Mark Twain said that "history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." He could very well have been talking about the revival of support for a non-interventionist foreign policy within the GOP. U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has become a prominent voice within the Republican Party in support of non-intervention. He does not espouse the bellicose rhetoric normally associated with the GOP. Instead, he advocates for reductions in military expenditures, liquidating the overseas American empire, and is averse to entering into foreign entanglements. His recent filibuster, questioning the Obama administration's ambitious use of predator drones, was surprisingly met with support from many in the Republican Party.
A less ambitious foreign policy was not long ago considered anathema to the Republican Party. In 2004, U.S. Senator Zell Miller (D-GA: a conservative Democrat who endorsed Republican President George W. Bush) whooped up the Republican National Convention by lambasting Democratic nominee John Kerry for being weak on defense. The crowd hollered uproariously when Miller exclaimed: "This the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?"
During the 2008 Republican Presidential primary campaign, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), the father of Rand Paul, was booed for suggesting that U.S. foreign policy effectuates enmity toward the U.S around the world, and that blowback from it was manifested in the 9/11 hijackings. This was branded a fringe position within the GOP and there was a movement to exclude Ron Paul from future debates.
What a difference five years makes. Today, with a majority of Americans believing it was a mistake for the U.S. to invade Iraq, and with little appetitive for a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the non-interventionism of the Ron and Ran Paul is proliferating in popularity within the GOP. There is little political incentive for Republicans to bang the war drums.
Non-intervention is not a new concept in the Republican Party. In 1920, America was exhausted from WW1 and the ambitious interventionist agenda of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson had invaded the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Republican Warren G. Harding won a landslide victory by calling for a "return to normalcy." Harding espoused the doctrine of non-interventionism, exclaiming: "America should be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority."
With a respite during WWII, the Republican Party was the party of non-intervention and peace for a generation. Harding's Republican successor, Calvin Coolidge was a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact that renounced war "as an instrument of national Policy." His Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg won a Noble Peace Prize for his role in writing the treaty. Herbert Hoover instituted the Good Neighbor Policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Latin America, and subsequently withdrew U.S. forces from Nicaragua. In 1940 the Republican Party's platform stated: "The Republican Party is firmly opposed to involving this Nation in foreign war."
After WWI, U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH) became the public face of the Republican Party. Nicknamed: "Mr. Republican," Taft was a steadfast non-interventionist and an opponent of the military draft. He also opposed the U.S. entry into NATO for fear that it would antagonize relations with the Soviet Union and he also opposed U.S. involvement in the Korean War.
In 1952, Taft lost the Republican Ppresidential nomination to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who did not share Taft's non-interventionist proclivities. Eisenhower supported U.S. intervention with the specific intent of staunching communist influence. This became the Republican Party doctrine throughout the entire Cold War. However, Eisenhower grew fearful of the proliferation of U.S. military power, warning in his farewell address of the "unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." In addition, he advised his successor, John F. Kennedy, to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Europe, warning, "America is carrying far more than her share of the free world defense."
Once the Cold War ended, some Cold War hawks like 1992 and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, urged the party to return to it's non-interventionist roots. However, they were met with opposition from neoconservatives within the Republican Party. This new force in the Republican Party included many former Democrats who became disillusioned with the non-interventionist vein in their own party during in the 1970s. They supported an activist role for the U.S. as the sole remaining superpower. They urged that the U.S. franchise its liberal democratic principles throughout the globe. Many supported the ultra hawk U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in his 2000 Presidential bid against Texas Governor George W. Bush who advocated "a more humble foreign policy."
Bush pursued a less ambitious foreign policy agenda in the first nine months of his administration. However, after the 9/11 hijackings, Bush became a born-again neoconservative, adopting their agenda of "regime change in Iraq." Bush became an ideological crusader for the expansion of democracy, and idealistically called for the U.S. to work toward "Ending tyranny in our world."
With the Cold War over, and Bush no longer the public face of the Republican Party, and with a war-weary public, non-interventionism is once again becoming a formidable force in the GOP. Rand Paul is striking a resonant chord with some fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party who question why the U.S. continues to spend more on defense than the next 10 countries combined and who question the prudence of expanding its military tentacles around the world with no apparent exit plan.
Non-interventionism is no longer a fringe position within the Republican Party. It may in fact become what it was for a generation prior to the Cold War: mainstream thinking in the Republican Party. Rand Paul is marking his territory as the chief advocate of non-intervention in the GOP. In a time when views on foreign policies are shifting within the Republican Party, Rand Paul may find himself in the right place at the right time to hit political pay dirt.