My friend and Cato Institute Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies Chris Preble gives readers an inside look at what is really going on today in the foreign policy arena, looking at neocons, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Donald Trump.
We should begin by understanding the people who comprise today’s GOP foreign policy elite, and what motivates them. This is not Dwight Eisenhower’s GOP, or even George H.W. Bush’s. Their bias toward interventionism is not grounded in traditional conservative precepts of order and fiscal discipline. When forced, they will call for higher taxes to fund more military spending. And they are openly disdainful of whatever small government instincts the modern conservative movement draws from libertarianism.
So no one should be surprised when some neoconservatives speak openly of choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump as many are now doing. If they do ultimately pull the lever for Clinton, they will merely be reaffirming their core beliefs.
After all, some of the older neocons cut their teeth writing policy briefs for the hawkish Democrat Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. The earlier generation’s intellectual descendants fastened themselves firmly to the GOP, which they saw as the most convenient vehicle for implementing their foreign policy views. But that doesn’t mean that the association was either automatic or permanent.
The neocons would occasionally show their hand, admitting that they would choose foreign policy orthodoxy over party, and threatening to return to their Democratic Party roots. In 2004, for example, Bill Kristol praised the Democratic nominee John Kerry’s proposal to double down on the U.S. military presence in Iraq, at a time when some Republicans were wavering on Iraq. Kristol pointed out in an interview with the New York Times that his magazine The Weekly Standard, “has as much or more in common with the liberal hawks than with traditional conservatives.” In 2014, in a long feature article in the New York Times magazine, Jacob Heilbrunn noted that many putative GOP foreign policy elites would abandon the party if Republican voters nominated a skeptic of U.S. military intervention, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The party’s own nominee for president in 2008, John McCain, when asked who he would vote for in 2016 if it came down to Clinton vs. Paul said, with a nervous laugh, “It’s gonna be a tough choice.”