Presidential candidates make much of foreign policy

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Mary Reichard
Posted 5/20/15, 03:10 pm

The staff of The World and Everything in It has profiled 22 possible 2016 presidential candidates in its “White House Wednesday” series. Now they take a look at who’s ahead and who’s making moves as the big campaign gets closer.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined a short, simple phrase intended to keep Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign on point. He posted a sign in Clinton’s Little Rock campaign headquarters that said, “The economy, stupid.”

The phrase has become conventional wisdom in presidential politics about the importance of economic policy in elections. But a decade later, some are beginning to speculate foreign policy could drive the next presidential election.

While America’s economic recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and disappointing to many, recent headlines have been dominated by more globalconcerns—the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, radical Islamic terrorism around the world, and Russia’s cross-border aggression.

The runaway favorite for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is widely seen as a foreign-policy candidate. As the nation’s top diplomat through President Barack Obama’s first four years in office, Clinton helped to define the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which may, in turn, define her as a candidate for commander in chief. 

The war in Iraq has become a hot topic among presidential hopefuls in recent days. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sat down with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly early last week. When questioned on the war, Bush might have avoided a few headaches had he listened to the question more carefully. The governor was asked if he would have authorized the war knowing what we know now. But he appeared to answer the question in the context of knowing only what we knew then. Later, he clarified his answer, saying, “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions, knowing what we know now what would you have done, I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also took some heat on the issue this past week. Critics accused Rubio of practicing political gymnastics when asked two separate but similar questions on the war, six weeks apart. 

During a March appearance on Fox News’ The Five, Rubio was asked plainly, “Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?” He responded, “No, I don’t believe it was. The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq.” Then, just last week, during an exchange at the Council on Foreign Relations, Rubio said he would not have been in favor of the Iraqi invasion after finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The war in Iraq likely will be more of a headache in the campaign for Bush because of his last name. Clinton will find it hard to use the issue against any Republican—except for Bush, because of his last name—because as senator at the time she voted to authorize the war.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is weighing in as well. His philosophy on foreign policy is the biggest thing that separates him from the rest of the GOP field. He was asked on NBC’s Meet The Press about Bush’s attempt to clarify his position.

“I think it’s a recurring question in the Middle East: Is it a good idea to topple secular dictators, and what happens when we do? I think when Hussein was toppled we got chaos. We still have chaos in Iraq. I think it emboldened Iran,” Paul said.  He added Clinton should have to answer similar questions regarding the U.S. going into Libya on her watch.

Listen to “White House Wednesday” on The World and Everything in It.

Presidential power rankings

This week, the power rankings account for two new national polls, one from Fox News and one from Public Policy Polling.

  1. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
  2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
  3. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
  4. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
  5. Dr. Ben Carson
  6. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
  7. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
  8. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  9. Ohio Gov. John Kasich
  10. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who reclaimed the spot from former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina
Mary Reichard

Mary is WORLD Radio’s dialogue editor and cohost of The World and Everything in It.

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