This might strange and even harsh, but the end of the Cold War was bad for the Republican Party and perhaps Conservatives as well. During the Cold War we all knew who was the enemy in America, both Conservatives and Liberals. Which was Marxist Communism and Marxists Communists and when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no longer a dominant Marxist Communist country that posed a real threat to the United States. No longer a country that was powerful enough to reach the United States to destroy it, or defeat us in a war.
People will point to the People’s Republic of China, but there a couple of problems there. China has never had the power that the Soviet Union had at least militarily even though their economy now is larger and stronger than Russia’s ever was pre or post-Soviet Union. And even by the 1990s China had already started moving away from Marxist command and control state-run economics and started privatizing a lot of their economy. China, will probably become the world’s next superpower both economically and militarily, unless the European Union were to unify first, but China is not there even today.
Without that large Marxist state that Conservatives could point to as the enemy, they were left without a real enemy that posed a real threat to America. During the Cold War, foreign policy both from a conservative and liberal vantage point was easy. Be strong enough to be able to defeat Russia if we were to ever go to war, but hope you never have to do that by having a foreign policy that prevents that type of war form ever happening. As well as being strong enough to defend your allies if they are ever under attack. The whole purpose of NATO during the Cold War.
Containment, followed by the negotiated surrender and the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was American Cold War policy in the 1980s. Without the Cold War there was a void left, because now America no longer needed to be strong enough to defeat the Soviet Union. Russia’s, economy was collapsing and they were moving to a form of state capitalism themselves, similar to what China did in the 1970s and 1980s. So the foreign policy debate in America became about how strong do we need to be to defeat who.
Another problem that Cold War Conservatives had is that they lost power in the early 1990s and wouldn’t be in the White House again for the rest of that decade after Bill Clinton and the Democrats were elected and reelected in 1992 and 1996. And it took the Clinton Administration a solid three years to figure out what their post-Cold War foreign policy was going to be as well. We no longer needed a Cold War military to defeat the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union was no longer around.
So both Democrats and Republicans agreed as part of deficit reduction in the 1990s to reduce the size of the military and the question became how strong we need to be to take on who. The Clinton Administration decided that it was going to fight against ethnic genocide in the Balkans, even though Yugoslavia was never a threat to America. And fight international terrorism, even though most of the terrorism was being performed by non-state actors.America was left as the lone superpower in the world almost left to wonder what they should do with all of their power.
By 2000-01, the fight against ethnic genocide became the so-called War on Terror after 9-11, even though America has officially been fighting against Islamic terrorism since the late 1970s if not longer. And we were no longer fighting a large superstate that was capable of destroying us, or really any other country that could destroy us. And there wasn’t any real precedent for fighting terrorist groups that were large and powerful enough to occupy territory and states. We were no longer trying to destroy, or prevent a superstate from trying to destroy us, but eliminate individual terrorist groups and brutal dictators from supplying these groups with weapons.
Even if those regimes didn’t have any history of working with terrorist groups. And I thinking of course about the War in Iraq. So this conservative realist foreign policy that was not about trying to destroy and eliminate a big powerful regime. But preventing them from destroying is and our allies. Was replaced by a neoconservative foreign policy on the Right that was about eliminating rogue regimes that we didn’t like. That weren’t a threat to us, but their own people. Expanding democracy even in countries that never heard of it. Neoconservative idealism had replaced conservative realism in the 2000s until it was replaced by American voters and dropped by the Republican Party. And the GOP has struggled with foreign policy ever since.