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The Death of GOP Internationalism

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With Delaware Congressman Mike Castle's earth-shattering loss of in his Senate primary bid, the Tea Party insurrection is destroying the last vestige of the Grand Old Party as a major driving force behind pragmatic foreign policy. The rise of the Tea Party, the self described "loose network of conservative grassroots movements," has challenged the old internationalist wing of the party and won. As the brutal primary fights in Utah, Alaska and now Delaware have shown us, this is not your father's Republican party. And it probably never will be again.

Gone are the great thinkers that once made the Republican Party a driving force in internationalist policy. How would the Tea Party react today to the globalist tradition of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, or even Ronald Reagan?

  • It was Eisenhower who supported reversing the isolationist bent that had plagued the party during the New Deal.
  • As Congressman and Senator, Nixon fully supported the formation of the United Nations. As president, his foreign policy sought to end the illusion of American supremacy and to secure a stable global order.
  • Ronald Reagan was instrumental in reaching out to Moscow and signing arms-control treaties more sweeping than anything Nixon or Kissinger had ever envisioned. What would the Gipper think of the intellectually bankrupt campaign launched by the Heritage Foundation to sink New START?

The candidates of the Republican Party today bear little if any resemblance to their internationalist cohorts of yesterday. Take for example the current bare-knuckled battle for Pennsylvania's Senate seat between former Congressman Pat Toomey and current Rep. Joe Sestak. As David Schorr, (a fellow member of Citizens for Global Solutions PAC) put it, "Toomey must be getting his foreign policy advice from John Bolton and Dick Cheney, since his message today tried to portray international cooperation as a radical left cause."

Toomey recently blasted Rep. Sestak for supporting an increase in the foreign aid budget, a standard boilerplate campaign slogan for modern day "fiscally responsible" Republicans who can't (or don't) want to think too hard. It doesn't take a lot of research to figure out that discretionary spending for international programs since 1962 has averaged just 0.4% of GDP, and has through the years generally trended downward.

This unsettling fact was even recognized by the Bush Administration, when shortly after the September 11th attacks it elevated foreign aid to "a third pillar of national security." This doctrine was even articulated in the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2002, and reiterated in 2006 and 2010.

How do these decidedly grown-up views compare to today's Tea Party-backed candidates? Delaware Senate Republican Nominee Christine O'Donnell is adamantly against "outsourcing our foreign policy to the U.N." Rand Paul, who is running for Senate in Kentucky, believes "all funding of the U.N. as a whole [should] become voluntary," and that the "United States should withdraw from and stop funding altogether those UN programs that undermine legitimate American interests and harm the cause of freedom around the world." Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle just flat out wants to see the U.S. out of the U.N.

Recent political history serves only to highlight this great exodus (forced or not) of internationalist minds from the party. The defeat of Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware is but the latest in a long line of purges. After being labeled RINOs by many party activists, Congressman Chris Shays, Jim Leach and Senator Lincoln Chafee (whose single vote prevented the confirmation of Ambassador John Bolton) were all defeated in their reelection bids. Political environs caused Senator Chuck Hagel to retire in 2008.

Senator Lugar, perhaps the Senate's most pragmatic and courageous internationalist, is expected not to run for reelection in 2012. And rumors abound of a possible trip to the other side of the aisle for one of the last truly moderate Republicans in the Senate, Olympia Snowe.

The United States deserves two mature political parties that can work together and reach educated consensus. An effective foreign policy requires the U.S. to be a good global citizen. When we build positive multilateral relationships, respect international law, and use military engagement only as a tool of last resort, we flourish collectively as a nation.

In Washington, there has always been a tradition that politics stopped at the water's edge. We saw an example of that today when Republican Senators Lugar, Corker, and Isakson joined their Democratic colleagues to approve the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty in the Foreign Relations Committee. The question is, will a Tea Party-dominated Republican party ever be sane enough to do this again?