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Isolation Drills

The Neocons Are Losing. Why Aren’t We Happy?

A new isolationist strain is gaining dominance in the GOP. The noninterventionist part is fine. But then there’s the admiration for Putin, the hatred of alliances, the hostility to NATO ...

Daniel L. Davis joined the Army in 1985. After two years as a private, he finished the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, served in Germany, and fought in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. He ran an unsuccessful campaign in a Republican congressional primary in a Dallas-area district in early 2002, but he returned to active duty later that year and was stationed in the Pentagon.

As a strong supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was deeply dismayed by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration promised Saddam Hussein was hiding. Equally disturbing was his work on an Army initiative that aimed to build vehicles connected to drones and sensors. He says that Pentagon officials gave inaccurate positive assessments of the multibillion-dollar program until it was shuttered.

Davis then served a tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. When President Barack Obama proposed his Afghanistan surge in 2009, Davis predicted in a report that it would inevitably fail. On his second tour there, he patrolled 9,000 miles through eight Afghan provinces, speaking with 250 U.S. troops and Afghan security officials at different levels (he also won another Bronze Star Medal). He learned about the fraudulent Afghan military, which Pentagon leaders glamorized. “I saw it with my own eyes, it was complete hooey,” he recalled.

When he returned stateside, Davis did something unusual: He started telling the truth to the American public. He wrote two reports about the failure in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon officials lying about it. Davis’s essay, published in Armed Forces Journal, was brave and brilliant—and kneecapped his career. The Army soon shuffled him to their marketing and research group, which makes recruitment commercials, to hide quietly until he retired as a lieutenant colonel several years later.

But Davis continues to crusade for a more modest foreign policy, from a perch at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank launched in 2015. For instance, he argues that U.S. officials are overstating Ukraine’s prospects to drive Russia from the country. “This war is far from over, and despite the exuberance over Kyiv’s significant victory near Kharkiv [in September], the victor is not yet determined,” he said. Davis has wanted the United States to push for a diplomatic settlement instead of perpetually providing arms to Ukraine. An energy crisis could erupt in Europe in the winter, alongside persistent inflation and a possible recession in both Europe and the United States.

Davis gets hate mail when he appears on television—but only sometimes. “The [people] who watch CNN and BBC seem to have a more pro-Ukrainian—and pro-interventionist—view than those who watch Fox,” he said. “The significant majority of responses I get when watching Fox find my ‘sane foreign policy, prioritizing American national security interests’ views appealing.”

Conservatives like Davis are shifting the moment away from the hawkish internationalism that prevailed for years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A generation of right-wingers has been subjected to the war on terrorism’s hyper-interventionism and is now far more skeptical of things like democracy promotion, “globalism,” multilateral international organizations, and neoconservatism. They are joined by the Republican Party’s younger leaders and many rank-and-file members, at both the grassroots level and among intellectual and media elites, where hostility toward overseas commitments is now widespread. In Congress, the GOP’s traditional bias in favor of Reagan- and Bush-era policies remains. But the Republican leadership can only resist the pressure for so long. Sooner or later, the impulses spreading around the party will prevail. And the result may be the most significant transformation of U.S. foreign policy in decades. GOP support for multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and NATO may finally collapse, long-established relationships with allies and diplomatic agreements may crumble irrevocably, and support for any global action outside of confronting China may disappear. The era of bipartisan liberal internationalism that has remained intact since the onset of the Cold War will finally end.

The Demise of the Hawks and the Rise of the Jacksonians

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a name for his party members advocating a different foreign policy approach. “We have sort of an isolationist wing,” he told The New York Times in May. But scholars debate whether isolationism is the appropriate term. Does it accurately describe less interventionist people who still wish to conduct economic and diplomatic relations globally? The terms noninterventionist or anti-interventionist can be equally problematic, however, since many of these conservatives argue for intervening in other countries or conflicts in certain situations, such as Iran and China.

