Too bad constitutionalism ends at the water’s edge

Tea Party Foreign Policy: Where They Stand – The Daily Beast

In modern times, conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have tried to reconcile their efforts to rein in federal power with their support for a large military and an interventionist foreign policy. But both times, the latter has seriously trumped the former. Under both Reagan and Bush, aggressive, militaristic foreign policy produced more presidential power and larger deficits. Tea Partiers say their movement is a response to the way government power, and government debt, grew under both Bush and Obama. But if they looked seriously at the reasons for that growth under Bush, they would see that much of what they’re upset about is the military and homeland security spending justified by his expansive “war on terror.” Anyone genuinely worried about debt can’t ignore the fact that defense constitutes a majority of federal discretionary spending. And anyone devoted to a strict interpretation of the Constitution can’t ignore the fact that America is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Pakistan, Yemen and lots of other places, without formal congressional declarations of war, although that is what the Constitution requires.

The Republican foreign-policy apparatus in Washington, which is in large measure funded by defense contractors, has declared preemptive war on the idea that military spending should be part of deficit-reduction discussion. But before going along, the Tea Partiers should think about how they’d like to be remembered by history. If they don’t extend their constitutional vision to foreign policy, they’ll be abandoning any serious chance of cutting the deficit and reducing the size of government. They’ll become indistinguishable from other conservative Republicans, just the latest in a long line on the right to put a globalist foreign policy over a minimalist state. If, on the other hand, they genuinely chart a foreign-policy course based upon their understanding of the Constitution—if they subordinate the “war on terror” to the demands of fiscal solvency—they will be a new and subversive force in American politics, and the Republican Party will be headed for a fascinating ideological showdown. Would that make the Tea Party a positive force in American politics? Heck no. But at this point, I’d settle for them simply being an interesting one.


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