Defending America: How 11 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Differ
Policy + Politics

Defending America: How 11 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Differ

Reuters/Joshua Roberts

The world is a very different place today than in 2008 when President Barack Obama first ran for the White House. Almost six years later, a new slate of candidates is vying to inherit more chaos and instability as the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan give way to complex counterterrorism fights from Syria to Sub-Saharan Africa, Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia challenges NATO, the West negotiates a lingering nuclear standoff with Iran and the U.S. pivots its power to the Asia-Pacific region.

Each crisis Obama faces is also a political opportunity for the Republican Party, which is looking to the 2016 presidential elections to reassert itself as the national security party, the one with the answer to the fundamental question: What is America’s role in the world? The field is crowded with up-and-comer senators, seasoned governors and familiar faces, all unabashedly jockeying to secure their superiority on foreign policy, national security and defense.

Related: Why Obama's on Risky Ground in Touting the Economy

Here is Defense One’s guide to what we know so far about the Republican frontrunners and their national security positions (or lack thereof):

Kentucky’s junior senator has staked out an early claim to frontrunner status and put a target on his back by asserting a bold, non-interventionist foreign policy that taps into public sentiment and challenges Washington’s intervention-happy national security elites. The son of libertarian standard-bearer and former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is proving to be not as much of an anti-war candidate as the elder Paul in 2012, but he is still his father’s son. “Most of the criticism has come from people who would have us involved in fifteen wars right now,” Paul told Ryan Lizza. “The American people don’t want that. They’re closer to where I am.” 

Elected in the 2010 midterm Republican wave, Paul launched himself squarely into the limelight in March of 2013 with a 13-hour filibuster lambasting Obama’s drone policy. But he has tried to distance himself from the “wacko bird” label put on his father by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others, eschewing the term isolationist as a pejorative.

Related: The Rand Paul Doctrine - Don't Get Involved

Paul soundly rejected Bush-era neocons who dominated the early Republican response to the Islamic State overrunning huge areas of Iraq. Having opposed air strikes in Syria last year and initially adamantly opposing another U.S. military engagement in Iraq, he defended Obama. “Were [the neocons] right in their predictions?” he asked. “Were there weapons of mass destruction there? Was the war won in 2005, when many of those people said it was won?”

Paul recently told Defense One, “I still have exactly the same policy, and that is that intervention militarily should be through an act of Congress and we should vote on it.” His stance on authorization may not have changed, but after expressing early opposition to military action against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Paul later said he has “mixed feelings.” This predictably has prompted the tired accusation of flip-flopping (a more generous McCain framed it as evolving). “I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to helping with arms or maybe even bombing, but I am concerned that ISIS is big and powerful because we protected them in Syria for a year,” Paul said in August. But he also opposed the measure passed in September to authorize a program training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels, arguing on the Senate floor, “We need to stay the heck out of their civil war.” Paul criticizes Obama for abusing his executive powers, demanding he come to Congress for authorization for the latest military operation, as he reiterated Friday at the conservative Values Voter Summit.

Often overlooked is that Paul’s non-interventionism stems in part from his fiscal principles. He’s come under fire for the politically untenable position of ending foreign aid to Israel — but he opposes all foreign aid. “I’ve never said, ‘Oh my goodness! Let’s target aid to Israel,’” he said. “I’ve said all foreign aid really shouldn’t be borrowed from other countries and spent.” He insists Israel is a friend of the U.S., and several months ago voted for more funding for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system. He did vote against the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill; it’s consistent with his opposition to economic intervention as much as military. In July, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized Paul’s non-interventionism as “curiously blind,” Paul shot back with the heavy cost: “The let’s-intervene-and-consider-the-consequences-later crowd left us with more than 4,000 Americans dead, over 2 million refugees and over trillions of dollars in debt.”

Related: Rand Paul Says Obama and Congress on 'Fool's Mission' Against ISIS

Paul is eager for a showdown with “a war hawk like Hillary Clinton,” and has promised a “transformational election” if he gets the nomination. In an Aug. 27 op-ed, Paul blamed Clinton and other interventionists for giving rise to the Islamic State. “We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn’t get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS,” he wrote. “Our Middle Eastern policy is unhinged, flailing about to see who to act against next … A more realistic foreign policy would recognize that there are evil people and tyrannical regimes in this world, but also that America cannot police or solve every problem.”