The better term for the wing McConnell derides was fashioned by the political scientist Walter Russell Mead in an essay published in 1999 in The National Interest and expanded into Special Providence, his 2001 book on U.S. foreign affairs traditions. “The Jacksonian school represents a deeply embedded, widely spread populist and popular culture of honor, independence, courage, and military pride,” Mead writes. Jacksonianism reflected the angry, anti-establishment, nationalistic culture underpinning President Andrew Jackson’s electoral success. In a 2017 essay, Mead added, “If the cosmopolitans see Jacksonians as backward and chauvinistic, Jacksonians return the favor by seeing the cosmopolitan elite as near treasonous—people who think it is morally questionable to put their own country, and its citizens, first.” Jacksonianism is as much a gut instinct as it is a coherent set of ideas, a hyper-patriotic expression of anger and resentment at those designated as globalists or internationalists. Political parties are heterogeneous, and not all of the new right-wing perspectives can be classified in this way. Some oppose all interventions in other countries, while still others counsel restraint but favor selective interventionism. But Jacksonianism is the dominant strain at work, especially among the grassroots.

In some senses, the new foreign policy right revives instincts that have been present in the conservative movement since at least the 1930s but were eclipsed for many decades. Donald Trump’s slogan “America First” was previously best-known as the catchphrase of those hoping to keep the United States out of World War II before the bombing of Pearl Harbor rendered their views obsolete. In his 2020 bookIsolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World, the political scientist Charles Kupchan suggests that these sentiments can be traced to the earliest years of the United States. George Washington and other Founders encouraged the embryonic country to remain apart from European entanglements and concentrate on expanding territorially. His view held sway until the threats posed by Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union—and popular opinion—overpowered traditional isolationist impulses in the GOP. Led by Ohio Senator Robert Taft, the noninterventionist wing still maintained significant influence in the party until the internationalist Republican Dwight Eisenhower proved wildly popular. As the Cold War progressed, a hawkish internationalism solidified as the default GOP position. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the most assertive and confrontational impulses among conservatives were unleashed, expressed in the infamous Defense Planning Guidance drafted by Pentagon planners in 1992, which called for permanent global predominance and unilateral military action against any would-be challengers. The terrorist attacks in 2001 offered Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a golden opportunity to implement this strategy, as President George W. Bush committed the United States to the use of preventative military force against hostile states and state-building in dysfunctional countries.

But with Al Qaeda decimated and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya conspicuously gone awry, attitudes in the conservative movement began to evolve again. Not toward isolationism exactly, but toward Jacksonianism. As Mead wrote in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election campaign, “More nationalist, less globally minded voices began to be heard, and a public increasingly disenchanted with what it saw as the costly failures of the global order-building project began to challenge what the foreign policy establishment was preaching.” It took time for these perspectives to gain currency, and they needed a champion. They eventually found one in Donald Trump, whose belligerence and contempt for the foreign policy elite and foreign countries personified Jacksonianism (except perhaps for the wing’s notions of honor). Unlike many other Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Trump candidly declared the Iraq War a failure, expressed contempt for venerable allies, and openly declared hostility to Muslims and foreigners inside and outside the United States. “[M]any Americans found considerable merit in Trump’s resurrection of an earlier version of grand strategy that represents a definitive break with the statecraft that the United States has pursued since World War II,” Kupchan writes. Daniel McCarthy, the editor of Modern Age, a conservative journal, said that “regardless of what happens with Trump in the future, I think, conservative thinkers and thought leaders in particular are much more skeptical of interventionism than they had been a decade or more ago.”

In terms of domestic policy, most elected officials in the Republican Party pay homage to Trump in one form or another, from promoting his lies about the 2020 election being stolen to his nativism. But on foreign policy, the party is still divided. “A lot of the war hawks, the interventionists, say, well, if you don’t believe in the interventionist foreign policy, then you’re an isolationist,” said K.T. McFarland, an official in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Trump administrations. Isolationism remains a term that few politicians want to be tarred with, even more than 80 years after Pearl Harbor. But there is more political space to be critical of using military force abroad. “I do believe that the failures of U.S. foreign policy, partly since the end of the Cold War or specifically since 9/11, have led many Americans to have second thoughts about what have been the central thrust of U.S. policy, which was to maintain a position of global primacy on the part of the United States,” said Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

China or Russia: Who’s the Real Enemy?

Given that Vladimir Putin deplores the Soviet Union’s demise, interfered in the internal affairs of the United States and other Western countries, and condemns the United States in numerous ways, one could imagine a conservative movement hostile to the Russian leader. But one would be wrong. The anti-Russian sentiment that consumed the GOP during the Cold War is not only absent from much of today’s GOP; Russophilia is rampant among some conservative intellectuals and media types, including Trump, of course. “I liked him,” Trump said about Putin. “He’s a tough cookie, got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride.” Some right-wingers admire Putin’s authoritarianism and social conservatism. Said Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo: “He knows how to use power. We should respect that.”

