Not Like Ike

Photo by Liz Burleson / Red Dirt Report

Oklahoma GOP Senate Candidates
Depart from Republican Tradition

3 Front-Runners Would Surrender U.S. Leadership in the UN
Commentary by Bill Bryant, Director of Communications, UNA-OKC

Republican voters in Oklahoma will choose their party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated by Dr. Tom Coburn. A primary election is scheduled for June 24th.

The 3 front-running GOP candidates are T.W. Shannon (former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives), Randy Brogdon (former member of the Oklahoma Senate), and Rep. James Lankford (Member of Congress from Oklahoma’s 5th district).

These Oklahoma Republicans aren’t like any of the Republican presidents in the last 60 years. If you rely on party labels to inform your vote, you can forget much of what you know about Republican tradition when you consider these three politicians.

The novelty of the Republican front-runners is most striking when they talk about American leadership in the United Nations.

President Dwight Eisenhower.
His nickname was “Ike.”

Foreign policy has traditionally been an area in which Republicans have sought an advantage over their Democratic rivals.

In 1952, for example, the GOP nominated Dwight Eisenhower to run for president under their banner. Eisenhower was a political newcomer — but, he had the advantage of a heroic military career. He was widely acknowledged to have instant credibility in the field of international relations. As a result, the Republicans won the race for the White House that year. For the next 60 years, winning Republican presidential candidates have been careful to burnish their credentials in the areas of diplomacy and engagement with the world community.

Five Republicans have held the White House since the time of Eisenhower — Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. While the specific policies of these men have varied greatly, the common denominator was their willingness to accept America’s role as a world leader. For example, no Republican presidential nominee has ever rejected America’s leading role in the United Nations.

Brogdon, Shannon, and Lankford are unlike any of the Republican presidents since the Second World War. Their departure from the tradition of Republican presidents was made dramatically clear during a candidate forum held earlier this month.

As reported by the Associated Press: “While each candidate tried to distinguish himself, they agreed on numerous topics, including ending U.S. involvement with the United Nations….”

Candidate Brogdon was the most outspoken in his opposition to American leadership in the UN. The Red Dirt Report quoted Brogdon as saying that he wanted to shut the United Nations down and “run them out of New York City.”

(Brogdon’s anti-UN stance isn’t new. In 2005, he introduced a measure in the State Senate that would have prohibited the display of the United Nations flag on any tax-supported property).

Lankford’s position on the UN has been more ambiguous. When he was newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he complained about the United Nations to an audience of constituents: “It’s astronomical the billions of dollars that we pour in for communication for a group of people who gather on our soil and abuse us all day.”

More recently, though, Mr. Lankford admitted in a private correspondence to a constituent that the amount of American contributions to the UN is somewhat less than “astronomical.” In fact, he acknowledged that U.S. taxpayer support for the UN is only about $5 billion annually.

He wrote:

“Some have suggested that eliminating financial support to the UN will balance our federal budget.  I disagree.  With an annual deficit over $600 billion and a federal debt of over $17 trillion, it would take the elimination of funding for all federal agencies, plus the Department of Defense, to even come close.”

Private Correspondence
from Rep. James Lankford
February 11, 2014

As for former speaker T.W. Shannon, his campaign website gives scant attention to public policies of an international nature. He advocates a policy of “peace through strength,” which was a popular doctrine prior to 9/11/01. Reflecting the war weariness of many Oklahoma voters, Mr. Shannon hints that he will oppose new military adventures:

“America should not play policeman to the world, especially not with American troops under U.N. command.”

“Issues: Strengthen National Defense”

(For the record, according to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, there are a total of 83,841 UN peacekeeping troops deployed in 17 missions around the world. The count of American troops who have been assigned to UN peacekeeping missions is 30. That’s as of March 31, 2014).

In contrast to the Republican presidential tradition embodied by Eisenhower – Nixon – Ford – Reagan – Bush, this year’s crop of Oklahoma Republicans might be compared to a collection of foreign policy amateurs. None of them has served in the military. None has any international policy experience — except for Mr. Shannon, who served for a while as the chief administrative officer for the Chickasaw Nation.

By expressing their willingness to end U.S. involvement with the United Nations, they seem to be signaling their intent to support a “go it alone” global policy — leaving America’s allies to fend for themselves in the United Nations, effectively turning our country’s back on a long and successful tradition of multilateral engagement.

As a thought experiment, one might wonder how America would tackle the threats of nuclear and chemical weapons, the safety of our allies, and other global security challenges (terrorism, piracy, etc.) without taking part in the UN Security Council and other UN forums. Who would we rely on to represent our interests in the UN? Japan? Israel? The United Kingdom?

One quickly realizes that a one-sided surrender of American leadership in the United Nations would not be a solution to anything. Rather, it would be a dangerous flirtation with foreign policy isolationism. It would be, in effect, an abandonment of one of our best tools for promoting global security and international burden-sharing.

The United Nations Association doesn’t engage in partisan politics, and this commentary is not an endorsement of any candidate. Our mission is to educate, inspire and mobilize support for the values and vital work of the United Nations.

For a collection of Presidential quotes about American leadership in the United Nations, please see our website:

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