At Liberty by Adam Sullivan

A realistic foreign agenda

There’s an emerging divide within the Republican Party over foreign policy and it’s on display right now in Iowa’s Congressional delegation.

A few of Iowa’s federal leaders have issued responses to the Trump administration’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syrian military targets last week. Both Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst issued public statements in support of increased U.S. involvement in Syria. Grassley said Trump, “should develop a comprehensive strategy with respect to ending the six-year-long crisis in Syria.”

Rep. Rod Blum did not give Trump unqualified support for the strikes.

Blum wrote in a social media post earlier this week that the president showed “decisive leadership” but also warned that if Trump wants to “engage in a sustained military campaign in Syria, he must, per the Constitution, come to Congress for authorization.” The 1st District Republican has since told multiple Iowa news outlets that he doesn’t support prolonged U.S. involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Blum and a handful of others in Congress are promoting a new vision for of foreign policy realism in the Republican Party. They’re skeptical of the costs and unintended consequences associated with America’s outstretched military footprint.

The growing realist right is part of an Iowa tradition. Our state’s political history is sprinkled with Republican leaders who were skeptical of the United States’ lengthy and costly foreign entanglements.

Jim Leach — who served in the U.S. House from 1977 to 2003 — may be best remembered for a single vote in 2002, when he was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote against authorizing the Iraq War.

William Allison — who served in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate from 1863 to 1908 — was a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1896 and made non-interventionism one of his talking points. A pro-Allison article in the New York Times that spring said he, “held rigidly to the teachings of Washington and the teachings of Monroe — opposing all entangling alliances with other countries.”


Harold Gross — who served in the U.S. House from 1949 to 1975 — was called “an anti-war and anti-spending Republican” in his 1987 obituary in the libertarian magazine Reason. The obituary also reported that Gross said his only regret was not voting against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that started the Vietnam War.

In one of Gross’s constituent newsletters, archived by the State Historical Society of Iowa, he wrote of the Korean War, “Youth of America [are] being slaughtered ... and what is the objective?”

Decades later — another conflict, on the opposite side of the same continent — Gross’s words remain troublingly pertinent. There appears to be no attainable objective for U.S. intervention in Middle Eastern civil wars.

I’ve often told people I’m a Republican because it’s easier to convince a conservative that military intervention is bad than to convince a liberal that capitalism is good. President Donald Trump campaigned in part on limiting U.S. involvement overseas

However, Trump’s plan to massively increase military spending and his posture toward Syria and North Korea have already complicated his vision. For Trump to follow through, Congressional Republicans like Blum must hold him accountable.

• Adam Sullivan’s column appears on Fridays. Comments:;

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