We are entering a crucial time in American politics with regard to the future of foreign policy. Republicans are divided, Democrats are divided, and there is no coherence or overarching vision guiding policymakers (apart from getting re-elected).
Confidence at home is at a low ebb. The debt-ceiling fiasco is teetering on the verge of catastrophe. There is no end in view to high unemployment and the discouraging economic data. Negative sentiment about domestic affairs is percolating into foreign policy, as evidenced by the increasing lack of will to confront enemies and win the battles in which we are in already.
Republicans – particularly the 2012 crop of presidential candidates from whom we should expect better – are sending signals they are losing patience. They seem to prefer playing to people's frustrations just when we need leaders to inspire hope and optimism in the populace.
"We've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation," said Mitt Romney about Libya at the most recent candidate debate.
"First of all, we were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack. There was no vital national interest," said Michele Bachmann.
Nation-building is "a nice idea—in theory. But we can't fight every war, we can't undo every injustice in the world," said Sarah Palin in a May speech.
"We're going to have to look at the map at some point and reset our level of engagement and our deployments in some corners of the world," said Jon Huntsman, who clearly staked out isolationist ground at a New Hampshire campaign stop.
Add to this the House vote on June 24 against American involvement in Libya, and we are painting a pretty scary picture.
The rhetoric and actions of our leaders are explained by one thing only: Fear. Republican leaders are not turning against American leadership in the world -- and even if they were, they would never admit to it. They are scared of losing Republicans voters, scared of losing credibility with allies, scared of the financial consequences and most of all, scared of losing wars. There is only one clear way to not lose a war: fight as if you mean it, and do not surrender...
It is no surprise that people are scared, too -- about the condition America is in. President Obama has not helped matters: he has been attempting to frighten people and markets as a political tactic, presumably to try to create a national dependency on a nanny-state type of government in perpetuity.. He seems by stealth to be trying to push through his vision of disincentives for economic growth, redistribution of income, and less America in the world -- plans all destined to result in more someone else even worse..
We are seeing, from all sides, a staggering lack of leadership.
Thankfully, not all Republicans leaders are succumbing to political expediency. Tim Pawlenty, for example, declared recently in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that "History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we'll ever save in a budget line item." Say what you will about Pawlenty, but this is a man who seems to put principles first.
Military might is costly: defense spending now takes up one-fifth of the federal budget – some $700-billion a year. Although defense cuts risk making the country even weaker, it is always an easy target for those looking for places to cut.
Yet, with the continuing threat of Islamism around the world, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions, the rise of autocratic giants such as China, and, of course, Russia – is there really any choice other than to keep the military as strong as possible?
The Arab Spring is the first sign of a bottom-up change in the Middle East. People are resisting unelected heads of state and joining forces for the right to live freely and outside of fear and corruption.
But the Arab Spring is chaotic. These societies need help to dethrone tyrants, rebuild their societies and keep undemocratic elements at bay while they are doing so. A more democratic Middle-East means a more peaceful international order. Can we really put a price on this?
America is the only country with the leadership and resources to help. America accounts for 43% of the world's military spending; six times that of its nearest rival, the Chinese, who seem intent on making mischief to further undermine the U.S.
Isolationism is the equivalent of ignoring problems: it will not make them go away. American leadership in the world is needed now more than ever. Republicans in particular need to acknowledge that the future is far more important than the latest poll and show some real leadership by calling for a strong America at home and abroad.