Last week we looked at the best that could be hoped for as concerns right-of-center think tanks on foreign policy. Today we’ll look at one of the biggest obstacles to a sensible GOP foreign policy: the GOP donor class.
It’s important at the outset to dispel a myth about super-wealthy GOP donors and foreign policy: the idea that they are monolithically hawkish and Middle East-obsessed. A good number of top GOP donors have much more sensible and restrained views on foreign policy than one would know from seeing the Party’s foreign policy stances. That’s because all the donors who have moderate views on the issue don’t care enough to fight on it, and all the donors who care about it have extreme views.
It is hard to overstate the extent of the problem. One good illustration was when Jeb Bush was summoned to Manhattan last May to promise he wouldn’t listen to James Baker, he went further, explaining that “If you want to know who I listen to for advice [on the Middle East], it’s” George W. Bush. According to one attendee, this statement was followed by
a very positive response, just based on faces around the room. There didn’t seem to be any sort of negative reaction.
This sequence of events raises the possibility that the hawkish, pro-Israel donors who exercise enormous influence over the Party’s foreign policy might not be very bright, even taking their preferences as a given. Why would these people believe that the man whose Iraq War loosed a maelstrom of fanaticism and violence in the region, who set the table for an Iran deal they loathe, and who gave fewer weapons to Israel than Barack Obama would be a good influence on Middle East policy going forward? Are they even paying attention?
One is forced to conclude that for many of these men, a swaggering, immodest nationalism and the occasional ill-conceived war is enough to qualify as “strong” on foreign policy.
On the other side are a number of GOP donors who have sensible views on foreign policy, to include, it appears, Charles Koch. Koch’s institute has run a number of worthy programs on foreign policy of late, and Koch’s remarks in a recent interview with the Financial Times included this sensible line of inquiry as regards the U.S. reaction to terrorism:
We have been doing this for a dozen years. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. Has that made us safer? Has that made the world safer? It seems like we’re more worried about it now than we were then, so we need to examine these strategies.
One is forced to try to suss out the views of a Charles Koch on these issues, however, because he does not ensure, as Sheldon Adelson does, that his craziest foreign policy views will be viewed deferentially by the entirety of the Party.
The bitter truth is that a sea change would be needed in the GOP donor class to fix the Party’s foreign policy. That sea change would have to involve a group of super-wealthy donors becoming irrationally interested in a reasonable foreign policy, if “rational” is defined in any way as “self-interested.”
The United States is so safe that it can swat at bees’ nests halfway around the world with little cost beyond marginally higher deficits and thousands of dead service members. The donor class, like much of the country, is insulated from these costs thanks to the size of the nation and to its all-volunteer fighting force.
Until and unless an elite identity politics emerges among GOP donors that finds it ignoble to constantly clamor for and start wars but never win them, there is very little reason to hope that GOP foreign policy will change.