REP. PETER KING, R-N.Y., may be campaigning “for the soul of the Republican Party,” as he describes it, but it’s a campaign that his faction of the party has already lost.
A Gallup poll from Sept. 3 showed that only 31 percent of Republicans favored a military strike in Syria, with 58 percent opposed. Among Democrats, 45 percent favored a military strike, and 43 percent opposed one. The New York Daily News wrote on Sept. 8 that “King, who said calls to his office are overwhelmingly against a strike, told Republicans in Wolfeboro that he expected 90 percent of them differed with him on the issue.”
Yet public opinion of military action in Syria is only one indication of the major shift in thinking among Republicans when it comes to foreign policy. After a decade of involvement in a region that has been embroiled in conflict for centuries, Americans are war weary and not eager to repeat the failures of the Russians, who spent a decade of their own in Afghanistan — with disastrous results.
Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the economic impact of our foreign policy as well. In her March, 2013, report titled “The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan”, Harvard researcher Linda Blimes summarizes that “the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in U.S. history — totaling somewhere between $4 trillion to $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs.”
She notes, however, that “the largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid.”
Federal spending is currently $3.4 trillion, and U.S. national debt is a staggering $17.2 trillion, or $145,000 per taxpayer. In the midst of the Great Recession, Americans are feeling the financial effects of needless foreign intervention now more than ever. In 2011, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave us a startling reminder when he said that “the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”
These points don’t even touch current controversies over drones, warrantless surveillance, and NSA spying — or the nearly 900 military bases that the United States maintains in 130 countries. It’s obvious our nation’s current foreign policy is making us less safe and less free.
The discussion of what exactly America’s role in the world should be is an important one. In his farewell address, President George Washington advised us to “extend our commercial relations” with foreign nations, but “to have with them as little political connection as possible” to safeguard against what he described as the frequent controversies of Europe. President Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address, gives us a better and more succinct rallying cry: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”
Rep. King frequently recalls Sept. 11, 2001, but the oversimplification of such an important issue as foreign policy by out-of-touch politicians does little to show any real depth, let alone a connection to the public they seek to represent.
In New Hampshire, where two of the top three 2012 Republican presidential primary candidates were non-interventionists (and carried 40 percent of the vote total of the five major candidates), Rep. King will not have much luck with a message that even he admits most Republicans oppose.
Andrew Demers is a New Hampshire-based political consultant. He has worked on the campaigns of Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Ron Paul, among others.