Mitt Romney did not choose Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice president pick in 2012 for his foreign policy prowess. But Ryan, House Budget Committee chairman, has proven himself capable of pragmatism when it comes to navigating a dysfunctional Congress — after all, he is serving in his eighth term.

In 2012, Ryan used his Hill experience to argue he was more qualified on foreign policy than President Obama was in 2008. “I voted to send people to war,” he said at the time. Ryan did vote for the 2002 Iraq Authorization for the Use of Military Force — though many candidates would distance themselves from that vote — and for the Iraq surge in 2007. He advocated for Romney’s Reagan redux foreign policy: “peace through strength.”

On the current intervention in Iraq, Ryan has gently toed the mainstream party line of muscular interventionism, contrasting it with the president’s purported absence of strategy. “What I want to hear from our Commander-in-Chief is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off,” he said in August. In a September radio interview, he said no options should be taken off the table, including ground forces. “I do believe that there are reasons for Special Forces and certain kinds of American involvement to make our [air strikes] work much more effectively. But the fact is that the Syrians, the Peshmerga, the Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis are the people who should be the tip of the spear.”

Related: Paul Ryan Stakes His Claim As GOP 'Unifier'

But while he’s criticized conservatives in his party for extremism and criticism of Obama without putting up tenable solutions, Paul has been happy to do the same on foreign policy. “I don’t want to be an armchair general and tell you how this needs to be done,” he said at the end of August, “but I would reference the fact that [Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin] Dempsey did say that to do this correctly that Syria is going to have to be part of this equation.”

On CBS on Monday, a week after the U.S. launched strikes in Syria, Ryan said Obama is “getting the right policy.” But he also criticized the president for not arming the Syrian rebels earlier and over-eagerness to withdraw from Iraq — again saying Obama had acted against the military’s recommendations. “We didn’t do [get a SOFA], I think because the president wanted a precipitous withdrawal from the region,” Ryan said.

Ryan has gotten himself into trouble in the past trying to put daylight between Obama and the Pentagon. In 2012, Ryan said he didn’t believe Defense Department officials supported the defense budget but instead bowed to White House politics, alleging, “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice.” After Dempsey rejected Ryan’s claim, the congressman insisted he meant the administration should follow the Pentagon’s lead on defense spending. Two years later, Ryan again framed Obama’s proposed defense budget on Monday as dangerous to the military, though his own reputed budgetary vision would be largely incompatible with that of military leaders who say they need a more refined, but flexible, force.

Since his election in 2010, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has sought to burnish his foreign policy and national security credentials. He’s picked up pace in the run-up to 2016, relying primarily on a steady onslaught of press releases and floor speeches. There's been no issue too small, from Latin American relations to Israel to Burma’s stagnated political transition. He’s travelled extensively overseas to Israel, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malta, Libya, Germany, Spain, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia and England, and in January, he visited U.S. troops in South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The travel helps Rubio stand out from the pack, but his big foreign policy speech on Sept. 17 was stock GOP messaging, invoking Reagan’s “peace through strength” and heavy with overdone metaphors. “Previous presidents had merely taken their foot off the gas pedal of American strength, but President Obama has stomped on the brake,” he said.

Related: GOP Contenders in 2016 Lash Out at Obama's ISIS Plan

Rubio is far from Paul’s non-interventionism, but he doesn’t just parrot senior national security hawks such as McCain. He has even expressed support for some of Obama’s decisions, including launching air strikes in Syria and Iraq. But like many Republicans, he has struggled to distinguish his national security strategy from the president’s ideas. Rubio’s dramatic recommendation in the National Review on Aug. 18: “We need to be doing much more to address this challenge.” In a Sept. 12 op-ed, he criticized “the president’s failed isolationist policies” and raised the specter of containment. “Five and a half years of the Obama/Clinton worldview has given Americans a graphic and often horrific view of the chaos that is unleashed in the world when America walks away from its traditional role as the guarantor of global security,” he wrote, taking swipes at the likely Democratic nominee and anti-interventionists in his own party. Then Rubio called for the U.S. to begin an intensified air campaign, train and equip Syrian rebels, build an allied coalition to take action and employ a comprehensive strategy using military, diplomatic and economic tools. Sound familiar?

