Some have expressed hopes that the tea partiers, many of whom grew out of the Ron Paul movement, will bring about a shift away from American imperialism through their demands for smaller, cheaper, less intrusive, and more accountable government. But it ain’t necessarily so. The tea partiers generally fail to understand that the indispensable element in the explosive growth of big government over the past ten years has been Washington’s failure to craft a foreign and security policy that is commensurate with the nation’s resources and proportional to the actual level of threat that exists in the world. This results in the tea partiers overwhelmingly supporting an aggressive security policy even though they must know that leaving the Pentagon budget untouched and untouchable guarantees deficit spending and continued growth of the parts of government that are allegedly committed to “keeping us free.”
The Republican Party has clearly understood that tea partiers are more-or-less fallen away Republicans based on their dislike of government coupled with unthinking chauvinism and are currently crafting their message to entice them back into the fold prior to November 2 nd. It is amusing to watch John Boehner with a straight face decry government growth and deficits when it was George W. Bush, aided and abetted by the selfsame Republican Party, who started down that road. Boehner is careful not to mention the two wars started by Bush that the nation continues to be embroiled in, nor is he interested in the oceans of red ink that global conflict inevitably produces. Discussion of foreign policy and war has been a no-no for both parties in the congressional elections campaign since both are complicit, and from the tea parties one hears nothing about Washington’s unbridled foreign interventionism. What America does overseas is a matter of little concern to most Americans as long as taxes do not rise to pay for it and one’s children are not drafted to hump a rifle through the Khyber Pass.
Nowhere is this blindness towards the foreign policy roots of the current political and economic disaster more evident than in two national political figures who are widely regarded favorably by many of the tea parties, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Gingrichis an exceedingly clever and devious man whose foreign policy views are completely compatible with those of most neocons. He has also been close to Israel for some time. When he was speaker of the house, an Israeli company hired his second wife Marianne Gingrich for $2,500 a month plus commissions in September 1994 after he announced congressional support for construction of a free trade zone in Israel. Her work for Israel Export Development Co. was to find tenants for the trade zone. Gingrich claimed that since her job did not involve working with the US government, there was no conflict of interest. Gingrich, a champion of family values, divorced second wife Marianne in 2000 and is now on wife number three, who is 23 years his junior.
Gingrich believes that Iran as a “nuclear state” presents a “serious problem” for the United States that must be addressed by President Obama. “The president needs to say to the world that it is unacceptable to have a vicious dictatorship seeking to gain nuclear weapons with the direct goal of genocide.” He worries that Iran policy is stuck in an appeasement mindset. “It’s like the 1930s. The Iranian regime is dedicated to creating a second Holocaust, in terms of wanting to annihilate Israel. For 31 years, it has been trying to tell us through every method they know – through terrorism, killing Americans, and developing nuclear weapons – that they are trying to defeat us. Yet, while the regime is explicitly dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and the defeat of the United States, there remains an absolute refusal in the Western world to be honest about it. At what point do we decide that what we need is a calm and methodological regime-change policy…”
Gingrich also believes that waterboarding is not torture and that George W. Bush’s policies “blocked a number of planned attacks.” But the intention to use civil courts to combat terrorism means that “The Obama team is even more pro-terrorist rights and anti-national security than the Clinton team was.” Gingrich was also the first major US politician to assert that Islamic law – sharia – is a threat to American freedom. In a July 29 th, 2010 speech he stated: “The fight against sharia and the madrassas and mosques which teach hatred and fanaticism is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth. … One of the things I am going to suggest today is a federal law which says no court anywhere in the United States under any circumstance is allowed to consider Sharia as a replacement for American law.”
Palin is something quite different, and a good deal more dangerous than the lumpish and frequently strident Gingrich. She knows nothing of foreign policy and even less of security and defense related issues and is basically a neocon creation being promoted by them as a national candidate. Palin was discovered by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol in 2007 while he and a group of National Review stalwarts were on an Alaska cruise. Kristol assiduously pushed the right buttons to get her on the Republican ticket with John McCain. Palin returned the favor, describing how she had an Israeli flag on display in her governor’s office and describing her love for Israel during the debate with Joe Biden, but her ignorance of foreign policy issues was palpable during the campaign. Palin continues to be in contact with Kristol and has benefited from a recent hagiography The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star by Matthew Continetti, who bears the title of “opinion editor” at the Kristol’s Weekly Standard. Continetti’s critique of Obama administration policies appears to include all Muslims, “Since 2005, Americans have been worrying about Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. Maybe it’s time we started worrying about Turkey’s regional ambitions as well. The Turks ruled the region from 1453 to 1922, after all. A renascence of Turkish power, in an Islamist guise, would cause all sorts of troubles no one can anticipate.”
