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Soren Dayton is the Executive Director of the Young Republican
National Federation and a Senior Vice President at Prism Public Affairs, a
Washington-based strategic communications firm. He previously worked on the
John McCain campaign and was a foreign policy advisor to a Member of Congress. Follow Soren on Twitter.

March 20th, 2013 marked the ten year
anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Ross Douthat, the younger of the two conservative columnists at the New York Times, opined that the war was “responsible for liberalism’s
current political and cultural ascendance.” Democrats would not be in a
position to enact new government policies, from gay marriage to higher taxes,
without the political victories stemming in the perceived failure of Republican
foreign policy.

So, ten years on, where is Republican foreign
policy going?

Consider the environment Republicans now
face: President Obama has implemented substantial politicised portions of
President Bush’s foreign policy. He withdrew from Iraq on a schedule negotiated
by Bush, he failed to implement a campaign promise to shut down Guantanamo, and
he has taken the drone programme to places that no Republican administration
could have gone, with nary a peep from civil libertarians on the Left.


Then there’s trade. The major economies of
the world except the so-called BRICS countries are about to enter into a
liberalised trade order centered geographically and politically in the US,
thanks to progress in the EU-US trade negotiations, and the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, which includes the major economies of the Pacific basin except
South Korea and China. (South Korea is expected to join any day.) The very end
of Obama’s term or at the beginning of the next term, regardless of the party
in power, will see the agreements finished.

In many ways, the US is building a global
trading system based on our rules – and our energy. In 2012, the US produced more
than 60%
of its own oil domestically, a number that increases every year,
while our consumption falls. Meanwhile refined and petroleum products were
our #1
and #2 exports
. Domestic production of natural
gas has become a major enterprise as well, leading European countries like
Germany (which refuse to frack or use nuclear) to choose between US coal or US
natural gas. Just this week, the
UK energy company Centrica signed
a 20-year contract
for US natural gas.

In all likelihood, Republican foreign policy
will be driven by the necessity to defend this new trade pattern and the
shifting interests that this entails. Whoever ends up buying energy from the
Middle East may have to be more invested in its stability, a task that has been
a primary U.S. focus since World War II. Another is that Russia may not have
the leverage over eastern and central Europe that it has exercised in recent
years.

The debates over foreign policy in the
Republican party will take place in this context. Historically, these have
featured internationalists who focus on trade versus heartland conservatives
who have been more resistant to “entangling alliances”. The Cold War, followed
by September 11th, created a conservative alternative to both
alternatives, although the political and intellectual strength of this movement
will be in a time of fiscal tightening and a war-weary electorate in both
general elections and Republican primaries.

These fights have been presented in recent
years as a battle between isolationists and interventionists. For example, in Tony Blair’s 2003 speech to a joint session of Congress,
he said:

“And I know it's hard on America, and in some small corner of this
vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to, but
always wanted to go…

I know out there there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly
happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this
country, ‘Why me? And why us? And why America?’”

Nevada and Idaho are
part of the geographical
donor base
of Ron Paul, the Presidential
candidate who is credited with reinvigorating the isolationist wing of the party.

But there is another line of thinking that
combines the logic of the “neo-con” thinking of the Bush-era with traditional
internationalists. Max Boot’s excellent book, The Savage Wars
Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power
, published
two months after the invasion of Iraq, notes that the US has forever been
engaged in international adventurism tied to our economic interests. As early
as 1801, the US landed marines in Libya as part of our first declared war, the
First Barbary War, which was against non-state actors. And the U.S. continually
occupied ports on the Yangtze River from the Opium Wars to the Japanese
invasion of China, almost 100 years.

However, the Republican proposition of the
last 10 years has reached beyond that with questionable results and high cost
in both blood and treasure. The recent history of Republican politics suggests
that time is over. The “Tea Party” surge has led to an increased focus on
cutting spending and, yes, sharpening the focus of the Republican foreign policy
and its costs. Nowhere is that clearer than in the recent “sequester” debate.

The “sequester” cut 7% from the US defense
budget and 5% from diplomatic and foreign aid budgets. During the preceding
debate, the consensus was clear: Cutting spending, even on defense, was more
important than raising taxes. This wasn’t merely a consequence of gridlock and
a lack of political will. The intellectual ground in the GOP had shifted.

In other words, the DNA of American foreign
policy has always included defending economic and security interests. The days
of guns and butter may well be behind us. But, undoubtedly, the US will go out
of its way to defend the butter business, wherever our customers may be found.

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