That’s one reason polling conducted by Morning Consult shows that Republican voters are less likely than Democrats to support sanctions on Russian oil or resettling Ukrainian refugees and to see defending and protecting Ukraine as the responsibility of the United States. More GOP voters also say the United States is doing too much to help Ukraine. In doing so, they are following the lead of some of their representatives. The new right-wing upstarts have already had some success in Congress: 11 Republican senators voted against an aid package to Ukraine, and 18 House Republicans voted against the United States permitting Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who voted against the package, said, “I find nobody in Kentucky coming up to say, ‘Please send more of our money overseas.’” In September, Ohio Representative Jim Jordan opposed further aid proposed by the White House. “I just don’t think it should be the American taxpayer continuing to give and give and give,” he said. Similarly reflecting nativist sentiments, the new Defense budget bill prohibits Pentagon funds from delivering anything—including financial aid, food, and medical supplies—to Afghanistan, which is suffering from earthquakes and starvation.

Ukraine’s shockingly successful counteroffensive in mid-September did little to change these sentiments. “[F]or those who support sending endless amounts of military packages, their case just got injected with new life,” lamented Matt Vespa, an editor at the right-wing website Townhall. “...We left Afghanistan just to go head-long into Ukraine—for the most part; it’s been an engagement that’s depleted critical areas of our military resources.”

Elected officials are hearing the noises coming from conservatives regarding expending resources abroad. Even a longtime hawk like Mitch McConnell feels the need to address their concerns by assuring them that the aid bills to Ukraine are not wasteful spending or philanthropic endeavors. “This is not a charity we’re involved in here,” he said. “It’s in our interests to help Ukrainians just like it’s in the interest of NATO countries. So, this is not some handout.” McConnell personally lobbied his colleagues to support the packages, complaining to reporters that “some of the Trump supporters are sort of linked up with the isolationists—a lot of talk out in the primaries about this sort of thing.”

Conversely, China has replaced the Soviet Union as the foreign enemy in the conservative imagination. Nonwhite and officially atheist and Communist, China makes a handier villain than Russia does. China’s rise could lead the rebellious Republicans to abandon their still-delicate concerns about fiscal responsibility and military misadventures to embrace aggressive policies in Asia. During the Cold War, anti-communism served as a glue that united different types of conservatives on national security, and anti-Chinese positions may do the same today. That has restrainers worried. Some members of the New Right are “very hard-nosed about China, but they don’t want to go to war over an abstract principle when you don’t have treaty alliances, let’s say, over Taiwan,” said Sohrab Ahmari, a founding editor of the new magazine Compact. “Then you have people who have rebranded the same old kind of Reaganite hawkishness as a new American nationalism.” Both perspectives coexist but are ultimately contradictory, he said.

Those with sensitive seismographs understand that the political earth is shaking in conservative circles. It can only be overpowered or ignored for so long. “It’s highly unlikely that there is going to ever again be a Republican president who is ‘hawkish,’” said Kevin Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation, the influential Washington-based think tank. “The movement has shifted.”

Democrats United, For Once

The dissension in the conservative movement and among Republicans contrasts with the comparatively harmonious Democrats. Biden seems to have united the party behind four principles. The first is a larger conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. The second is an aversion to sending large contingents of troops to conflict zones. The third is tackling climate change. And the fourth is repairing and maintaining alliances weakened by his predecessor.

The president has portrayed the United States as leading a struggle against illiberal powers, particularly China and Russia. Unlike the new Jacksonians, Biden makes little distinction between the two and in fact tends to group them together as authoritarian enemies of democracy. “In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy and universal human rights all around the world, democracy needs champions,” he told the approximately 80 world leaders at his “summit for democracy” last December. It is tempting to suggest that his repetition of this theme forms some sort of “Biden Doctrine.” But in reality, presidential foreign policy doctrines are rarely clear or consistent, instead often being the product of journalistic creativity. It was columnist Charles Krauthammer who formulated the “Reagan Doctrine,” at this magazine’s editorial meetings (yes, Krauthammer was a TNR staff writer) and in print in Time magazine in 1985. “I thought there was a general policy, a doctrine if you will,” underlying Reagan’s support for anti-communists around the world, Krauthammer later explained. But the best book-length study of the Reagan Doctrine, James M. Scott’s Deciding to Intervene, concludes that “four different variants of the doctrine emerged,” and that “the Reagan Doctrine was unevenly applied.”