From his perch on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, and informed by his own parents’ flight from Cuba under Fidel Castro in 1956, Rubio argues for a moral, muscular interventionism based on his belief that “opposing dangerous tyrants, standing with freedom fighters and being a forceful voice for democracy and human rights” are in America’s national interests.

On Monday, Rubio turned this right-is-might approach on China and the Hong Kong protests, criticizing the Consulate General for not standing with freedom fighters there. “America absolutely takes sides when confronted with right and wrong,” he said in a statement.

Once heralded as a conservative Tea Party favorite with the potential to solve the party’s demographic problem, Rubio’s relatively moderate, bipartisan efforts on issues such as immigration have been criticized as RINO-ism. A likely run through the Republican primaries increases the pressure on Rubio to move right and up the volume on Obama. Rubio has implied the president has been dishonest with the American public about what is necessary in the fight against the Islamic State, from the defense budget to ground troops. Last Tuesday, he agreed with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, saying that if he became president he’d “absolutely” advocate for a permanent U.S. presence in the Middle East. That same day, he told CNN, “The chances of local forces alone being able to defeat ISIL, or any group for that matter on the ground is dubious at best. It’s important for the president to be honest with the American people that at some point in the future, this might require some element of U.S. ground power in order to finish the job.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a national political figure, but the chair of the Republican Governors Association has little experience internationally. That hasn’t kept him from criticizing the non-interventionist vein running through U.S. politics, or saying Obama could learn from his style of leadership when confronting the Islamic State. Still, the days when Christie was seen as first in line for the Republican nomination in 2016 seem far away. The New Jersey governor has been hustling to stay in contention, making visits to early primary states and stumping for gubernatorial candidates, but the potential for his own presidential run has long been weighed down by criticisms he is not conservative enough.

Related: Christie Cleared in Bridgegate, But Is It Too Little Too Late?

A preview of a potential national security platform can be gleaned from Christie’s appearance in Colorado a year ago at the Aspen Security Forum, where he derided anti-war retrenchment sentiments pervading the discourse. “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought,” said Christie, a former prosecutor appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001. “You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this,” he said of Paul and other potential 2016 candidates. “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans [of 9/11] and have that conversation. … Do we have amnesia? Because I don’t,” he said. He mocked the aloofness of the debate, saying, “The next attack that comes that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate.

Last July, Christie said both Obama and his predecessor have made the right calls for the country’s security. “I think both the way President Bush conducted himself and the way President Obama has conducted himself in the main on those types of decisions hasn’t been different because they were right and because we haven’t had another one of those attacks,” Christie said. But on Monday, stumping for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Christie sounded a different note on Obama’s national security strategy. Christie responded to Obama’s comments on “60 Minutes” Sunday when the president admitted his administration had underestimated the Islamic State. Obama, in the interview, cited CIA Director James Clapper’s mea culpa from the previous week. Christie delivered a now pervasive GOP talking point claiming that Obama was placing the blame on the intelligence community, saying the president needed to “step up and take responsibility.” “The single biggest difference between the kind of leadership Scott has shown here in Wisconsin, I’ve tried to show in New Jersey and the president is displaying in Washington is, when something goes wrong he’s now saying it’s ‘they’ somehow underestimated it.” 

In May, speaking at the Champions of Jewish Values International awards gala in New York, Christie said, “America must lead … The rest of the world watches in desperation and hope that America will realize and act upon once again its indispensable place in the world.” He asked, “Who’s out there that you will nominate to make sure that justice is done around the world, that lives are protected, and that liberty and freedom is not only protected where it is but is pushed forward in places where people merely dream of it?”

The potential candidacy of the youngest Bush son cannot escape the inevitable question of whether he would follow in the heavy national security footsteps of his father, President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director who presided over the Gulf War, and brother, President George W. Bush, who led the nation from 9/11 into Afghanistan and Iraq. The former two-term Florida governor has largely evaded the national politics spotlight, but he did stick his toe into the immigration debate in the wake of the unaccompanied migrant crisis, striking a few conservative notes of compassion. He also has begun lending his name to the 2014 election cycle.

Related: Jeb Bush Warns GOP on Immigration Reform

“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love,” Bush said of undocumented immigrants at an April event at the Bush presidential library. He later blamed the influx of migrants from Central America on the failure to pass immigration reform, but called out the president for consistently overstepping his constitutional authority. He supported the deployment of National Guard troops to “reinforce border security” and greater security partnerships with Central American states.  

