The Leveretts have a piece up reacting to Sarah Palin’s USA Today op-ed. It’s a thoughtful accounting, deeply (and rightfully) scornful of Palin’s belligerence, but lacks in terms of context and framing. The Leveretts, while shrewd geo-strategists, may be engaged in wishful thinking and overestimating the potential of the Tea Party as a sane voice in U.S. foreign policy. The problem with their argument manifests itself in their juxtaposition of Palin and Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul.
Now, Paul is not a foaming-at-the-mouth neocon. But neither do his views on the Middle East seem likely fulfill the hopes that the Leveretts have for the Tea Party — namely, providing “the most outspoken congressional opponents of potential moves by the Obama Administration toward military confrontation with Iran.”
For a more fleshed out account of the direction of the Tea Party’s foreign policy, check out Scott McConnell’s piece at Right Web. McConnell, a founding editor of the American Conservative, described the different approaches of neoconseravtives and Tea Partiers who tend toward fiscally-conservative restraint and writes:
Thus far, the neoconservatives appear to be parrying the challenge effectively. The question is, can the neocons, as they have with other political factions in the past, successfully co-opt this new political force in such a way as to make it amenable to their goals?
McConnell notes that Palin was discovered by neoconservative don Bill Kristol. Those Tea Partiers who have actually been successful (winning or garnering great followings and attention) have been courted by — and often seemed to please — Israel lobby forces and some neoconservative influences.
Take Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, who will represent Florida in the Senate as of early January. The day after winning his seat, Rubio announced a visit to Israel. During the campaign, Rubio, much to the excitement of neoconservatives, said that the U.S. should attack Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. Likewise, Utah’s Senator-elect Mike Lee, another Tea Partier, met with Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu and ran on a platform that “military action [against Iran] would be justified.” Both Senators-elect said the U.S. should allow Israel to strike Iran.
The picture with Rand Paul is significantly more complicated than what the Leveretts present. Comments Paul made during the campaign in May sparked a minor blog squabble between various elements of the “old right” — the American Conservative‘s Daniel Larison and Antiwar.com‘s Justin Raimondo. (Both could claim the “old right” mantle before the Tea Party was even a glimmer in the eye of Rick Santelli or the Koch brothers.)
Just a week after the mid-term elections that elevated Rubio, Lee and Paul to the Senate, McConnell gave an updated breakdown of Paul’s views in his Right Web piece:
On the other hand, Rand Paul, the son of the isolationist icon and early Tea Party favorite Ron Paul, has studiously avoided discussion of foreign policy issues in his campaign. In October, a GQ article reported that after Paul’s primary win he met with prominent neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Tom Donnelly of AEI, and Dan Senor (cofounder of the Foreign Policy Initiative) in Washington to talk foreign policy. While he once criticized the Republicans’ “military adventurism,” opposed the war in Iraq, and “scoffed at the threat of Iranian nukes,” he may have begun changing his positions. Senor categorized Paul as “in absorption mode” and not “cemented in his views.” Paul later met with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he reportedly “told them what they wanted to hear” and distanced himself from his father, who has been critical of the extent of U.S. support for Israel.
McConnell concludes by noting that the Tea Party has a strong “religious” right element as well as a “libertarian” one.
The “religious” element is likely aligned with Christian Zionists such as John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel (CUFI), whose views on the Middle East profess a Greater Israel Zionism even more fervent and violent than one finds in most public neoconservative quarters (the two groups are already strong allies). As with the neocons, Christian Zionists tend to take a moralistic worldview that finds any and all enemies of Israel (particularly Muslims) to be “evil” — unredeemable to the point of requiring extermination by force (otherwise known as Armageddon, or the final battle between good and evil, a central piece of Christian Zionist eschatology.)
Furthermore, the “libertarian” elements of the Tea Party might indeed include those who, confronted by the wider consequences of an attack on Iran, would recoil at the idea of a broad and unpredictable Middle East war. But neoconservatives — in attempting to build a diverse coalition for their aggressive policies — will constantly downplay these negative wider consequences of an assault. (As they did during much of the panel on the “kinetic option” at the big Foundation for Defense of Democracies Iran confab earlier this month.)
And as for fiscally minded small-government ideologues from either branch of the Tea Party, they will come to learn that the cost of a bombing run will only be the price of a warehouse full of ordinance, smart bombs, drones with Hellfire missiles, and the fuel to get it all into Iranian territory. That just ain’t that much dough.
If the Leveretts so choose, they can take heart that there might indeed be some Tea Partiers who, as they put it, “are stalwart in their criticism of the Iraq war and their determination that the United States not launch another ‘war of choice’ in the Middle East that will end up doing even greater damage to America’s interests and international standing.” But I’m not going to hold out hope on this score.
Tea Partiers who make it into the halls of power will likely have their principles watered down by that power. The opinions of Tea Party activists in the field won’t concern neoconservatives, who are known for focusing their efforts on elites — what journalist Sidney Blumenthal called the “Counter Establishment” in his 1986 book. Irving Kristol once said that with a magazine that has “a circulation of a few hundred, you could change the world.” (Some recent populist outreach on YouTube and other mediums notwithstanding.)
The Tea Party — or even a significant portion of it — seems to me to be an unlikely part of any coalition in Washington that will work to stop the United States from starting a war with Iran.