Indeed, Biden continues to court friendly regimes that suppress democracy and human rights. The administration has worked to line up autocratic allies from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates in service of isolating Iran, instead of wisely rejoining the Iran deal that Obama signed. However, the Biden administration has mostly had the support of rank-and-file Democrats in his endeavors, even while his domestic policies have received more criticism. According to a Quinnipiac poll in July, just 15 percent of Democrats disapprove of Biden’s handling of foreign policy. A different poll found that 76 percent of Democratic-leaning respondents support his handling of Ukraine, where the president has overseen the distribution of huge amounts of weapons while avoiding any direct confrontation with Russia.

The schism in the conservative movement carries dangers for Democrats and the combination of liberals, leftists, and moderates who make up the party. Sustaining support for Ukraine’s resistance could become increasingly difficult as the war continues indefinitely. In the longer term, if Trump or another Jacksonian is elected, he could make the United States a completely self-interested global power, unwilling to bear burdens or pay prices for anything moral or decent. Forget being cooperative with other countries on climate change, engaging in patient diplomacy, or abiding by mutually beneficial but imperfect international agreements. What matters most in the “America First” mindset is that the United States (particularly Republicans) benefits obviously and immediately and, ideally, exclusively. At worst, under Trump 2.0 and with continued assaults on elections, voting rights, and an independent bureaucracy and judiciary, the United States would not be leading a coalition against authoritarian powers; it would itself be an authoritarian power. When Trump was president, advisers warned him against things like withdrawing from NATO and dissolving the alliance with South Korea; the president reportedly responded, “Yeah, the second term. We’ll do it in the second term.”

But in other areas, the Jacksonian movement could lead the United States to pursue a wiser course. From Vietnam to Libya, Democrats have been no less willing than their Republican counterparts to engage in unwinnable wars. Nearly all Democratic leaders endorsed George W. Bush’s state-building campaign in Afghanistan, and many did in Iraq, too. A Republican Party more hostile to adventures abroad could curb interventionalist overextension of both the conservative and liberal varieties.

Sober, prudent bipartisanship will not be easy to achieve, however. In announcing his vote against adding Sweden and Finland to NATO, Josh Hawley showed that he was not against confronting autocratic countries—he just identifies China, not Russia, as the real danger. If left unchecked, the “Chinese Communist Party,” he wrote in an essay, “will swallow up Taiwan, expand its use of slave labor, ramp up its global campaigns of censorship and repression, and make the United States beg for economic access.” Preventing such an outcome requires husbanding resources, he explained, which is why expanding NATO is unwise. 

This combination of virulently anti-Chinese paranoia and hostility to commitments in other regions poses a problem for the internationalists of the Republican Party who wish for the United States to remain predominant everywhere. “It’s clear that the Trump isolationists have a great appeal to the uneducated base,” said Joshua Muravchik, a longtime neoconservative and author of numerous books, including Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny. “It’s pretty astonishing.” However, he and other international hawks insist that the Jacksonian wing is still a minority of the party. Looking at the polling, “I see very strong, overwhelming support for strengthening key allies that are threatened by authoritarian regimes,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies who worked on the Iran portfolio at Trump’s NSC. Goldberg points out that Trump’s policies were more traditional than his rhetoric suggested. For instance, the United States remained in NATO, even though Trump consistently attacked the institution and slandered its members. “In the end, I judge what the actual results are, what the policies being pushed are, what the voting results are, key legislation on initiatives,” Goldberg said.

But this perspective assumes the Republican Party will permanently shield itself from public opinion. The power of the Jacksonian-led coalition is still growing and is yet to be fully demonstrated. The feelings of the conservative base have yet to coalesce into a force that can outweigh the powerful institutional, financial, and ideological forces pushing aggressive and interventionist positions. “Just like on a lot of other issues, congressional leadership is out of step with their voters on foreign policy,” said Dan Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy at Stand Together, a philanthropy funded by Charles Koch.