Bush has said of Obama’s foreign policy: “Leading from behind is so odd to me,” hinting at a more muscular vision of American exceptionalism more in line with his family’s record. Defense News noted that Bush has also criticized Obama’s defense budget as generous on entitlements but miserly on defense funding. In a March address hosted by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Time reported that Bush hit Obama for a policy of “American passivity” and Paul for “neo-isolationism.” Early polls have indicated he’d challenge the Kentucky senator for frontrunner — should he choose to run.

Jeb Bush recognizes the clear need to distinguish himself from his brother’s foreign policy record. Last March, Bush said, “We’ve always said in my family that George got the looks and I got the brains.”

“He made a lot of mistakes as president, there’s no question,” Bush said, conceding the Iraq War “could’ve been planned better, at least” and expressing his concern about what his “brother’s legacy” “did to our standing around the world.” But, blaming former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for taking advantage of his brother’s “naiveté,” he continued, “He didn’t make those mistakes because he’s a bad guy. My brother, he’s just an idiot sometimes.”

“I’d like to remind the American people that I have different views than my brother,” Bush said last year. “I have more executive level experience, and — most importantly — I am my own person.”

Ted Cruz, the Tea Party-backed Texan, is this cycle’s leading contender for the red meat conservative choice for president. Though he was only elected in 2012, at the Value Voters Summit last week, Cruz convincingly won the straw poll. But the Cuban-American and prolific lawyer has also irked the party mainstream with his solo crusades and bombastic swipes at senior national security officials, making him more long shot than contender for the nomination.

Related: Is Ted Cruz Looking for Another Government Shutdown?

On national security, Cruz leans beyond the Republican establishment, advocating for a morality-based, muscular American exceptionalism – but minus the nation building or occupying. “It’s not the job of the U.S. military to do nation building or produce democratic utopias,” Cruz told the Daily Beast in late July. In a National Journal profile published Monday, he said, “If and when military action is called for, it should be A) with a clearly defined military objective, B) executed with overwhelming force, and C) when we’re done, we should get the heck out.”

Cruz puts himself in the electoral “sweet spot” between McCain and Paul. “I don’t agree with [Paul] on foreign policy,” Cruz said in March. “I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did.” He has sided with Paul against military action in Syria and in calling Obama to get authorization from Congress. But he’s also agreed with McCain that military action should be taken against Iran if it got close to a nuclear weapon.

He’s criticized Obama for being both in one. The president is “too hawkish” for being “too willing to use U.S. military might in defense of international norms,” he said, and “too dovish … when it comes to standing up and defending our national security interests.”

Cruz came to the Senate swinging and ruffled senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee last year who rebuked him for saying that a vote to confirm Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel would be a vote to put U.S. troops in harm’s way. Cruz charged that Hagel would permit Iran to become a nuclear power, forcing a military confrontation. Presumably, Cruz would chart a better course between the two poles of American foreign policy. Cruz’s three guiding principles: focus on U.S. national security and interests, moral clarity and “always fight to win.”

Related: GOP Contenders in 2016 Lash Out on ISIS Plan

Cruz, like other Republicans, has hit Obama for his “weakness” on foreign policy, blaming that perception for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and failing to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, effectively selling out Israel. “When the United States doesn’t speak for freedom, tyrants notice,” Cruz said. But when pushed by National Journal on whether he would go so far as to put American boots on the ground in the Middle East, Cruz dodged: “We should do whatever is necessary.”

The nearly 14-year Texas governor and gaffe-prone 2012 candidate used this summer’s humanitarian crisis on his state’s border with Mexico to launch himself back into the national spotlight, and he doesn’t seem to be too concerned as of yet about his recent indictment for abuse of power. He’s laying the grassroots groundwork in key primary states, and a few weeks ago he travelled to Asia for some international exposureas an ambassador for Texas’ economy. His pronouncement on China, according to the Wall Street Journal: “The streets are clean; the air not so much.” Next, he’s off to the United Kingdom and Poland.

