Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Does the War Party Have a Peace Caucus?

Chuck Hagel’s confirmation process has been the most depressing episode in the Republican foreign-policy debate since George W. Bush was president, not least because the debate is still constrained by terms set by John McCain and impersonators such as Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte.

Hagel may be flawed, but Senate Republicans have largely subjected the would-be Obama defense secretary to a show trial for his modest dissents from the Bush administration as a GOP senator from Nebraska. Among many of Hagel’s former colleagues, the idea that Bush’s Iraq policy was anything less than an unqualified success somehow remains controversial.

Worse, none of the Tea Party freshmen took the opportunity to distinguish themselves from their colleagues in the hearings. This is to be expected of Marco Rubio, who has made his hawkish inclinations plain, but not the trio of senators endorsed by Ron Paul—Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and his son Rand Paul.

All three of these senators joined the vast majority of Republicans in delaying Hagel’s nomination. Lee has said he will ultimately vote against Hagel, calling his positions “weak” and “dangerous.” Cruz has been too demagogic in his opposition even for Graham and McCain.

The bigger concern is what this means for these senators’ broader foreign-policy views. In the 1990s, Republicans used some lowest-common-denominator issues—congressional declarations of war, no troops under foreign command—to appeal to less interventionist conservatives drawn to Pat Buchanan, while remaining conventionally but covertly hawkish.

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