The Jacksonian moment is coming. In preventing overreach and curbing the default hawkishness that still predominates in Washington, this is a welcome development. But with their hostility to alliances, diplomacy, and internationalism, the Jacksonians may make U.S. foreign policy unnecessarily ruthless and selfish, while making new enemies and destroying some of our greatest strengths.  


Here are the most important insurgents against the Republican foreign policy establishment:



Donald Trump 

More than any other individual or institution, Trump inaugurated a new foreign policy approach on the right, for better or worse. Yes, during his presidency, Trump’s policies were more continuous with previous administrations than his bombast suggested. But he both tapped into and greatly amplified sentiments against military interventions, multilateralism, and internationalism. “It was beginning to turn in a noninterventionist direction, in the direction of a more realistic and restrained foreign policy, even before Trump came on the scene,” said Daniel McCarthy. “But Trump very much accelerated it.” It’s clear that even with Trump out of office (for now), his influence lasts among conservatives. This includes developments like showing affection for foreign autocrats such as Russian despot Vladimir Putin and Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, whom conservatives lavish with praise.

Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator was a harbinger of the GOP’s direction when he was elected in 2010. Paul says he is a pragmatic anti-interventionist, fashioning a philosophy that he has called “conservative realism.” He lacks Trump’s political skills, commitment to demagoguery, or affection for dictators. But Paul’s disdain for spending on foreign aid and military interventions foreshadowed where the conservative movement was headed. Unlike Trump, he is no militarist, being one of the few high-profile legislators to back cutting the defense budget. He is a source of irritation to his fellow Kentucky senator, Mitch McConnell, who has said, “it’s no secret. Rand and I have a different world view of the importance of Americans’ role around the world.”

Josh Hawley

Soon after taking office in 2019, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley declared the unipolar moment over and blasted conservatives who wanted the United States to dominate the world. He is part of the wing that calls for restraint in Eastern Europe—he has voted against aid packages in Ukraine and discouraged that country from joining NATO. But he is very hawkish regarding China. He constantly refers to the “Chinese Communist Party” when talking about the country’s regime, exploiting Americans’ permanent paranoia about communism. As a young, ambitious politician keenly attuned to the conservative base, Hawley expresses views that may be indicative of the Republican Party’s future.

J.D. Vance

The Ohio Republican Senate nominee is almost comically opportunistic in his positions, switching from stalwart anti-Trump conservative to MAGA-lover when it became convenient. Which makes it telling that Vance has chosen to position himself as opposed to overseas commitments—his antenna tells him that Jacksonianism is the key to political success in the GOP. A former Marine, he was the only Republican in his primary race who opposed establishing a no-fly zone in Ukraine, and he infamously said, “I don’t really care what happens” in Ukraine, declaring that rebuilding our manufacturing base at home was far more critical. But he also rails against Chinese perfidy and promises to be a huge supporter of Israel, again illustrating how reluctance to commit resources abroad in one area is used in service of calling for confrontation in another.


Tucker Carlson

Like Vance, Carlson has shifted some critical positions. He was for the Iraq War before deriding Iraqis in 2008 as “primitive monkeys” unfit for civilization. Since he began hosting his wildly popular Fox News show in 2016, Carlson has been a staunch anti-interventionist, encouraging the United States to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, and to stay out of the Russia-Ukraine war. More troublingly, he speaks admiringly about Putin and Orbán, reflecting and furthering the significant authoritarian and Christian nationalist strains among conservatives. As much as any other mainstream figure, Carlson espouses an approach to foreign policy that prioritizes maintaining white supremacy in the United States.

Compact Magazine

Begun earlier this year with a wave of publicity, Compact brings together anti-liberals from the left and the right who favor a strong welfare state and anti-imperialism. An open letter the magazine published admonishing the West for avoiding any possible diplomatic solutions in Russia-Ukraine was signed by influential people on the right, such as political scientist Patrick Deneen, activist Christopher Rufo, and Newsweek editor Josh Hammer. One of Compact’s founders, Sohrab Ahmari, promoted hawkish policies at The Wall Street Journal and Commentary. In May, Josh Hawley penned a piece for Compact titled “NO TO NEOCONSERVATISM,” calling for strong industry at home, a large military that would deter foreign domination, and select alliances with other nations.

