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A GOP foreign policy

by Bradley Gitz | May 15, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

The Donald Trump makeover has led the Republican Party to abandon much of what it used to stand for when it came to America's role in the world.

Regarding which, here is what I would like to see GOP primary candidates commit to:

1. A firm defense of the American-designed global order and American interests, including continued support for Ukrainian efforts to resist Russian aggression, a clearer commitment to the defense of Taiwan (strategic ambiguity has its virtues but now needs to become a bit less ambiguous), bolstered sanctions on the thugs in Tehran and their nuclear weapons program, staunch defense of Israel (the only genuine democracy in an ugly neighborhood), and reaffirmation of our commitment to NATO as the primary source of stability and security in Europe.

In short, resist the wingnut isolationism coming out of the MAGA crowd and call it out for what it is. Under Trump's influence, the GOP has embarrassingly become what the Democrats once were, and paid a huge electoral price for being--the "blame America first" party.

2. Substantial increases in American defense spending, including significant expansion of the size of our Navy (the key component of American power projection to distant places).

Maintaining American military strength is crucial to global security and commerce, and defense is the only area of federal government spending that is truly vital, in the sense that all other programs and expenditures on behalf of whatever purposes instantly become irrelevant if we are caught wanting at any point in that regard.

Military preparedness should always be the highest governmental priority because everything else depends upon it, including national survival.

We should never forget that the reason government is brought into being isn't to provide retirement pensions or build highways or send out welfare checks (as helpful as all that can be) but to provide security against internal and external threats.

3. Support for free trade on the grounds that it allows the law of comparative advantage to operate and therefore benefits consumers, workers, producers and national prosperity more broadly.

What Japanese theorist Kenichi Ohmae called "the borderless world" has arrived when it comes to the flow of goods and services across nation-state borders, whether we like it or not, and the nations that recognize this and adapt quickest will own the geo-economic future.

So expand NAFTA all the way through the Southern Hemisphere (incorporating the Andean Community and Mercosur, excluding socialist Cuba and Venezuela), rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Trump so foolishly left, and bolster trade links across the Atlantic between an expanded NAFTA and the European Union in pursuit of the kind of global free-trade system originally envisioned back at Bretton Woods in 1944.

It has not always been true that countries that trade with each other don't fight with each other (see the War of 1812 and Pearl Harbor), but the "complex interdependence" caused by expanded trade at least gives nations a greater stake in the maintenance of peace.

4. Reform International Governmental institutions (IGOs) while replacing altogether the persistently corrupt and ineffective United Nations.

The replacement for the UN would be a global league of liberal democratic states, thereby fulfilling the vision laid out by Immanuel Kant more than 200 years ago. As Kant foresaw, democracies don't fight other democracies (the "Democratic Peace Theory") and have shared interests in freedom and self-government that make it easier to conduct diplomatic relations and pursue common goals. They treat each other with respect because they possess the kind of legitimacy that only the verdict of the ballot box can provide.

A Democratic League would punish through exclusion rabble like Russia, China and Iran and provide incentives for democratization for authoritarian systems and for continuation down the democratic path for new, often fragile democracies.

The requirements for membership could be directly lifted from the EU's Copenhagen Rules (adopted in the early 1990s, as Eastern European states were exiting from communism and seeking to "rejoin Europe," in the form of the EU), including democratic institutions and practices, respect for human rights and market-based economies.

Much of this runs, of course, against the grain of the "Nationalist Populist" (euphemism for isolationist) MAGA mind-set, but would represent a return to the robust, assertive foreign policy of Ronald Reagan that won the Cold War and made America the lone superpower in a world based on American values and leadership.

It would also require movement toward fiscal solvency, in order to solve the problem identified by Paul Kennedy in "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers": that insolvent finances have eroded the bases of great power status throughout history, just as surely as they are now threatening ours.

In that sense, perhaps the most pressing foreign-policy challenge of all begins here at home--to finally start the process of digging out from under our crushing national debt, with that in turn requiring what few Republicans (and even fewer Democrats) are even willing to discuss, which is urgent reform of the entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare) from which most of that debt flows.

We should therefore demand that any Republican seeking the role of commander-in-chief prove willing to discuss all of this and offer up their plan.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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