GOP 2016 Hopefuls Throw Darts at Obama, Bombs at ISIS
Policy + Politics

GOP 2016 Hopefuls Throw Darts at Obama, Bombs at ISIS

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was largely underwhelming last week in delivering his first major defense and foreign policy speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which drew sharply mixed reviews.  

Related: Jeb Bush Assails President Obama for Poor Leadership

He offered stinging criticism of President Obama’s policies but gave few specifics on what he might do as president beside bolstering the defense budget and distancing himself from his father’s and brother’s presidencies, insisting he would be “my own man.”

As for what he would do differently from President Obama to combat growing threats from ISIS, Bush – a leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016 – said the U.S. needs to “tighten the noose” and “take them out” with the help of European and Middle Eastern allies. 

Others angling for the same presidential nomination haven’t done much better. During a trade mission to London this month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declined to discuss several topics during an appearance at the Chatham House think tank, including ISIS, Ukraine and his general foreign policy vision. “I’m going to punt on that one as well,” Walker said in response to a question on whether he believes in evolution.

Related: No Diploma? No Problem, Says Gov. Scott Walker

Around the same time, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to dodge a reporter’s question about whether he would support Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in battling ISIS. The question came after Paul had criticized the president for not sending up specific language.

Paul for months had urged Congress to do its job by debating a resolution to give the president the authority he needs to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS forces, if that is possible. But once Obama had submitted his request on Feb. 11, Paul was hard to pin down on whether he would support it. 

“I don’t have time right now, thanks,” Paul said when he was tracked down by a National Journal reporter on Capitol Hill.

Others including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have also been heavy on the criticism of Obama’s strategies but light on their own foreign policy and military prescriptions.

Related: Jeb Bush on His Brother: ‘Mistakes Were Made’

“Most candidates haven’t put much out,” Gordon Adams, a military historian and instructor at American University, said. “The Jeb Bush speech in Chicago was pretty thin on content.”

Adams added, “It’s mostly 30,000-feet rhetoric that is chest thumping. That is, they’re saying, ‘We have to regain America’s respect around the world.’ And I have to say I’m almost tired of it, because it’s like we have been doing this back and forth for several presidential elections. The party that’s out says the party that’s in has destroyed America’s reputation abroad.”

The country should get another dose of the Republicans’ military and defense stands this week when the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicks off on Wednesday.

As of right now, here’s where the presumed candidates stand on the threat of ISIS and what the administration should do about it.

Jeb Bush

He offers little that distinguishes him from most of the other Republicans who appear interested in the GOP nomination – or from Obama, for that matter. He talks about the need to “take out” ISIS in concert with Middle Eastern allies operating “in the neighborhood.” This sounds strangely similar to Obama’s current plan of leading allied airstrikes while training and arming Iraqi military and friendly militias in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“I believe fundamentally that weakness invites war … and strength encourages peace,” said Bush. It’s hard to argue with that.

Scott Walker

The governor who surged in the polls after delivering a fiery speech a month ago to conservative believers in Iowa has generally stayed mum about his foreign policy and national security positions. He said last year that foreign policy isn’t “an area that governors typically look at.”

While he refused to discuss ISIS and other foreign policy matters in London recently, he began to loosen after returning home. Last Thursday, he said on CNBC that the U.S. may need to deploy ground troops in the fight against ISIS. 

“Whether it’s special ops or other engagements out there, we’ve got to be prepared to do what it takes to keep America safe,” Walker said on the “Squawk Box” program. “I think we need aggressive leadership to take the fight to them instead of waiting for it to come to us.”

Related: How Far Will GOP Presidential Hopefuls Go to Destroy ISIS?   

Rand Paul
The Kentucky Republican early on took a bold, non-interventionist stand on foreign policy – only to readjust his positions in the face of mounting concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain of Arizona and other GOP defense hawks about the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  The son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a libertarian leader, Rand Paul is proving to be far less of an anti-war candidate than his father.

After signaling a wariness to get too deeply involved in Iraq, Paul introduced his own war powers measure last December that would grant the president authority to wage war against ISIS. It would include deploying ground troops in special cases, like rescue operations. However, unlike Obama who is seeking a three-year authorization, Paul favors a one-year time limit.

Marco Rubio
The Florida Republican has traveled abroad widely since joining the Senate to burnish his foreign policy credentials. Earlier, he had alienated many conservatives by sponsoring immigration reform legislation that provided a path to citizenship.

As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has taken an aggressive stand on dealing with ISIS and – more generally – on how Obama should have responded to other Middle East hotspots.

Related: Christie’s Presidential Prospects on a Steady Slide 

He told Politico recently he’d been right when he warned the U.S. to immediately arm moderate Syrian rebels two years ago — before ISIS radicals began beheading hostages and declaring a caliphate. Rubio has advocated a broad authorization for use of force against ISIS, and he’s not ruling out sending in U.S. ground troops. He has said airstrikes alone won’t work and that ISIS can only be defeated by confrontation on the ground.

Rubio also agrees with the administration that there should be no geographic limitations to pursuing ISIS beyond Iraq and Syria.

Chris Christie
The New Jersey governor generally speaks in broad terms about the raging conflict in the Middle East and the mounting threat of terrorism. He has sharply criticized Obama’s handling of the crisis, insisting the administration underestimated the threat and was too slow in responding.

Christie has also called for a strong military response, saying on a trip to Iowa this month that stronger leadership doesn’t necessarily mean “boots on the ground in every conflict,” according to CNN.

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