National Security & Defense

Fiorina Could Learn from Rubio on Foreign Policy

(Andrew Burton/Getty)

The early primary debates are great entertainment. With a sprinkling of Trump, we look for the candidates to come off script. We look for animosity — both personal and political — that distinguishes the candidates from one another. We look for charisma and moments of inspiration. But, ultimately, we’re looking for entertainment. Still, we must remember that presidential primary debates exist for more than our amusement. Illuminating a candidate’s character and variable responses to pressure, debates inform America’s democratic choices.

Debates also matter for U.S. national security: Foreign-government officials are watching the debates, too. Working through diplomats, spies, and analysts, they are assessing who might win the GOP nomination and what that victory might mean for U.S. foreign policy come 2017. In turn, as President Obama’s term winds down, foreign governments will increasingly make policy in consideration of his likely successor.

And that means that Republican presidential candidates need to be confident on foreign-policy issues. Last week’s debate proved why this is easier said than done. After all, two candidates dominated the foreign-policy proceedings at the CNN debate: Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. Unfortunately, only one prospective president was up to speed.

Watch the video:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=DtoAjFwKBmU%3Fstart%3D1620

Both responses met applause, but consider the substantive differences between Rubio and Fiorina.

Rubio outlined Putin’s strategic aims in Syria: protecting Bashar al-Assad but also displacing America’s relationships with its traditional allies. And he was correct to do so. President Obama’s Middle Eastern policy is like a kite flailing in the wind. Putin knows he has the credibility to usurp America’s position as the regional power broker. Some White House supporters say this doesn’t matter — that the U.S. should encourage Putin to take ownership of Middle Eastern chaos. But the absolute opposite is true. For reasons of regional stability, human rights, and crucial American security, America must retain its central role in the Middle East.

#share#In contrast to Rubio, Fiorina offered tactics rather than strategic analysis. The former HP CEO said she would end contact with Putin, send more troops to Germany, and strengthen the U.S. Navy’s carrier presence in Europe. It all sounds good, but in overall strategic terms these proposals are paper thin. First, ignoring the Russians — and offending their pride — is unwise. Russia respects strength, but it also responds to respect. Second, if the U.S. is to deter Russia while also encouraging the EU to spend more on defense, sending more personnel to Germany won’t help. Third, sending large U.S. carrier strike groups into the Mediterranean isn’t necessarily a great idea; sending attack submarines is a better alternative. That said, Fiorina’s most problematic suggestion was that Putin’s Syria strategy has been designed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards general, Qassem Soleimani. This is simply untrue. Soleimani’s outreach to Moscow is well documented, but Putin is in Syria because it advances Russia’s interests, not because Iran sent him. Putin plays the leading role in this partnership. After all, Syria has been a Russian ally since it became a Soviet client state in the early 1970s.

#related#Even at this early point in the campaign, candidates need to grasp tough foreign-policy issues. Presidential debates help in sorting out who is up to the task. Fiorina and Rubio are front-runners to become the next president of the United States. Both are driven, eloquent, and intelligent. But to build credibility with future foreign allies and foes, these candidates must avoid platitudes. Instead, they must lay out an overarching U.S. strategy. We’ve seen where platitudes — Obama’s infamous and disappearing “red lines” — get us. They have eviscerated America’s credibility around the world. Republicans must avoid making the same mistake.

— Tom Rogan is a writer, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets at twitter.com/TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More
Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

On Painting Air Force One

And so it has come to this. Two oil tankers were just attacked in the Gulf of Oman, presumably by Iran. The United States and China are facing off in a confrontation that is about far more than trade. The southern border remains anarchic and uncontrolled. And Congress is asking: “Can I get the icon in ... Read More