The American Conservative Magazine

As one would expect from a magazine co-founded by proto-Trump figure Pat Buchanan during the run-up to the Iraq War, TAC has long been a home for paleoconservatives, libertarians, realists, and generally anyone skeptical of the hyper-interventionism that predominated in Washington during the George W. Bush years. Prominent editors include Helen Andrews and Rod Dreher, the latter a devotee of Viktor Orbán. A self-described Jacksonian, Dreher recently asked President Biden in a blog post: “Why don’t you ask the working people struggling to fill up their cars how much they care about The Future Of The Liberal World Order?” The line encapsulates the worldview underpinning the conservative base.

The Federalist

Few outlets reflect the conservative-movement bellwether like The Federalist. The web magazine, which launched in 2013, started as an anti-Trump publication but soon embraced the president. Revealingly, it is now critical of the United States serving as an arsenal of democracy in Eastern Europe. “AFTER MORE THAN $50 BILLION IN AID, ZELENSKY WANTS BILLIONS MORE FROM AMERICAN TAXPAYERS,” one headline lamented. Another grieved that U.S. taxpayers were funding the Ukrainian government’s censorship of pro-Russian voices in the United States. Federalist writers routinely rail against “neocons.” However, the publication is virulently anti-Chinese, attacking Biden for allegedly kowtowing to Chinese “commies.” Rand Paul and J.D. Vance have written for the website in 2022. 

Think tanks

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation was the most influential think tank of the Reagan era and has been known for being in sync with the conservative movement for decades. When Trump became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, some conservatives were surprised that Heritage courted him. But the foundation’s current president, Kevin Roberts, argues that his critics are too Washington-focused and are out of touch with the actual Republican rank and file. “It’s just inescapable to me that America’s stature in the world and, just objectively speaking, our fiscal, social, or political health are so much worse, so much weaker, than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago,” he said. “We’re trying to bring a dose of reality to that conversation.” Heritage lobbied against the latest funding package to Ukraine, saying it was fiscally irresponsible. This is a noticeable shift from Heritage’s stance during George W. Bush’s administration, when it strongly favored the state-building wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Founded in 2019, the Quincy Institute has arisen as the most important, controversial think tank in rethinking long-standing U.S. foreign policy. It was established by progressives like Stephen Wertheim and Trita Parsi, alongside independent conservatives such as Andrew Bacevich. The QI is less jingoistic than other think tanks associated with conservatives, and it forefronts restraint rather than any escalation in dealing with China. In 2020, uber-hawk Republican Senator Tom Cotton accused the QI of antisemitism and isolationism, illustrating how establishment foreign policy types view the upstarts. “There’s no question that we are engaged in a competition with the People’s Republic, and the competition has many facets,” said Bacevich. “It does seem that many in Washington are coming to see that competition as primarily military. So those of us who are in the restraint camp will tend to argue that we should not overstate the implications of the Ukraine war, and we should not automatically assume that the competition with the People’s Republic is going to primarily take place in the military sphere.”

The Claremont Institute

Based in California, the Claremont Institute was founded in 1979 but, like many conservative institutions, remade itself after Trump proved deliriously popular with Republican voters. It is now home to some of the most impactful (and disturbing) anti-democratic thought on the right. Several Claremont staffers served in foreign policy positions in the Trump administration, including his National Security Council spokesman, Michael Anton. He wrote that the left, Democrats, and a bipartisan “junta” desperate to import unenlightened foreigners overtook the United States, which was dying. But Anton also wrote last year, “The mission that the United States—or, to be more precise, the George W. Bush Administration—set for itself in Afghanistan was doomed from the beginning.” Such is the new marriage between authoritarianism at home and hostility to state-building abroad. Another influential Clare­mont fellow, David Goldman, has written a piece arguing that “Trump’s instincts point the way out of Biden-style decline.”


Charles Koch 

Although better known for supporting libertarian economic ideas, Tea Party candidates, and anti–climate change initiatives, Charles Koch has become arguably the most important funder of foreign policy debates around restraint and realism. Tens of millions of dollars of Koch money have funded programs at elite universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and think tanks like the Quincy Institute and the Center for the National Interest. Stand Together Trust, also founded by Charles Koch, makes similar grants. Yet another Koch-backed group, Concerned Veterans for America, is vocal about wasteful defense spending, rebalancing constitutional powers regarding war-making, ending endless wars, and closing military bases. CVA alone spent more than $4 million supporting a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Notably, Koch-funded organizations are comfortable working alongside progressive organizations such as Win Without War and the George Soros–backed Open Society Foundations.