Give this much to the president — he knows what he wants. Charles Krauthammer pegged him early in his presidency as a man for whom foreign policy is a nuisance, something to be kept off the front burner first and foremost. It is in that context that we must understand Mr. Obama’s decision-making, from his transparent ire with the difficult Hamid Karzai (because we expected… what?), his indifference to Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian predations, blithe negotiations with Iran, bored disapproval of China’s march on Asia, irritated dismissal of Syria’s tragedy, and… well, I could go on. Mr. Obama, it seems, is not a declinist or even an isolationist. He simply isn’t interested in American power except when it comes to domestic politics and the reengineering of the social compact.
But if the president knows his mind — not since Libya has he been shoved off his determined path — it’s not clear that the opposition does the same. Where is the GOP on Syria? Iran? Defense? Afghanistan? Don’t say that John McCain speaks for Republicans; that wasn’t even true in 2008 when he was his party’s candidate for president. And it’s even less the case today. Does the isolationist Rand Paul? Who knows. The GOP is AWOL on national security, and the party of American leadership now falls back on tired arguments about whether we are “exceptional.”
There are those that oppose various among the drastic defense cuts announced this week, but a shrinking number who seek to match the investment in national security to the growing challenges around the globe. And indeed, if we wish to do nothing, as the president clearly does, then who needs a military larger than that of 1940? Why have more than two combat-ready brigade combat teams? Why fly ground support or spy planes if there are no soldiers to support nor enemies to surveil? Rational questions. But there has been no clamor from Reagan’s party about American disarmament because other than a few interested men and women, the vast mass appear not to care. The right has no leader on national security. And so, perhaps Barack Obama has it right: foreign policy, and even foreigners, are a nuisance to America. Buy, invest, or bug off.