You have to hand it to John McCain. He sticks to his guns. Literally. As America grows weary of the world's-policeman foreign policy of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, McCain wanted the world to know that the United States would never turn in its badge.
At the 2012 Republican National Convention last week, McCain said, "America must be on the right side of history. The demand for our leadership in the world has never been greater. People don't want less of America. They want more." McCain then went on to explain why, essentially, the U.S. needed to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely, and why we needed to start new wars with Syria, Iran, and the rest of the Middle East.
In 2008, being uniformly pro-war was a popular position among Republicans. In 2012, it gets a lukewarm response at best. And this is exactly what McCain got, as each call by the senator to start a new war was met with ambivalent applause or worse. Most Americans — conservative or liberal — can't really tell you why we are still in Afghanistan. Most polls show that a strong majority of Americans believe we are too involved around the world. And virtually everyone agrees we can't afford our ambitious foreign policy, with the exception of the always war-eager neoconservatives, an ideological group of which John McCain is a leading spokesman. In 2008, anyone who suggested that we get out of the Middle East was accused of "cutting and running" by Republicans like McCain. Today, calls to get out of Afghanistan are common on conservative talk radio, where nationally syndicated hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have wondered why we're still there.
Over the last four years, the GOP has steadily morphed from a party that values war at any cost to a party more inclined to question the cost of everything, including war. While John McCain desperately tries to reestablish the Bush-era war narrative within the GOP by accusing President Obama of slashing the military budget (he's not), Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has sponsored a bill to "audit the Pentagon," believing that so-called defense spending is rife with corruption and waste.
Of course, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan mouth the same false accusations McCain does about Obama "gutting" military spending. But it's not just liberals calling attention to these falsehoods. Tax reformer and conservative leader Grover Norquist said last month, "We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don't make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to overextend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments."
Foreign Policy reported last month on Norquist and the current Republican debate between neoconservatives like McCain and, well, just about everyone else: "Norquist predicted that the defense hawks will lose the battle inside the GOP ... 'Here's the good news. There's a very small number of them,' Norquist said about the defense hawks."
And this has always been the case. Their influence has always far exceeded their numbers, not to mention what normal and rational Americans think about foreign policy.
McCain and his neoconservative friends have long believed that what makes America great is our ability to flex our military might around the globe. But most Americans, and particularly conservatives, think of "national defense" quite literally — as in defending our own country. Fewer Americans now believe that our involvement in places like Afghanistan have anything to do with our actual security, and after a decade of war and a mountain of debt, it becomes harder for neocons to still fool people into believing otherwise.
Sen. McCain's mild reception at this year's Republican National Convention represents a shift for the GOP in its foreign policy thinking due, no doubt, in part to partisanship, but also to grim life-and-death realities that can no longer be ignored.
John McCain thinks being all over the globe is what makes America great. He's wrong. It is Americans that make America great. The sooner we can fully refocus on taking care of our own problems and not the entire world's, the sooner we will be a safer and more stable country.
Jack Hunter assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his latest book, Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse. He is also the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz on 1250 WTMA.