The Politics and Government Blog of The Times
TEA PARTY FOREIGN POLICY A BIT CLOUDY [print title: TEA PARTY CANDIDATES PART WAYS ON FOREIGN POLICY]
By Michael D. Shear
New York Times
October 21, 2010 (the print edition [Oct. 22] cut the last five paragraphs)
WASHINGTON -- In Washington for a rally several weeks ago, the leader of one of the country’s largest Tea Party groups found himself stumped by a reporter’s question.
Asked whether the Tea Party had a foreign policy platform, and if so, what it was, Dick Armey, the founder of FreedomWorks, hesitated only briefly before admitting, “I don’t think so,” and then turning to a colleague to ask, “Do you see a common thread there?”
Pressed on the issue by a reporter, Mr. Armey added, “I would guess there would probably be a lot of different points of view from the candidates on that.”
Indeed there are. Among the more than 100 candidates who claim Tea Party support, opinions about foreign policy range from severely isolationist to unapologetically assertive of America’s role in the world. And in between are many candidates who appear to have spent little time at all thinking about such issues.
It is not an academic question. Dozens of Tea Party-backed candidates could win seats Congress in less than two weeks. In a closely divided legislature, the views of those new representatives could help shape congressional action on trade policy, nuclear treaties with Russia, Middle East peace negotiations, and the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We are all asking, what does it mean for foreign policy? Its hard to divine because they haven’t articulated clear views,” said James M. Lindsay, a senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“You can find talking points,” Mr. Lindsay said. “‘We have to go after terrorists.’ But does that mean you want 100,000 troops in Afghanistan? We are left wondering, what exactly would they do?”
With unemployment hovering at around 9.6 percent, the economy has understandably been the principal focus of campaigns this season. But the world outside America’s borders continues to pose difficult challenges for Washington policy makers.
Some Tea Party candidates appear inclined to follow the lead of one of the movement’s favorites, Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, a former candidate for president. In a recent letter to *Foreign Policy* magazine, Mr. Paul argued that the same philosophy that drives the economic positions of Tea Party followers should inform their foreign policy thinking.
“As many frustrated Americans who have joined the Tea Party realize, we cannot stand against big government at home while supporting it abroad,” wrote Mr. Paul, father of the Republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, Rand Paul. “We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world.” [The print edition of the Times cut the last sentence of ths paragraph.]
Dan Benishek, a Tea Party-backed Republican who is running in Michigan’s First District, said in an interview with The Caucus that he still needed to learn more about foreign affairs. But as a parent of a Navy veteran of the Afghanistan war, Mr. Benishek said he thought America needed to be careful about how it gets involved in wars.
“My basic position is that I don’t think we should be putting boots on the ground without having a declaration of war,” Mr. Benishek, whose daughter served in Afghanistan, said. “We’ve gotten ourselves into a lot of things that I don’t think they are the right things.” [The print edition of the Times cut the last sentence of ths paragraph as well as the mention of Benishek's daughter.]
But others appear inclined to take a more aggressive stand, more like the foreign policy embraced for years by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Senate nominee in Delaware, vigorously defended the Afghanistan effort in a debate with the Democratic nominee, Chris Coons.
“A random withdrawal that he has said he supports will simply embolden the terrorists to come out after us even more, saying ‘I’ve chased away the superpower,’” Ms. O’Donnell said of Mr. Coons during the debate.
The philosophical divide within the Tea Party mirrors the broader split within the Republican Party, which has careened back and forth for decades between the likes of Pat Buchanan’s isolationism and the aggressive internationalism of George W. Bush. The expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tested the resolve of some on the right by exploding the national debt.
But while there has been much debate among conservatives generally, a review of the Web sites of many Tea Party candidates suggests that they have not spent much time exploring foreign policy specifics. Many do little more than offer blanket promises to keep America safe.
“I am proud of my son Cody, a fourth-year cadet at West Point,” says Ken Buck, the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, on his Web site. “I will fight for a strong national defense and to ensure our military members, veterans, and their families receive the benefits and care they have earned.”
Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, promises on her Web site to “work tirelessly to secure the peace and security of our country” and to “do whatever necessary to protect America from terrorism.”
In an interview, Marlin Stutzman, the Republican candidate in Indiana’s Third District, said the economy, not foreign policy, had dominated the conversations he has had with voters during the campaign. To the extent he has thought about foreign policy, he said, it has largely been about trade.
“We are looking out for American jobs first,” he said. “We have to be creative in finding ways to make sure that American jobs are here.”
Sarah Palin, the informal godmother of the Tea Party movement, was mocked during the 2008 campaign for a lack of foreign policy knowledge. Her comment about seeing Russia from her house became a staple on comedy shows.
But one of her top advisers since then has been Randy Scheunemann, a onetime adviser to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Senator John McCain, Ms. Palin’s running mate in 2008.
Mr. Lindsay, from the Council on Foreign Relations, said one constant among Tea Party candidates seemed to be a suspicion of powerful international organizations like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. “If you are not a big fan of a powerful national government, it stands to reason you will not favor strong international organizations,” Mr. Lindsay said.
Rand Paul, the Kentucky Senate candidate, makes that point on his campaign Web site. He says the United States must make sure “that we fight only under U.S. commander and not the U.N.” and that America “not give up that right to those who don’t share the same respect for our history and our freedoms.”
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