President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks continue to be the focus of those looking for portents of what is to come, and the main source of speculation is over the position of Secretary of State. After giving Trump supporters quite a scare with indications that he just might pick none other than Mitt Romney, it looks like the subsequent outcry – including from campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who went public with her opposition – deterred Trump, and it’s rumored that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is now favored to win the prize. (Although don’t bet the farm on it.)
Rumor also has it that Rohrabacher was offered the deputy Secretary of State position, with the odious John Bolton in the top position, but that Dana refused on the grounds that Bolton’s foreign policy views are in many ways the exact opposite of Trump’s (and his own).
Rohrabacher’s political career is really quite a story. Here is someone who went from being a follower of Bob LeFevre, a pacifist libertarian, to a militant Reaganite who championed the cause of the Afghan mujahideen during the 1980s. As a young libertarian, he was a kind of troubadour, who took his guitar and his ultra-sectarian brand of libertarianism all across California, carrying the LeFevrian message of “autarchy” (i.e. market anarchism mixed with intransigent pacifism) to all who would listen. (Another disciple of LeFevre around this time was Charles Koch.)
A founder of one of the earliest libertarian organizations that fueled the growth of the libertarian movement in the 1960s, the California Libertarian Alliance, Rohrabacher was a veteran of the internecine wars on the right that sundered Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the conservative youth group, into libertarian and Buckleyite factions. Rohrabacher was a leading light of YAF’s Libertarian Caucus, along with his good friend, Don Ernsberger. Ernsberger, who was for years a member of the Libertarian Party National Committee, went on to become Rohrabacher’s deputy chief of staff in Congress. But before making it to Washington as a legislator, Rohrabaher worked in the media relations office of Reagan’s 1976 campaign, and then in the press office of the Reagan White House, where he became a speechwriter for the President. The speech in which Reagan announced his “Reagan Doctrine” is attributed to him.
After two failed attempts to get elected to Congress, he finally made it in 1988. and he has represented California’s 48th district (Orange County) ever since. He serves on the Foreign Affairs and the Space and Technology Committees, and his notable positions have been his advocacy of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a vote against the 2012 Defense Authorization Act on the grounds that it gave the government the power to detain Americans as well as non-citizens indefinitely, and a vote for the Iraq war which he later came to regret as a “mistake.”
Eccentric, eclectic, and high energy, Rohrabacher, who supported Ted Cruz in the GOP primaries, has a Trumpian air about him: this is someone who personally traveled to Afghanistan during the 1980s to stand with the Afghan rebels, and his “regular guy” persona limns Trump’s to a great degree. Their foreign policy views are certainly simpatico: like Trump, Rohrabacher wonders aloud why the media and the political class have gone on an anti-Russian jihad. For this he has been excoriated by Politico, and the usual neocon warmongers. He supports the right of the Crimean people to determine their own fate – a position that puts him at odds with the vocal Ukrainian lobby – and he has correctly said that the Russo-Georgian war was started by Georgian strongman Mikhail Saakashvili. “The cold war is over,” he has said. “Putin is not Satan.”
If he is nominated, Rohrabacher will run into the Senate’s vocal Russophobes, which now includes all the Democrats as well as a small but intense group of Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham – not coincidentally, two of the loudest NeverTrumpers in Washington.
Rohrabacher’s foreign policy views have changed since the heyday of Reaganism, when he was a vocal advocate of US intervention in the name of exporting “freedom.” Today he is, roughly, a hard-headed “realist,” in the sense that foreign policy maven John Mearsheimer is: the US faces no real threats from either Russia or the Middle East and should downsize its activities in Europe and the Mediterranean and forge an alliance with Russia, India, and Japan to maintain the peace.
From a noninterventionist perspective, Rohrabacher is the best choice of those reportedly in the running, with this caveat: “realism” is not the same as non-interventionism. It depends on the context. In the present context – escalating tensions with Russia, deepening US involvement in Iraq and Syria, and the hegemonic pretensions of our political class – they are our allies. However, they are what I would call “Asialationists,” i.e. they, like Mearsheimer, see China as a rising threat, and their proposed “pivot” to Asia – which was announced but never really implemented by the Obama administration – spells possible trouble ahead.
Which just goes to show that our job, as opponents of empire, is never really done. Antiwar.com is more necessary than ever. Don’t be lulled by Donald Trump’s promises to stop engaging in what he calls “unnecessary wars” – because eventually we’re bound to confront a situation where war in some foreign hellhole is supposedly “necessary.” Just the other day, Trump made a speech in Ohio, where he said:
“We will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past. We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments. Our goal is stability not chaos. In our dealings with other countries we will seek shared interests wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding, and good will.”
Sounds good, but as another US President whose election augured a new era put it: Trust, but verify.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.