times magazine has recently done a poll of a small sample group of 500 “likely Republican voters” (defined as registered Republicans, registered independents who vote in GOP primaries, and a small group of Democrats) which purports to “show” that 47% of “Republicans” now support an isolationist (or almost isolationist) foreign policy of the kind that Ron Paul supports. The media (including, sadly, even conservative media outlets such as the Washington Times) is now trumpeting the results as supposed proof that Ron Paul has swayed a lot of Republicans to agree with his insane neo-isolationist foreign policy and that this supposed “shift” in “Republicans’ ” foreign policy attitude is largely due to Paul. Says Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times:
“Nearly half of all Republican primary voters say it’s time the U.S. stops intervening in world affairs and focuses on domestic priorities instead, signaling a persistent rift that is playing out in the party’s presidential nomination battle.
In the latest poll from The Washington Times and JZ Analytics, 48 percent said the U.S. should maintain a policy of intervening where its interests are challenged. But 46 percent disagree, saying the country is “in a new global era” where it can no longer take such an active role.
“That makes me say that the party is fundamentally fractured, and not only along the obvious lines of the social conservatives, the libertarian conservatives and the moderate conservatives,” said John Zogby, who conducted the poll.
The Paul factor
The split is most obvious in the candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who in Monday night’s Republican presidential debate drew some cheers but also loud boos when he called for an international “Golden Rule” that would dramatically curtail U.S. power projection throughout the world.”
But that is absolutely not true, for three reasons: firstly, the poll is woefully inaccurate (for several reasons); secondly, the shift, to the extent it has occurred, is largely unrelated to Ron Paul (fortunately); and thirdly, 47% is still a minority, and a plurality, 48%, still voted for a vigorous role for the US on the global stage.
Let’s explore the first two reasons in detail.
The poll is woefully inaccurate for several reasons. Firstly, the poll included a substantial number of non-Republicans – independents and even a “small” group of Democrats – i.e. people who are not even registered Republicans (not even on paper), and of course don’t believe in Republican principles.
Secondly, the poll asked the wrong question and gave only two extreme options, instead of giving Republicans a real and fair choice. Specifically, the poll asked which statement the queried people agreed with and they had only two statements to choose from:
1) “America is the most powerful nation in the world not only because of its strong military but because of the values of personal freedom it represents. America must intervene in the affairs of the world whenever its interests are challenged.”
2) “America is in a new global era and cannot afford to spread its resources too thin. It must rely on strong alliances with other nations and take care of its domestic priorities first”
The first option, of course, asked only about intervening to defend American interests. However, during the last 2 decades, successive Administrations have defined “American national interests” so broadly that they even included remaking the whole world into a community of Jeffersonian democracies, ending internecine conflicts around the world, and defending small, irrelevant countries. That being the case, I am not surprised that only 48% of “Republican voters” agreed with that option. After so many interventions in the last decade, Americans – including many real Republicans – are wary of further wars.
And this is the biggest problem with the poll. The options are wrongly formulated and are deliberately worded to suggest an answer, and voters’ only choice is only from among these two extreme options. I believe that the result of the poll would’ve been far different if the following third option had been included:
“The US should have the world’s strongest military but intervene military only when and where crucial American interests are threatened.”
This is a policy based on that of Ronald Reagan. It follows his wise advice. It is geared towards protecting America and the American people physically, as well as protecting crucial American interests (including important allies as well as the world’s sealanes, airspace, and large reservoirs of natural resources like oil and natural gas) while assuming that the US will avoid, at all costs, murky and internecine conflicts.
This is, I believe, a policy option that would attractive to the largest possible group of people. It could, if proposed and explained to the American public, become an American foreign policy consensus – that the US must maintain, and generously fund, a strong defense, and protect its crucial interests, while avoiding irrelevant conflicts and not using force as a first resort (a military that will be second to none has a good chance of never having to be used).
And that is, I believe, why this option continues to be omitted and not mentioned by the media and by pollsters – and therefore why most Americans haven’t been informed of it. Offering that choice to the American people would result in the majority of them adopting it and thus break up the oligopoly status that neoconservative uber-interventionists and Paulite isolationists now have on foreign policy. They would rather continue to perpetuate the myth that the only foreign policy choices America has is either isolationism or hyperinterventionism and remaking all countries of the world into Jeffersonian democracies. But why the Washington Times newspaper perpetuates that myth is a mystery.
Furthermore, the people who voted for the second option are wrong. The US cannot afford to intervene in every internecine conflict around the world, but it can afford to, and must, invest adequately in defense, play an active role in the world, and honor its defense commitments to its allies. The current defense budget amounts to less than 15% of the total federal budget and a paltry 3.59% of GDP. Total military spending amounts to just 19% of the total federal budget and just 4.51% of GDP. The US can afford to maintain a strong military and to spend as much on defense as it does now, and to intervene military abroad when and where needed. The US does not have, and should not, retrench behind its borders, hide in a Fortress America, and foreswear military interventions abroad.
“Strong alliances” are not a substitute for a strong, superior military, because nothing can be a substitute for a strong military of one’s own country (and the influence it gives you) and in any case the vast majority of America’s allies are militarily weak. As for “taking care of its domestic priorities first”, no, they must come second to defense. What higher priority can there be than defending the country, its citizens, and its interests abroad? Defense is the #1 Constitutional duty of the federal government. Most domestic issues are actually, by the Constitution, off-limits to it. Defense is the #1 Constitutional priority and needs to be treated as such.
In any case, I believe that the foreign policy option I support, which I call the third option (and have mightily contributed to its development), is the best foreign policy course for America.