I argue this morning in The National Interest that the recent spat between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and U.S. senator Rand Paul from Kentucky over foreign policy is a lot more complex than the ‘pro-security hawk’ versus ‘libertarian isolationist’ paradigm.
Rather, the coming fight over foreign policy in the Republican Party as we approach the 2014 midterm elections and the pre-primary phase of the 2016 election will take place on three planes:
- the familiar security/liberty fight over PRISM, whistleblowers, homeland security and other civil liberties matters;
- unilateralists (in the mould of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton) versus multilateralists like former World Bank president Robert Zoelick; and
- the traditional IR theory fight between realists (who are often in line with Paul and other libertarians) and liberals (including hawkish neoconservatives as well as liberal interventionists).
While they may be on opposite sides of the liberty/security spectrum, we don’t know where any of the 2016 hopefuls may ultimately land, including Christie himself, to say nothing of U.S. senators Ted Cruz of Texas or Marco Rubio of Florida or U.S. congressman Paul Ryan:
We still don’t know where Christie’s ultimate views on international-relations theory lie because that’s not exactly one of the key concerns of a U.S. state governor. But given that the battle for the future of Republican foreign policy is actually three interconnected fights, it could well be that, despite their other disagreements, he and Paul find common cause against more aggressive neoconservative voices.
The bottom line is that we likely know where the Democrats will fall on all of these fights, especially if their nominee is former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. That makes the Republican Party an interesting laboratory these days for new ideas and original thinking in American foreign policy.