McCain: GOP "Isolation Strain" Has Moved Center Stage

In a recent interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) expressed concern over the supposed “isolationism strain” he says has emerged in the tone of the Republican presidential candidates.

McCain recognized that there has always been an isolation strain in his party, “... that Pat Buchanan wing of our party,” McCain said when asked about the New Hampshire GOP debate. “But now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak. … If we had not intervened, [Libya President Muammar] Gaddafi was at the gates of Benghazi. He said he was going to go house to house to kill everybody. That's a city of 700,000 people. What would be saying now if we had allowed for that to happen?”

McCain may be worried about the possibility the GOP will turn away from its recent hawkish foreign policy positions, but a shift toward a more non-interventionist philosophy would actually be the best thing for the Republican Party in years. Not only is a humbler foreign policy the traditionally conservative position, but it represents a great issue with which to challenge and potentially beat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Although the Bush years witnessed a conservative movement that defended and praised foreign wars of aggression and vast increases in military spending, there is very little in perpetual war worth conserving. War brings taxes, central planning, loss of civil and economic liberties, debt, and families with empty chairs at dinner tables. This is why traditional conservatism has been skeptical of foreign wars and the germs they seed.

From a practical standpoint, the stagnant state of the economy is on everyone’s mind. Most of the GOP candidates hit the right notes concerning how to create job growth and economic production: reign in spending, repeal Obamacare, and cut taxes. Combine this with a conservative opposition to Obama's increase of the already massive $1 trillion a year spent on foreign militarism — money that should be spent creating wealth and prosperity in the marketplace — and it’s hard to see how a Republican could not defeat the president.

But McCain’s concerns also begs the question: Are conservatives and Republicans actually becoming “isolationist?” Although many of the GOP candidates’ criticism of Obama’s war in Libya were fairly mild and appear partisan, Ross Douthat in the New York Times points out that the war skeptics in the GOP may be right after all. A May Pew Research poll revealed that a majority of conservatives believe that domestic problems should be a priority and support cuts to the Pentagon.

Is this trend simply an example of partisan politics against a Democratic administration or an honest commitment to cutting government and a healthy skepticism of foreign war? Perhaps there is an element of both of these factors in the non-interventionist strains in the Republican field that are irking McCain. But given McCain lost in 2008 with his ultra-hawkish stance, and with no clear end to the multiple foreign wars being waged by the U.S., a bit of “isolationism” would do the GOP some good.

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