Perry was all over the ideological map on foreign policy in 2012 — which he later attributed to unpreparedness. He called for a reduced footprint to fight the war on terror at the same time as he slammed the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011as “political expediency.” Just two years later, the messaging of “The New Rick Perry,” has been a more consistent hawk’s cry for using “overwhelming force” to respond to a range of crises embroiling the Obama administration, and inevitably, the next.

Perry served for five years in the U.S. Air Force, flying C-130s in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, differentiating him from other potential candidates. In a July 11 Washington Post op-ed, he said as a veteran and governor supporting National Guard deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he understands isolationist impulses — then he slammed them. “Isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further,” he wrote, saying Sen. Paul is “drawing his own red line along the water’s edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world.” To counter the Islamic State, Perry called for increased intelligence cooperation and airstrikes — a position similar to that of the president, as Paul pointed out.

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On Monday, in response to a question of what he would do differently against the Islamic State, were he the Commander-in-Chief, Perry answered, “You cannot do the damage that needs to be done to ISIS just with a few air strikes and particularly you have to have assets on the ground.” He emphasized tens of thousands of troops aren’t needed, because special ops are “quite capable of taking care of the ISIS threat.” “But you have to be there working,” he said.  

After initially emphasizing the well being of the unaccompanied children during the influx this year, he made a quick pivot to counternarcotics and national security. “There can be no national security without border security,” Perry said in his announcement that he would deploy up to 1,000 National Guard to the border. In an August speech, he commended the guard for being the “tip of the spear” in a fight against “narco-terrorists” “spreading their tentacles of crime and fear” in the United States.

In a speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation later that month, Perry said there’s a “very real possibility” that members of the Islamic State have crossed the Southern border of the U.S., a claim broadly rejected by Department of Homeland Security and other agency officials. Yet on Monday on “Morning Joe” he repeated, “Countries that harbor terrorists, Pakistan, Syria, individuals for those countries have been apprehended crossing the border into the United States. Those are the ones we know about. How many have come in that we don’t know about?”

As Ohio goes, so goes … Ohio Gov. John Kasich is currently running for reelection in the key swing state, but if he wins his name may move up the short list of potential 2016 candidates. Oh, and he’s run for president before, in 2000, but he deferred to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. It appears too soon to (or too long since he’s had to) form a complete picture of his national security vision, but in March at the “Sheldon Primary,” Kasich called for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and increased sanctions on Russia and Iran. He also said the U.S.should not lean on Israel for a peace process, to much applause, according to Politico.

Kasich served in Congress from 1983 to 2001, heading up the powerful House Budget Committee for many years until he left Congress. He also served for years on the House Armed Services Committee, scrutinizing Defense Department spending. He said overhauling defense could be “the single biggest issue” (of 1996).  

In August, Defense One asked whether Ohio Sen. Rob Portman might be the Republican Party’s dark horse, and more people are beginning to ask that same question. Of a field that could run shallow on experience in foreign policy, Washington and executive positions, Portman coyly said, “experience counts.” Portman has served in Congress for 15 years and under both Bush presidencies, and in two cabinet posts, as U.S. Trade Representative and head of the Office of Management and Budget. He’s a conservative that leans center right, a self-described deficit hawk supportive of gay marriage. According toThe Washington Post, the only complaint to come from fellow Republicans is that he’s “dull.”

On foreign policy, Portman describes his strategy as a mix of Roosevelt and Reagan, with even a hint of Clinton. He is not against the use of military force, but believes it must be smarter — less boots on the ground and more intelligence.

Portman hit Obama for the withdrawal in Iraq, and believes the Islamic State is a national security threat to the U.S.“You can read their own objectives: to create a caliphate in that area, not just in Iraq but in Syria and beyond — that’s why Israel is so nervous — and where you have Sharia law and you have the ability to create a platform to attack the West,” he said. “I don’t think we should be naïve about it.”

Related: 3 Reasons to Add Rob Portman to the GOP's 2016 Short List

Portman expanded his “political expediency” criticism of the president beyond Iraq to his broader foreign policy, in a Sept. 17 op-ed. “Premature declarations of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the failure to secure the gains our troops fought so hard to secure, allowed Islamic radicals who were on the ropes and near defeat to regroup,” he said. “Our decisions in this policy area cannot be dictated by political expediency or the needs of an election-year campaign.” As recent deaths threaten a fragile ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine, it calls to mind Portman’s warning weeks ago: “It is outrageous to me that we have not provided the Ukrainian government with the support that they’ve asked for and need to defend themselves … We just continue to sit back and allow not just President Putin and the Russians to see us as weak and not making good on even the commitments we’ve already given them.”