Palin’s closest foreign policy adviser appears to be hardliner Randy Scheunemann, who advised John McCain and is perhaps most famous for his working as a lobbyist for Georgia, likely motivating his boss to declare “We are all Georgians” in a war that Tbilisi initiated against its neighbor Russia. So much for getting things wrong, but that has never in any way slowed down the neoconservatives. Another close adviser on foreign policy is Michael Goldfarb, who is the partner of Scheunemann at lobbying firm Orion Strategies, also worked for Kristol at the Weekly Standard, is an adviser for the Emergency Committee for Israel, and has also been associated with Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe.
Palin’s boasts of being the mother of a combat veteran – her son with the somewhat unusual name Track – and has repeatedly asserted fatuously that American soldiers overseas are fighting to preserve freedoms in the US. Her simplistic bumper sticker analysis is perhaps not too atypical of the political chattering class, but even by their standards she is sometimes overly adept at reducing complicated issues to neocon crafted soundbites. In what was billed as a major foreign policy speech, delivered to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in April 2010, she staked out her basic position vis-à-vis the Democrats: “In foreign policy, we’ve got the makings of the Obama Doctrine: coddling our enemies while alienating allies.”
In another speech on June 27 th during a celebration called Freedom Fest in Norfolk Virginia, she also discussed foreign and defense policy. She said “This administration may be willing to cut defense spending, but it’s increasing it everywhere else. I think we should do it the other way round: cut spending in other departments – apart from defense. We should not be cutting corners on our national security.” Oddly, she added that “it takes a lot of resources to maintain the best fighting force in the world – especially at a time when we face financial uncertainty and a mountain of debt that threatens all of our futures” without apparently understanding that the two are related. Clearly failing to appreciate that military spending is money wasted, she asked “Did you know the US actually only ranks 25th worldwide on defense spending as a percentage of GDP? We spend three times more on entitlements and debt services than we do on defense.”
Concerning the War on Terror she insists on the use of the term “Islamic” to describe terrorists, opposes the proposal to close Guantanamo, rejects any deadline date for remaining in Afghanistan, and denounces any attempt to try terrorists in civilian courts. And she is not surprisingly particularly outspoken on Israel, stating “Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend.” At Freedom Fest she elaborated “They escalated a minor zoning issue in Jerusalem into a major dispute with our most important ally in the Middle East, Israel. They treated the Israeli Prime Minister shabbily in Washington. When a Turkish sponsored flotilla threatened to violate a legal Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, the Obama Administration was silent. When Israeli commandos were assaulted as they sought to prevent unmonitored cargoes from being delivered to Hamas terrorists, the Obama Administration sent signals it might allow a UN investigation into the matter – an investigation that would be sure to condemn our ally Israel and bemoan the plight of Hamas.”
Tea partiers must begin to understand that accepting the calls of leaders like Palin and Gingrich for smaller and more sensible government and a return to constitutionalism without also understanding that they stand for an incoherent foreign policy, perpetual war, and ballooning deficits is self defeating. They are both traditional Republicans who want nothing more than to return the GOP to power. Only when you begin to question the raison d’etre for the wars and put an end to the American empire can you stop writing a blank check every year for the Pentagon, stop borrowing money to fund the fighting, and take sensible steps to reduce the size of government, making it again answerable to the people. As the memory of the overhyped terrorist threat fades, you might even begin to restore some of those civil liberties that have been stripped away by the Patriot Acts, the Military Commissions Act, and the increasingly frequent assertion of state secrets privilege.
Is it imaginable that the Tea Parties might turn in that direction? Perhaps not, though much depends on the extent to which the Republican Party and people like Palin, Gingrich, and Boehner are able to co-opt the movement. If they do, the revolt will fizzle out and turn into George W. Bush lite, or perhaps not so lite, with complete adherence to the consensus politics that created the current mess in the first place. Hard to imagine, but if the tea parties take a large share of the vote and align behind policies embraced by the likes of Gingrich and Palin, things could actually get worse.