Professor Sees ‘Hard Line’ in Republican Foreign Policy Views

Posted: November 8, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: November 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm

By James Greif

Colin Dueck. Creative Services photo

As the Republican Party makes large gains in Congress after the midterm elections on Nov. 2, a new book by Mason professor Colin Dueck may hold the key to understanding what effect this new political climate could have on U.S. foreign policy.

In the book, “Hard Line,” Dueck examines the GOP’s foreign policy stances since World War II. He argues that examining the history of Republican foreign policy decisions is crucial to understanding where the party is heading politically and ideologically.

“Hard Line” outlines the political careers and foreign policy positions of leading Republican presidents and figures such as Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. While these leaders had various approaches to reach their goals, Dueck sees a common theme across generations of Republican leaders.

“There has been a lot of variety in Republican foreign policy over time,” says Dueck, an associate professor of public and international affairs.

“But the core values have been what I would call a hawkish and intense American nationalism, a willingness to use force in world politics, a fairly unyielding approach toward international adversaries, and a certain skepticism toward multilateral institutions.”

Dueck says that the greatest successes of Republican foreign policy had to do with maintaining a clear plan of Soviet containment — which outlined the use of force and strategy to prevent further expansion of communism — even after the frustrations of the war in Vietnam. However, the end of the Cold War left many Americans confused as to what the country’s foreign policy objectives should be.

“Communism had provided a genuine target against which pretty much all Republicans could rally,” Dueck says.

Hard Line bookcover“In a sense, President George W. Bush developed the concept of a war on terror after Sept. 11, 2001, as a similar rallying point. It worked, at least for several years, but the war in Iraq eventually caused much dissent. Most Republicans still support a forward global role for America and a strong military, but I think the specifics have yet to be worked out looking ahead to 2012.”

The war in Iraq and management of the Afghan war have led many observers to be skeptical of Republican policy objectives, but Dueck notes that most Republican presidents have been careful and therefore successful in their overall foreign policy approaches since World War II.

“Even George W. Bush was quite successful in his policy toward China, India and Japan, as well as in counterterrorism,” says Dueck.

“However, Bush was wildly overly optimistic about the immediate prospects for the democratization of Iraq in 2003, and this influenced his entire approach. I think conservatives will have to get back to the realism of earlier Republican presidents in order to reclaim their real intellectual and political heritage.”

While Democrats and Republicans agree on many foreign policy issues, Dueck believes that conservatives and progressives have different assumptions about whether cooperation is normal in international relations.

“Progressives believe that American foreign policy may sometimes be a major obstacle to global cooperation. Progressives therefore prefer to accommodate other countries, in the belief that this will encourage peace. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that competition is the norm in world politics; that real threats to American interests exist, and that accommodating threatening behavior does not work.”

In writing “Hard Line,” Dueck says he was most surprised by the ability of presidents to dictate their party’s exact foreign policy approach.

“The Republican Party’s foreign policy is basically what that president says it is,” Dueck says.

“I expected to find more evidence of the influence of economic interests, Congress, bureaucracies or intellectuals, but in the end, that is not what I found. This allows for considerable variety between, say, the realism of Richard Nixon and the regime change aspirations of George W. Bush.”

As a doctoral student, Dueck studied politics at Princeton University and international relations at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He is also the author of “Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy” (Princeton, 2006).

Write to mediarel at