“I believe we are the indispensable country,” he said. “And I’m very worried that our current administration views it as the just another country that has to be careful not to impose itself.”

“America is not the world’s policeman. Cannot be, should not be. But we should be the sheriff, developing a posse to help to deal with issues … If America does pull back from the world,” he said, pointing to crises in Gaza, Ukraine, Asia, “chaos tends to ensue.”

In national security circles, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal isn’t just an unknown, he’s an unheard of politician. The Rhodes scholar and vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association was George W. Bush’s Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, and three years later, was elected to Congress, serving on the Homeland Security Committee, among others. This experience may be less visible than suing the federal government, but it’s all part of his resume to replace Paul Ryan as the Republicans’ wonk candidate in 2016. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also given the Republicans a playbook to battle Obamacare, and that he helps the party’s image problem as the first Indian-American to ever govern a state. He’s making the rounds, appearing at the Values Voter Summit Friday and in Iowa (again) this past weekend. He hasn’t said much on foreign policy, but his statements thus far would please most mainstream Republicans.

“Apparently, our president has adopted a catch-and-release policy toward terrorists,” Jindal said in June in South Carolina, referring to the Obama administration’s decision to exchange five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Jindal has said it is just one example of Obama breaking, or ignoring, U.S. law whenever he chooses. “Terrorists all over the world need to know that our interaction with them will be limited solely to our effort to destroy them,” he wrote.

Jindal, like a chorus of other Republicans, praised Obama’s decision to order air strikes but criticized the president for lacking a “coherent” foreign policy. “One of the things that frustrates me, we’ve still not heard a coherent strategy when it comes to dealing with ISIS,” he said in Iowa in August, when all Republicans blanketed airwaves with that message. “I think [Obama] owes it to the American people, he owes it to our troops in uniform, to define what the strategic vision is, what the strategic plan is.”

On Friday, he pulled Clinton into his criticism that the administration is “incompetent,” connecting it to a liberal approach but declining to provide alternative recommendations. “Reviewing the Obama administration, are we witnessing the most incompetent administration [in] my life, or are we witnessing the most extremely ideologically liberal administration?” he said. Speaking to Slate in Iowa in August, Jindal implied that Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. That lack of decisive American leadership translated to a number of foreign policy issues, he said, from not sufficiently supporting Israel to Putin invading Crimea to flip-flopping on Syria.

Controversial Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, busy with a close re-election and allegations of campaign finance violations, has been mostly mum about his foreign policy and national security stances. He even admitted in March that foreign policy isn’t “an area that governors typically look at,” though he did make sure to note he was commander in chief of his state’s National Guard.

Related: How Scott Walker Would Reform the GOP

“Any Republican who is talking about anything other than 2014 is doing a disservice to not only the party, but the country,” he said. But he took time Tuesday to critique Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, saying Romney focused too much on Obama’s negatives and not enough on what he would bring to the office — a sign Walker has been looking ahead to 2016 for some time. What little he has said on national security indicates little differentiation from the pack: push muscular interventionism, support Israel, deride Obama for “weakness” on defense.

Walker said he believes in a strong America, and not just militarily. He contrasted his vision of the American presidency with Obama by running through the Republican checklist of favorite foreign policy issues. On Israel: “Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the White House getting the cold shoulder from the president who still can’t figure out exactly where they stand on Israel.” On Syria: “When you have … a red line in discussions about Syria which apparently (he) was never serious about doing anything about.” On Iran and Russia: “Whether you were in Iran or Russia, or anywhere else around the world, no wonder people feel certain comfort taking action because they don’t see this administration as willing to act.”

“I’m not necessarily encouraging that we draw red lines all over the place,” he said. “My sense is just, you shouldn’t point a gun at somebody if you’re not prepared to shoot.”

When asked in March to elaborate on America’s role in the world for a lengthy interview with the conservative Washington Examiner, Walker chose to illustrate his vision with: Reagan’s battle with the air traffic controllers. “That in my mind was the beginning of the end of the Cold War,” he said – because, as he explained it, the president’s stance was a projection of strength at home and abroad.

This article originally appeared in Defense One.

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