Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of The National Interest, spoke with Chicago University professor and renowned international relations theorist John Mearsheimer about the apparent shifts in attitudes in both the country and in Washington on foreign policy issues:
I would submit two points of caution. First of all, whatever hospitality the broader GOP has afforded more libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rand Paul and Justin Amash on national security issues is very likely to dissipate once the party regains power in the White House. The party out of power typically does things in the opposition that it later backtracks on once in power again.
Secondly, public opinion tends to ebb and flow on the issue of war and peace. Like in the aftermath of Vietnam, a majority of the country is currently opposed to excessive U.S. meddling around the world and overwhelmingly opposed to another lengthy war. The Bush administration’s excesses, particularly in Iraq, pushed the electorate in this direction. But this could also be just another fluctuation. Public opinion tends to be fickle and could easily flip back in the war fever mode given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
The question is whether this popular lean towards less muscular foreign policy and the small GOP faction that opposes excessive interventionism can be sustained for the longer term and whether it can then manifest itself in actual policymaking (which is a whole other obstacle given the entrenched interests in the foreign policy community in Washington). I’m agnostic on that question.