Is the GOP Going to the Doves?

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that the United States and Europe seem to be reversing their roles with respect to defense policy. The adage that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, he suggests, no longer holds true. Europeans have gotten more serious about security:

Nationalism is returning, border fences are going up. The center is weakening, the far right is gaining power. The Mediterranean and the Russian marches are zones of conflict again, and ancient habits — French military adventurism, Little Englander separatism, a tense relationship with Islam — are resurfacing.

The European elite still believes in the Kantian dream of perpetual peace, which is how the Continent ended up with Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for Syrian refugees. But its leaders are also adapting to post-Kantian reality, and nowhere more so than in France, where the government has basically gone Le Bush-Cheney under both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande: intervening in Libya, Mali and Syria, responding to terrorist attacks with Bush-esque rhetoric, and implementing a terror crackdown that makes the Patriot Act look libertarian.

That is all true, although the image of Europeans as pacifists has always been somewhat overblown.

Douthat sees the U.S. moving in what used to be a European direction:

[I]f nationalism is making Europeans more militaristic, in America it’s inclining us to lay down the burdens of empire, to retreat into a self-sufficient Arcadia all our own.

That’s a subtext of Trump’s rhetoric. Making America great again involves crushing ISIS, yes, but otherwise it seems to involve washing our hands of military commitments — ceding living space to Putin, letting Japan and South Korea go nuclear, calling NATO obsolete.

Of course, “crushing ISIS” is a huge exception to the supposed pacifist trend. ISIS is rightly perceived as the major immediate threat to the U.S. Beyond that, Trump’s retreat from leadership consists in large part of demanding that our allies pay their fair share, which has long been considered a good idea by many on the right.

And it’s simply the text of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. He’s running explicitly as the candidate of Venus (or Scandinavia, if you prefer), promising socialism at home and an end to military adventures abroad.

Sure. But it has been a long time since most Democrats were serious about any national security issue.

[O]ver the longer run, in a more fractured country and a more chaotic world, the desire for splendid isolation may only increase. There’s no mass constituency for liberal hawkishness in the Democratic Party anymore.

That’s been true for a while. Just ask Jim Webb.

The ease with which Trump dispatched Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio suggests that neoconservatism, too, is vulnerable to a “come home, America” message.

This, really, is the heart of Douthat’s argument, and it has some merit. I supported Marco Rubio in considerable part because he was the most Reaganesque of the candidates in his advocacy of a strong foreign policy. In my opinion, he is one of the premier foreign policy experts in Washington. Nevertheless, most Republican primary voters were unmoved.

But does that mean that the GOP is going dovish? That isn’t so clear. The anti-interventionist in the primary lineup was Rand Paul, who went nowhere. And I doubt that most of Trump’s fans consider him a dove. “Make America great again” is a slogan subject to many interpretations, but it would be myopic to analogize it to Bernie Sanders-style isolationism.

Polls generally indicate broad support–at least among Republicans and independents–for taking strong action against ISIS. On the other hand, no one is advocating sending troops to Crimea. But that is hardly surprising. There may have been some softening of American resolve with respect to security policy generally, but I don’t think Republicans are going McGovernite, and if Europeans are increasingly willing to defend their own civilization, that is something that American conservatives have long wished for.