Haters of President Trump are not known for their capacity for self-criticism. Having waged all-out, nasty battles to defeat him last November, they have decided to blame anyone but themselves for their failure. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton blames Russian hacking and FBI Director James Comey for her electoral loss. The mainstream media, which largely dispensed with any pretense of objectivity in the last election, blames the Trump administration for its hostility toward them.
Other Trump opponents, including right-wing foreign policy professionals who declared Trump unfit for office, are now busy evaluating whether Trump is "normalizing," or becoming more like them.
Some, like Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, has reiterated what she said throughout the campaign: Trump has no coherent foreign policy and is a complete disaster.
Others, like conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, have breathed a sigh of relief that predictions of apocalyptic doom under Trump were unfounded. Trump has "normalized," with the evidence being "Neil Gorsuch, Keystone XL, NATO reassurances, Syria strike, Cabinet appointments." Krauthammer does not ask why he previously failed to understand that Trump was capable of competence.
Less venerable right-wing Trump critics have been chiming in too. One suggestion is to learn from what Trump got right on foreign policy. The conclusion? Applaud him for, among other things, condemning the Obama administration's fecklessness in confronting the Islamic State. Really? Republicans have been bashing President Barack Obama for eight years for good reason, but blaming him is hardly an exercise of honest self-assessment.
So, what is wrong with the anti-Trump GOP foreign policy establishment?
The man who happens to know quite a bit about this turns out to be Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. After all, it was against the good senator that many (though not all) of the anti-Trump foreign policy types had originally planned to unleash their vitriol.
Before Trump's candidacy, it was Paul who captured the imagination of the Republican grassroots by rebelling against the "let's-bomb-everybody-into-oblivion" faction of the party. In turn, that faction derided him as an isolationist.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., considered by some conservatives as a "promiscuous interventionist," said of Paul's offense in 2013: "We're going to have to have a debate about the future of the party...[about] isolationism versus internationalism."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., bosom buddies with McCain in interventionism, also insisted that Paul must be "contained and pushed back against."
Interventionist advocates like historian Robert Kagan, who would later tout their Never-Trump credentials, reportedly preferred Clinton over Paul in a potential 2016 matchup.
But the GOP ended up with Trump, a man the interventionists hated even more. By no accident, Trump tapped into a phenomenon to which they belonged: Conservative institutions and politicians have long been betraying the Americans they claimed to represent. This was true on border security, where the GOP grassroots wanted tougher measures than their political leaders, who not only failed to advocate on their behalf but often smeared them as racists and xenophobes.
Similarly, on foreign policy, so-called conservative experts and institutions advocated actions far more interventionist, far costlier and far less sensible than what American voters preferred. While not all who opposed Trump's foreign policy were interventionists, many unrepentant interventionists naturally became vocal Trump haters.
Turns out, Trump understood regular citizens far better: they do not want "endless war," but they support a strong America that is both respected and feared overseas. As such, they have cheered his proposals to strengthen the U.S. military, his tough talk about defeating (or bombing the s—t out of) ISIS and his politically incorrect rhetoric on fighting radical Islamic terrorism.
Not surprisingly, Paul, the earlier target of the interventionists' intellectual intolerance, has been quite open to certain aspects of Trump's foreign policy. While the two men have many differences, Paul has expressed strong support for Trump's rejection of the "perpetual war philosophy."
By contrast, Never-Trump interventionists have been eager to "normalize" the president and interpret his actions using their own paradigm. Taiwan and Syria are two notable examples.
When President-elect Trump took a call from the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, he angered Beijing and upended decades of diplomatic protocol. He also delighted many interventionists, who saw the phone call as a proper jab in the eye to the repressive Chinese Communist regime. China denounces Democratic Taiwan as a renegade province and vehemently objects to any acknowledgment of its de facto independence.
Trump, not at all averse to ruffling feathers at home or abroad (and definitely not averse to praise), was not animated by the interventionists' obsession with human rights considerations. Instead, he saw Taiwan as a customer that purchases "billions of dollars of military equipment" from the United States, while China was guilty of currency devaluation, unfair taxing of U.S. imports and militarization of the South China Sea.
On Syria, anti-Trump interventionists were also wrong. They were surprised by and applauded the Trump's Syrian strikes, and clamored for more interventionism in Syria's ongoing civil war. Yet to Trump, the Syria strikes were a limited attack that served "the vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons." Rejecting "endless war," Trump declared after the strikes, "We are not going into Syria."
As it turns out, many so-called foreign policy wise men and women on the Right do not have that much to teach us. They saw the Trump revolution as a horror show and are now pretending they can make sense of a leader they do not understand.
Instead, they should try harder than Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media to engage in some serious soul-searching. This means making a genuine effort to rethink their approach, reevaluate their ideas and show a bit less disdain for ordinary Americans and the man chosen as their champion.
Ying Ma (@GZtoGhetto) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is the former deputy director of the Committee for American Sovereignty, a pro-Trump super PAC, and the former deputy policy director of the Ben Carson presidential campaign. She is the author of "Chinese Girl in the Ghetto."
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