CRENSHAW: ‘America First’ Means Choosing Country Over Popularity In The Foreign Policy Culture War

NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) speaks on “The Fate of Our Culture and Our Nation Hangs in the Balance” during the CPAC Direct Action Training at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center February 26, 2020 in National Harbor, Maryland. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to address the annual event on February 29th. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Spend some time at the top graduate programs in foreign policy — Georgetown, Fletcher, Harvard — and mention the word “globalist” in a derogatory fashion. Students and faculty alike will probably wonder what you mean. They might even say, “What’s wrong with global cooperation? How else can we solve today’s biggest challenges? We are all citizens of the world, after all.” After that little experiment, throw out the words “America First,” and brace for the fireworks.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of the clumsy over-usage of the term globalist by many conservatives, often used as a rhetorical club to wield against any fellow conservative who differs slightly in opinion on matters of foreign policy. Similar to “neocon” or “RINO,” the term quickly loses meaning as it gives way to nothing more than insulting sloganeering and one-upmanship.  But the underlying sentiment is worth exploring given that it speaks to deep cultural divides over our priorities, and understandable misgivings about multiculturalism. 

For a growing number of Americans, globalization is just another buzzword for shipping jobs overseas and funding fancy cocktail parties for our elites on the diplomacy circuit in Brussels and Paris. It is part of an ideology rooted in sneering condescension from those with master’s degrees who studied in Madrid for one semester, know some phrases in German and Mandarin, and now think they’ve unlocked the secrets to world peace. If only those unilingual rubes running small businesses in rural Texas would listen to them, they declare.

Examples include Secretary John Kerry emphatically telling us how stupid we are to believe the Arab world and Israel can achieve peace without coddling the Palestinians and complying with their ever-changing demands. Other more tangible and immediate examples include rejoining the Paris Climate Accord or the Iran Nuclear Deal, both of which clearly place America’s needs second

Unfortunately, disregarding the needs of the United States in favor of the pursuit of a broader vision seems to be the goal. The “foreign policy blob” being assembled by President Biden in Washington sneers at “America First,” not just because it was Trump’s slogan, but because they honestly don’t believe it. They don’t want to harm the country, but believe our country must sacrifice more for the sake of the global community. Liberalism loves collectivism, after all, and this sentiment doesn’t stop at our borders. They call this self-sacrificing doctrine “leadership,” though skeptics might call it “foolish.” They believe that a primary goal of foreign policy should be to ingratiate ourselves to the world and that American prestige in the eyes of the diplomatic elite is of the utmost importance. It pains our liberal upper class to know that a majority of Germans think American gun laws are ridiculous, or that Arab royalty think our First Amendment is outdated. And the first order of businesses, it seems, is to apologize for it.

The cultural origins of this trace back to the college campus, where diversity is the new buzzword. International students are welcomed and exalted over the Midwestern farmer’s son or daughter, even if their lack of knowledge in American culture and politics severely degrade high-level classroom discussions. Cultural relativism — in which no objective standard exists to measure one culture’s merits against another — is the norm. The dream of the bright-eyed liberal is to go make a difference abroad and show the world that the ugly American can be likable again. 

There isn’t necessarily a problem with a kind-hearted individual whose primary interest is foreign affairs. The problem arises when there is a lack of balance and increasing departure from the sentiments of the American population. That imbalance, which begins with idealist intent on college campuses, becomes the “blob” that believes the Paris Climate Accords will actually be environmentally beneficial or that the Iran Nuclear Deal will actually lead to more security. These assumptions remain strong even after being discredited because they are built on feelings and not facts. It’s why the left wants to convince you that “globalism” is virtuous, as is “multiculturalism” and “diversity,” and anyone who disagrees must be suffering from a serious case of racist nationalism. 

Elites forget that a large segment of America does not believe we should constantly be apologizing for our country. They forget about the Americans that, on the 4th of July, sport shirts that say “Back to Back World War Champions,” and go out of their way to buy American-made products. These Americans are probably gun-owners that think European men are just a little too metro. These Americans will not be shamed into buying a Prius, especially when those doing the shaming prefer to fly on a private jet to receive their climate award. And when it comes to foreign policy, commonsense realpolitik kicks in to make up for an Ivy League degree. A tough, clear, even aggressive stance toward a country like Iran is not reckless, but realistic. Conversely, naively assuming that a complex negotiation that will fizzle out in 10-15 years will fundamentally change the nature of an authoritarian terror-sponsoring state is far from realistic. 

I recall a professor from an elite university telling me that when students were asked if they were proud of their country, foreign students overwhelmingly raised their hand while American students did not. “America first” is a sentiment, first and foremost. It is a direct reaction to these students who refuse to raise their hand, and sneer at those of us who do. 

Is it a coherent set of policies? Not quite. More of a guiding principle, really. International relations are ever changing and dynamic. Incentives change, and evolving circumstances require flexible approaches. But that approach must be guided by a simple doctrine. Are we working to further our country’s best interests, or are we trying to be popular? 

If America First means prioritizing the interests of Americans, then that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. 

Representative Dan Crenshaw is a former Navy SEAL who serves Texas’ Second Congressional District in Congress and sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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