Something I odd I started noticing in late February: Obama is in the process of rewriting U.S. war aims in Afghanistan and ending the Iraq war on a fixed timeline. And the Republican Party is either silent or acquiescent. This is after four straight elections that the GOP attempted to turn on national-security grounds.

So what’s up with Republican foreign policy these days? At the Washington Independent this morning, I have an attempt to figure it out:

While significant portions of the conservative movement regard McCain as an apostate, he is perhaps the most prominent Republican to make any foreign policy speech at all since Obama’s election, indicating a leadership vacuum on the right over the issue. “You’ve got an interesting intellectual leveling now,” said Christian Brose, a policy advisor and chief speechwriter for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who now edits and writes on Foreign Policy magazine’s “Shadow Government” blog, which seeks to provide a conservative critique of the administration’s foreign policy. “The folks who were in power and running things lost. Now you have a more level intellectual [playing] field, a less hierarchical environment that’s hungry for new thinking about policy and ready for an open debate on the question of first principles.”

To some in the neoconservative camp, that hunger indicates a defeat. “Right now the democratic forces have cratered,” said Mario Loyola, who in January left a staff position directing foreign policy for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. “The whole Bush, ‘we need democracy abroad to be safe at home’ [argument] has cratered among conservatives. So it’s the fall of the neocons on foreign policy, clearly.” Last month, Richard Perle, a former arms-control official in the Reagan administration and neoconservative eminence, gave a talk at the Nixon Center denying that he was a neoconservative or that there was any such thing as neoconservative foreign policy.

The usual caveats apply: it’s only March; Obama’s first foreign-policy failure will change things; new leaders will inevitably emerge; there’s the small matter of a global economic catastrophe to deal with. I was more interested in highlighting the state-of-play as it stands now, and giving some backstory, rather than making any predictions about how things will develop.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman