Republican Candidates Find Their Inner Hawk: The Ticker

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By Katherine Brown

In less than three years in office, President Barack Obama oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden; ordered four times as many drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan as President George W. Bush; sent 30,000 surge troops to Afghanistan; and used U.S. forces to help NATO oust Muammar Qaddafi.

The Republicans running for president have a word for that record: "appeasement."

There seems to be no outer limit on hawkishness for most of the Republican field, even as Representative Ron Paul and, to a lesser extent, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, uphold the remnants of a bygone era of Republican foreign policy marked by isolationism and caution.

For Americans who think alienating the rest of the globe is a surefire way to prosper in the 21st century, former Speaker Newt Gingrich announced last week that he would make John Bolton, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration, his secretary of state. Bolton's tenure at the U.N. was divisive, which wasn't terribly surprising given that before he had even started in the job he declared: "There is no such thing as the United Nations."

Recently, Bolton's been advocating for military action (either Israeli, U.S. or both) to stop Iran's nuclear program. It's a popular stand among Republican candidates. Gingrich speaks about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons in apocryphal terms. On Dec. 10, while applauding candidate Rick Santorum's work in the Senate, Gingrich said: "If we do survive, it will be in part because of people like Rick who've had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time." As Daniel Drezner pointed out in Foreign Policy, the idea that Iran presents an existential threat to the United States is absurd.

But absurdity is a recurring visitor on the Republican campaign trail.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said "it's time for a 21st century Monroe Doctrine" in the Nov. 22 debate. The 19th century policy to keep Europe out of the Western Hemisphere was updated, he reported, in the 1960s to curb Soviet influence in Latin America -- and should be employed again today to stop Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas from gaining a foothold in the region. Identifying Cold War policies in Latin America as exemplary is appalling: Between 1948 and 1990 the U.S. helped overthrow 24 governments -- four by U.S. military force, three through CIA operations and 17 by empowering local revolutionaries -- producing some of American foreign policy's darkest days.

Then there is Representative Michelle Bachmann, who thinks that China's lack of a social safety net for its hundreds of millions of destitute citizens is what makes it exemplary. She said during the Nov. 12 debate:

The Great Society [in America] has not worked, and it's put us into the modern welfare state. If you look at China, they don't have food stamps. If you look at China, they're in a very different situ-- they save for their own retirement security. They don't have pay FDC. They don't have the modern welfare state. And China's growing.

It's China's growth that has former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney fuming. In the Nov. 12 debate, he said that the U.S. is currently in a trade war with China; he wants to take China to the World Trade Organization on charges of currency manipulation. Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, explained on Bloomberg Television that this move would be disastrous for the U.S. economy, calling such talk "total pandering" to Republican primary voters.

It most certainly is.

(Katherine Brown is on the staff of Bloomberg View.)

-0- Dec/13/2011 20:48 GMT