When a prominent Washington peace activist was asked recently to name the leading anti-interventionists in the Senate, he responded, “Rand Paul and Mike Lee,” both Republicans. Democrats are in the midst of a furious struggle over what they stand for and who is included in their coalition, yet on foreign policy questions, their silence is deafening. When President Trump decided to drop 59 cruise missiles on Syria in response to purported use of chemical weapons, there was more debate about the attack among Republicans than among Democrats.
The Democratic establishment’s record on foreign policy has been disastrous. Most Democratic leaders supported the war of choice in Iraq, the largest foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. They cheered the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya that has ended in the humanitarian horror of a ruined country, racked by violent conflicts, where the Islamic State is consolidating a backup caliphate. They applauded President Barack Obama’s surge in Afghanistan even as that war dragged on year after year. They touted the United States as the “indispensable nation,” demonstrating a predilection for military intervention and regime change that rivals that of Republican neoconservatives. Many considered Obama too weak and too wary of intervention, despite the fact that he left office bombing seven nations, dispatching Special Operations forces to more than 120 countries and calling for increased spending on a military that already consumes nearly 40 percent of the world’s military budget.
In 2016, Trump showed how unhappy Americans were with that record of futility. During the campaign, he lambasted Hillary Clinton for Iraq and Libya. He derided regime change. He argued that the United States had wasted $6 trillion in the Middle East for nothing. He claimed his “America First” policy would focus on the Islamic State and protecting our borders. He intimated that he would seek to work with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to take out the Islamic State.
In less than 100 days, Trump has discarded many of his most populist and popular positions. In addition to dropping cruise missiles on Syria and the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, he’s dispatching more forces to Syria, getting the country more entangled in Yemen and Somalia , and girding for a confrontation with North Korea. He calls for pumping the military budget up even beyond levels sought by Obama and paying for it by decimating public services at home — from support for public schools to environmental and worker protections.