2016: America’s Foreign Policy Fork in the Road
The 2016 race for the White House is just getting started, but it’s already apparent that foreign policy and America’s role in the world will be a key issue for the candidates. Voters will have four separate visions to choose from.
The first vision is essentially the status quo.
On the Democrat side it’s more coronation than contest, with Hillary Clinton running virtually unopposed for the nomination. Former Senator Jim Webb, who was once President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Navy, would like to challenge Mrs. Clinton but so far there is little evidence he can. Unless/until that happens, Mrs. Clinton would essentially be running for what amounts to President Obama’s third term, even though she’d probably prefer the optics were different.
Given her past tenure as his Secretary of State, Clinton’s general election candidacy would provide voters one final time to weigh in on the Obama Doctrine: open borders, Benghazi, terrorist uprisings in Egypt and Yemen (among other places), the rise of ISIS following our vacating Iraq, the Bergdahl swap, the Iranian nuclear arms deal, our tense relationship with Israel, the stubbornly naïve unwillingness to call Islamic terrorism what it is, etc.
On the Republican side there are three competing visions that will be front and center in the race for that party’s nomination, which are represented by three of the party’s high profile U.S. Senators – John McCain, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz.
McCain represents those in favor of not just a strong American presence in the world, but a strong interventionist presence as well. This has been the conventional foreign policy wisdom within the Republican Party since 9/11. However, it should be noted this group is not monolithic in thought. For example, McCain’s zeal to find and promote “moderates” in the Middle East has led him and his sidekick Senator Lindsey Graham to stick their necks out on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Even several fellow GOP hawks opposed him on this, and the results were disastrous.
Speaking of Graham, he recently sent out an email saying he was actively exploring a run for the 2016 nomination mainly to preserve the foreign policy vision he and McCain prefer. He’s not alone. Also considering a presidential run for similar reasons is former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. He’s one of the most respected and utilized minds in the conservative movement on foreign policy matters. And former Senator Rick Santorum, who used to serve on the prestigious Armed Services Committee, was the GOP’s runner-up in 2012. When I spoke with him last month about his 2016 aspirations he told me the country needs “a war-time president.”
The opposite view seems to be represented by Senator Rand Paul. I say seems to be because although he often deploys the non-interventionist rhetoric of his libertarian father, retired Congressman Ron Paul, Rand has defied that orthodoxy when it comes to his support for confronting ISIS. Still, there’s no question he represents an emerging faction within the party based on two things that run contrary to its prevailing wisdom:
- Strong interventionist foreign policy actually weakens America’s standing in the world because our track record – especially in the Middle East – is so poor.
- The U.S. may be too closely aligned with Israel.
As to the latter, back in 2011 Rand supported ending American aid to Israel. Rand said he thought they were “an important ally” but given their “per capita income” he opposed giving taxpayer aid “to a wealthy nation.” Last year Rand tried to deny his previous stance, when he voted to help fund Israel’s “iron dome” during another barrage of missile attacks from Hamas.
Attempting to bridge the foreign policy divide laid down by McCain and Paul is a third way represented by Senator Cruz. Describing himself as “somewhere in between” McCain and Rand, Cruz believes strongly in backing Israel and that the United States should only intervene when it’s “in defense of our national security interests.”
Cruz sided with Rand over the hawks on militarily intervening in Syria in 2013, believing it wasn’t clearly in our national security interests to do so (and given how things turned out they were probably right). Yet he also said he “agrees with McCain that if Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons we should intervene militarily.”
Last fall, Cruz told National Journal:
Is it true that the American people are war-weary? Absolutely. We are tired of sending our sons and daughters to distant lands year after year after year, to give their lives trying to transform foreign nations. But I think it’s a serious misreading of the American people to conclude that we are unwilling to defend ourselves, that we are unwilling to be strong and vigorous defending U.S. national security.
America’s foreign policy has come to its fork in the road. The sign up ahead says “2016” but it points in these four different directions. Thus, there is no shortage of options on the table for voters to sort through and choose from between now and the election of our next commander-in-chief. Considering our diminishing standing in the world, that choice is likely to have generational consequences, too.
(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)