The GOP's Worrisome Belligerence

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Foreign policy has not featured prominently in the campaign among Republican candidates for the presidential nomination. That may be a blessing in disguise. On the relatively rare occasions when those aspirants for the White House do address foreign policy topics, it is enough to make intelligent voters wish that the candidates would stick to domestic topics. With the notable exception of Congressman Ron Paul - who has almost no chance of getting the GOP nomination - all of the candidates have embraced an alarming, reckless belligerence.

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One manifestation is the repeated allegation that President Obama engages in "appeasement" toward America's adversaries. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have all accused the president of "apologizing for America," not standing by "friends and allies" and even "throwing allies under the bus," in a futile effort to win favor with Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and other "hostile" powers.

The president has fired back at his opponents, suggesting that they ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 other high-level al Qaeda operatives who have been killed since Obama took office whether he is an appeaser. He has a point: the Republican appeasement charge is bizarre. The popular definition of appeasement implies a weak-kneed tendency to make far-reaching, unwise concessions to aggressors. But Obama sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan, has led efforts to impose harsher economic sanctions on Iran, and was the godfather of NATO's military campaign to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. That's not exactly a record reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain.

Leaving aside the arrogant notion of the Republican presidential hopefuls that the United States is never wrong, and, therefore, should never apologize, it's pertinent to wonder what the president has done that warrants allegations of appeasement. For the current crop of GOP contenders, merely exhibiting a willingness to negotiate with adversaries is evidence of weakness. And because Obama has attempted to open or advance dialogues with such adversaries, Republican activists excoriate him. That is a very disturbing standard. If the GOP candidates believe that it is improper even to talk to hostile foreign regimes, they effectively eliminate diplomacy as a meaningful foreign policy tool.

And that worrisome mentality is on display with respect to specific issues, especially the Iranian nuclear problem. Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum all vie to see who can take the most uncompromising, saber-rattling position toward Tehran. Romney stated bluntly that Iran would never get a nuclear weapon on his watch. Gingrich and Santorum are even a shade harsher, arguing that it is time to consider air strikes to take out Iran's nuclear sites. Indeed, all three candidates advocate going far beyond the narrow objective of preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear-weapons capability. They want the United States to pursue a policy of forcible regime change.

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Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America.

(AP Photo)

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