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At a time when the Republican party’s top-polling presidential contender has been a troll with a pompadour, thoughtful GOP foreign-policy alternatives have not received much attention. A new book published by the John Hay Initiative, Choosing to Lead, seeks to redress that inattention, by putting forward the case for a posture of conservative internationalism with specific policy implications across a wide range of regions and issues. The book is important not only because its particular recommendations are well-considered, but also because its multiple authors have years of practical experience in foreign and national-security policy, and are likely to help staff any future Republican administration. Leading former government officials Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Brian Hook head up the effort; more than 30 prominent GOP foreign-policy experts and officials with similar experience — including former secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff, Senator Jim Talent, and General Michael Hayden — have authored or co-authored individual chapters. Those who wish to discern the probable underlying foreign-policy direction for any plausible GOP presidential contender should pay close attention to this book.
Conservatives who have been following world events under President Obama know the basic problem by now. Obama came into office determined to accommodate international rivals, retrench American military power overseas, and focus on domestic liberal legacies. And he has done so. The price we have paid, in addition to excessive regulation and debt at home, is a power vacuum overseas, increasingly filled by the most aggressive authoritarian forces. Obama’s limitless confidence in his own intelligence prevents him from even perceiving, not to mention acting to correct, a string of foreign-policy failures now self-evident even to many of his own supporters. It will be up to his successor to correct this. But on what conceptual basis?
The authors of Choosing to Lead call themselves conservative internationalists. They believe that the United States has led a certain kind of international order since the end of World War II, and that that order is under serious challenge today — not least because of American retrenchment under Obama. This U.S.-led order, they suggest with some justification, has been more peaceful, more democratic, and more prosperous than any similar order led by any other country in history.
Conservative internationalists differ from liberal ones in that the former are less attracted to faddish conceptions of what takes priority (e.g., make sure to recycle), less enamored of diplomatic appeasement, and less likely to view multilateral institutions as a kind of silver bullet for whatever problems arise. But conservative internationalists also differ from strict non-interventionists of either the Left or the Right in maintaining that an international order friendly to America must ultimately be buttressed by American power.
In practical terms, the authors of Choosing to Lead clearly favor a more robust U.S…