Support for Nation-Building Fades in GOP

By Scott Conroy - June 21, 2011

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In a telling case study of how far some conservatives have moved away from an interventionist use of the U.S. military, Bachmann recently voted in favor of a bill presented by Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the most liberal members of Congress, which called for the end of U.S. military involvement in Libya within 15 days.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who is slated to enter the race today has expressed concerns the U.S. military is spread too thin. "The deployments are mighty expensive," he told George Stephanopoulos last month. "We've got to ensure that going forward into our new world that we have a foreign policy that is an extension of our core national interests. And does that mean that we're going to have to look at the map at some point and reset our level of engagement and our deployments in some corners of the world? Absolutely it does."

Though the Republican candidates' increasing eagerness to speak in this manner is widely assumed to be, at least in part, a politically expedient way to chastise a Democratic president's foreign policy record, concerns about the growing national debt and the high cost of foreign intervention -- which remain particularly salient among Republican primary voters -- also fit neatly into a more circumspect use of the U.S. force.

"We cannot afford to be engaged in any of these military interventions unless America's interests are being challenged," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has sounded increasingly skeptical about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Libya as she weighs a presidential bid, said on Fox News in April in comments that she has since echoed.

The buzz has continued to grow around another major potential GOP contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but relatively little is known about the broader foreign policy outlook of the nation's longest-serving governor.

Still, there are some clues that Perry may not be as quick to call for troop withdrawals as some of his prospective rivals have been. In his 2010 book, "Fed Up," Perry, a former Air Force pilot, penned a passage on defense policy that sounded at times as if it might have been written by his predecessor in the governor's mansion -- George W. Bush.

"We currently have tens of thousands of courageous servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan," Perry wrote. "Their mission in these countries and others is critical to our safety here at home, and it must be the absolute priority of our national government to ensure their success."

Jim Henson, who serves as the director of the Texas Politics Project, which offers neutral political analysis, said that while Perry has made relatively few public comments on foreign affairs to date, his personal background and political persona make it unlikely that he would call for large-scale drawbacks on the international stage.

"I wouldn't want to call him an interventionist, but he's a national security guy," Henson said. "My sense is that he will be much more likely to shade away from this kind of so-called isolationist position."

Henson and other observers of Texas politics noted that Perry's political instincts would also serve to motivate him to criticize Obama more forcefully over the judiciousness of the decisions he has made on the international scene. But unlike the condemnations that were leveled against previous Democratic presidents, the charge of timidity on military force is not likely to be at the forefront of the anti-Obama foreign policy critiques that the Republican presidential candidates will issue in the coming months.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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