None other than Republican Sen. Rand Paul stated that, on the foreign policy front, his party hasn't been right about anything for the past 20 years. My only quibble is that the GOP hasn't been on the smart side of a foreign affairs issue for at least a century.
Here are a few lowlights:
♦ Republicans scuttled Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, assuring the further isolation of Germany, thus hastening the rise of Adolf Hitler, who appealed to German nationalism.
♦ Then, Republican isolationists voted against Franklin Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program, which saved the British Isles from German invaders in the early part of World War II.
♦ Republicans made hay out of Mao's takeover of China — the "Who lost China?" charge would have an impact on national politics for decades. Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam because he didn't want Republicans to accuse him of "losing Vietnam," as they were still accusing his party of "losing China."
♦ In 1947 came the infamous 80th Congress — the first Republican-controlled Congress since 1933, playing to what historian Richard Hofstadter insightfully termed "the paranoid style of American politics." That Congress gave America the House Un-American Activities Committee, which set the stage for Joe McCarthy, who never outed a single Communist but managed to decimate the Southeast Asia desk at the State Department. That would come back to haunt America a decade later in Vietnam.
♦ Republicans denounced the prospect of armistice in Korea and fawned over Douglas MacArthur, whose mantra was "There's no substitute for victory." To the contrary, the president and the entire military establishment took the position that the insubordinate MacArthur would bring us into "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time." Republicans denounced Truman for firing MacArthur. Then Dwight Eisenhower, also a general, was elected president and signed off on much the same armistice deal that Truman had negotiated.
♦Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to Vietnam, but the seeds of disaster were sown when Eisenhower stuck with the French, who wanted their colony back. But just as important was National Security Council memorandum #68, a little-known document written in 1950 under the direction of Paul Nitze for the National Security Council. Nitze took George Kennan's existing "containment" strategy and transformed it from reliance on diplomacy to reliance on the rapidly forming "Military-Industrial Complex." NSC 68 assumed a world dominated by monolithic communism, which led us to embrace the domino theory. President Obama has worked for more than six years to return the United States to Kennan's vision; Secretary of State John Kerry's Iran nuclear treaty is the latest application of Kennan's approach.
♦ Nixon opened relations with China, but only over the objections of his own party. Post-Watergate, with continued Republican opposition and Nixon gone, the hard work of normalizing relations fell to Jimmy Carter.
♦Iraq? Well, Dubya's WMDs turned out to be phony, as was his claim about "yellowcake," as was his assertion that we were doing this to bring democracy to the Middle East. Moreover, the Bush occupation was managed by ignoramuses who didn't know the Middle East from the Midwest — think of Hurricane Katrina and "Heckuva job, Brownie" and you get the idea. There were lots of Brownies in Baghdad, led by Paul Bremer, who disbanded the military, privatized public services, welcomed American profiteers and marginalized Sunnis, thus setting the stage for ISIS.
♦More recently, the Republicans voted down the United Nations treaty that would take the Americans With Disabilities Act and expand it worldwide — a treaty supported by 155 nations and by former Republican senators Bob Dole and Richard Lugar and current Sen. John McCain. But our troglodyte Republicans bought into the arguments of America's chief climate-change denier, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who stated: "I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society."
Now comes yet another international and vitally important matter — the nuclear treaty with Iran. Once again, the isolationist, paranoid wing of the Republican Party is up in arms. International negotiations and compromises? Who needs that? On cue, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), proposed a bill — "The American Sovereignty Restoration Act" — that would take the U.S out of the UN. In right-wing Republican circles, the more things seem to change, the more they actually don't.
Diplomacy is always better than suspicion, brinksmanship and war. As Winston Churchill put it, "Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war." Somehow, Obama must convince both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with few other Republicans, of the wisdom of Churchill's statement. The president's diplomacy, à la George Kennan, has actually produced results that neither sanctions nor bombing would. Not when more "jaw-jaw" holds the long-term answers. ♦