At the nation’s largest gathering of conservatives, many seem to be turning against the prospect of American military interventions—at least overseas.
As part of her speech at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) took aim at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to Greene, “He said he wants our sons and daughters to go die [fighting] in Ukraine.” She pledged “no money to Ukraine” and said, “that country needs to find peace, not war.” To Zelenskyy, “You better leave your hands off our sons and daughters because they’re not dying over there.”
Greene made the same claim earlier this week on Twitter, based on an out-of-context statement: Speaking of a hypothetical Russian attack against a NATO member state, Zelenskyy said the U.S. would send its “sons and daughters” to fight. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one member state could spawn a request for military assistance from other members. But after her speech, in an appearance at the Real America’s Voice broadcasting booth, Greene and Steve Bannon clarified that the U.S. should not acquiesce to American soldier involvement in conflict over NATO states either.
The forthrightness of Greene’s position marks a noticeable shift from conservatives of years past: After all, the only country to ever invoke Article 5 was the United States. Under a Republican president, the U.S. launched multiple wars against Middle Eastern nations under the rubric of a global war on terror after the September 11 attacks. But conservatives in the last few years have shifted away from the Republican Party’s past militarism, and it showed in the speeches of the party’s 2024 candidates.
Former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who recently announced a run for the presidency, addressed CPAC on Friday. She refrained from any foreign policy specifics other than to say that “we need our military to be stronger than ever,” as “a strong military doesn’t start wars, a strong military prevents wars.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was another CPAC speaker who is expected to announce a presidential run. Like Haley’s, Pompeo’s speech was short on foreign policy specifics other than to tout his own achievements as a West Point cadet and as an Army officer. He spoke of the need for military-style “victory” but against enemies like “wokeness” rather than any particular geopolitical foe.
Former President Donald Trump announced his own reelection candidacy in November. Last month, Politico reported that Trump intended to run as an anti-war alternative to candidates like Haley and Pompeo.
Given that the post-9/11 military incursions resulted in the two longest wars in American history, we should welcome conservative skepticism toward flexing America’s military might. But that’s not the entire story.
Republicans often blame Mexican drug cartels and American border policy for American fentanyl deaths. Greene advocated targeting cartels by bombing Mexico, a clear act of war against another nation. Vivek Ramaswamy, who recently announced a candidacy for president as a Republican, pledged that as president he would use “military force to decimate the cartels, Osama bin Laden-style.”
During a 2022 debate, Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio) said the U.S. should “declare the Mexican drug cartels a terrorist organization,” a designation which he alleged “allows our military to go to Mexico…and actually do battle with them.”
And earlier this year, Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas) and Mike Waltz (R–Fla.) introduced an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to target cartels. The U.S. Congress has yet to repeal the AUMFs still in effect since both 2001 and 2002—not to mention the AUMFs from 1991 and 1957—but some Republicans want to pass yet another one. While Waltz said this AUMF would not authorize soldiers, the 21st century is full of presidents using AUMFs in ways other than for their intended purpose.
While a conservative skepticism toward military aggression would be welcome, Republican standard-bearers are all too happy to sign off on war powers in other ways.