09/26/2012 11:35 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

Why the Republicans Scare Me

John Barrasso, the Republican senator from Wyoming, appeared on Morning Joe show on Sept. 24 to talk about our foreign policy in the Middle East. He shared his time between blasting the president for complete failure and offering the Republican solution: more threats, more troops, more no-fly zones, and, what was unspoken, more U.S. casualties and more money that we don't have down the drain.

Don't misunderstand. Despite having one of the hardest working secretaries of state ever, the president has not accomplished much on the foreign policy front, that is, except for that one paramount deed -- he has started to bring our people home, resulting in decreasing casualty lists. It doesn't matter why he thinks he's doing it, because it's the right thing to do. And, as far as I'm concerned, he's not doing fast enough. On the other hand, the Republicans make you think that they spent their formative years taking people's lunch money in school and getting away with it. It probably didn't matter whether they were hungry; they just needed to show everyone else in the class that they could do it.

The Republicans are convinced that we can shape the Arab Spring, or whatever it is that's actually going on in the Middle East. We don't have to contain Iran, because we're simply going to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. We can stop Assad from killing his population, and then, no doubt, we'll be able to stop the Sunnis from killing Assad's people once we help engineer the changeover. We can do whatever we like, because we can, and because God (at least, ours) is on our side, but mainly because we can kick the snot out of everybody else.

What the Republicans have not explained is motive. Developing countries want our money, but not our advice. Muslim countries certainly aren't interested in infidel-based counseling, especially from a bunch of infidels who always favor the other, worse bunch of infidels, the Israelis. No amount of roiling by our troops will end terrorism, that great balloon that just bulges out in new places when you squeeze it. We don't really need to secure the oil, because the Muslim countries are even more anxious to sell it than we are to buy it. Changes in human rights, including the way women are treated and increased educational opportunities, will be evolutionary. Democracy is tough, and takes practice. Even our own civil war did not change things substantively until another 100 years and much brave effort forced us to accept what Lincoln and three Constitutional amendments accomplished only in writing.

On the other hand, Republicans are obsessed with keeping jobs in the defense industry. So are the Democrats, but the Republicans are willing to spend dollars that aren't there; Mitt Romney keeps saying that we can't spend money we don't take in, and yet he talks about more hardware, more troops, and more foreign intrusion. This is the party that provided two wars without worrying about the wherewithal to take care of the hundreds of thousands of returning veterans.

One senses that the Republicans aren't content being tough; they need to keep proving it. Unfortunately, the world around them has changed. We no longer have a monopoly on those little bits of modern technology that make the battlefield so deadly. In Desert Storm in 1991, we had the best big stuff on the battlefield, fought a conventional war against Saddam's army and beat their brains out with stunningly few casualties on our side. By the time we went back in 2003, a new kind of warfare, something we got a taste of in Somalia in 1993, was rearing its ugly head, and our opponents have only gotten better. Even the supposedly invincible Israelis have learned how things have changed. The simple fact is that if you fight, you're going to get a substantial number of guys and gals killed and wounded, whether you win or not. So you better have a good reason to go.

Then, there's the no-fly zone. It's great because gasoline and the planes we occasionally lose are free, and we never kill innocent civilians. Or have I got that wrong? Also, no-fly zones may tell us what's going on up there, but, as we've seen in Libya, it doesn't tell us much about what's happening on the ground. That's left to the CIA and Special Forces. Despite their valiant efforts, we seem unable to stay ahead of the curve, and never know exactly who's in charge or what's going to happen next.

The Republicans seem to think that WE are going to mold the Middle East, maybe the whole world. t has passed them by, and gotten too big, too dangerous, and too self-possessed for any one country to control. We look like the British in India. How do we propose to always "lead from the front" and control seven billion people with a few hundred thousand troops? How do we make people, who look at us and our values as they would at Martians, follow our ideas of how they should live? Most importantly, when are the Republicans going to concentrate on closer problems that have gotten away from us completely, like Central and South America, and Europe?

The American electorate is fed up with foreign adventure. That ought to matter. We love our armed forces. We should demonstrate that love by using them in the precious manner they deserve, not by wielding them to pound the nails that the Republicans seem to see everywhere.