Required Reading

Today’s RR is something of a twofer. First up is Zachary Keck’s review of Colin Dueck’s new book, The Obama Doctrine. As Keck notes, the first half is a vivisection of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and the second half is a broad plan for a GOP president starting in 2017. This being the primary season though, I was most interested in Dueck’s description of the major foreign policy strains within the GOP:


The first camp is the “conservative anti-interventionists” led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who “are a significant political force and faction in relation to foreign policy issues within the Republican Party.” While Dueck believes that Paul is a serious presidential contender, and anti-interventionism is growing especially among the grassroots, he usefully points out that anti-interventionism is not even widely held among members of the Tea Party, much less the Republican Party as a whole.

At the same time, conservative nationalists have little patience for the “liberal internationalist tradition,” which they view as “naive, wasteful, unlikely to earn foreign gratitude, and threatening to U.S. national sovereignty.” Put differently, “conservative nationalists are comfortable with the military aspects of U.S. foreign policy activism…. [but] they are profoundly uncomfortable with the nonmilitary aspects of U.S. internationalism.”

The third and final foreign policy camp within the GOP is the conservative internationalists, which since Taft’s defeat in the 1952 primary have been the dominant force within Republican foreign policy. In outlining conservative internationalists, Dueck is careful to note the group is not monolithic. In particular, he pushes back against efforts to equate all conservative internationalists with neoconservativism, noting that “neoconservatives can be defined as one subset of conservative internationalists” (something he discussed in greater detail in his previous book). Traditional Republican realists like Henry Kissinger also fall within the conservative internationalist camp.

While they have lost some of their previous dominance, Dueck assesses that conservative internationalists “typically make up at least a third and sometimes a solid majority of voters inside the GOP,” depending on the issue. As such, which foreign policy vision the GOP ultimately adopts will come down to which two camps can align themselves together.


Dueck is correct, an alignment between the conservative internationalists and the conservative nationalists seems much more likely than the non-interventionists successfully aligning with anybody. That said, it would be useful in terms of good domestic policy and in pure election politics, if the non-interventionist wing were to get its way in domestic policy — its easier to imagine them aligning with the Tea party/conservative nationalists on eliminating domestic spying and similar abuses. In any case, such reforms might be the price demanded of the libertarian-right to come back to the fold after so many were chased away by the Bush 43 administration.

The second part of today’s Required Reading is Dueck’s book, or at least it is for me. I just added the Kindle edition to the top of my virtual reading stack.


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