The political scene in America has undergone some startling changes since Democrats captured both the Presidency and Congress in 2008. The economic crisis and the subsequent policy response brought the Tea Party into existence, and the unofficial Tea Party movement seems to be transforming the Republican Party.
The recent Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire manifested the striking effect that the Tea Party movement has had on the GOP. In a nutshell, the terms of the debate have shifted to the right. On the domestic scene, Paul Ryan's plan to deal with our crippling budget problem is dominating the argument. The Democratic Party and progressive Republicans are now on the defensive; Ryan and his allies are setting the agenda.
We are also witnessing the beginning of a conversation about the purposes of American foreign policy that is similar to the reorientation in the GOP on domestic policy. The progressive perspective on foreign policy has dominated both parties since 1900. Republicans have essentially embraced the Wilsonian program of promoting democracy abroad through transnational institutions or "coalitions of the willing" in order to bring about a permanent state of peace between nations.
Our Founders thought that our foreign policy should be geared toward securing American rights while respecting the rights of other peoples. All adult human beings are by nature equally free of non-consensual political rule. This means that legitimate government requires the consent of the governed, so the Founders rejected the idea that we could engage in what has come to be called "nation building." It is unjust to rule another people without their consent, even if it is done under the color of ruling them for their own benefit (i.e. eventual freedom).
I believe Michele Bachmann started the reconsideration of our foreign policy goals when she denounced President Obama's support of the NATO mission in Libya. Bachmann wants our military involvement in foreign lands to be limited to matters of national security. She opposes our involvement in the U.N. endorsed and NATO led military operation in Libya because it has nothing to do with our national security and we do not possess adequate knowledge about the character of the rebel movement.
Bachmann is essentially restating the position of John Quincy Adams when he argued against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Adams believed, rightly I think, that constitutionalism at home requires the rejection of imperialism abroad.
Mitt Romney's statements on foreign policy essentially reiterate the Bush position. John McCain is complaining about the "isolationism" that was on display during the New Hampshire debate. We will have to see what comes of the primaries. I have a feeling that insofar as foreign policy concerns matter to Republican voters, they will be more sympathetic to the Tea Party view and less interested in continuing down the path of attempting to transform other nations into democracies.
It will be very interesting to see if the Tea Party element in the GOP can articulate a fully developed foreign policy position that returns us to our original principles. Bachmann has begun the conversation, we will have to see how it develops.
I am very interested to see what contributors and members of Ricochet think about the direction American foreign policy should take. I think we should return to the social contract principles of the Founding (in domestic policy too). But I look forward to hearing what others think about the possibility and/or desirability of a return to our Founding principles in foreign affairs.