Foreign Policy: Fightin' Words

As the GOP 2012 presidential nominees emerge, each one will have to prove their ability to navigate the complex world of foreign relations. Joshua Keating, associate editor at Foreign Policy has this primer on each potential candidates international experience.

Newt Gingrich

The left's refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union. If you go back and look at all the years of disinformation, all the years of denial, that were the left's response to communism, why would you think that the next threat to Western civilization will be more accurately studied? This is why the secular-socialist system is itself such a threat.

-Address at the American Enterprise Institute, July 29, 2010

Gingrich, who officially declared his candidacy on May 11, wasn't particularly known for his foreign policy views as Speaker of the House during the 1990s -- he opposed the Clinton-era interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo — but since Obama took office he has emerged as an outspoken critic what he sees of the "secular-socialist" administration's failure to take the threat of radical Islam seriously. In particular, Gingrich has often linked the threat of terrorism abroad to the encroachment of Sharia law in the United States. Gingrich's stance on the intervention in Libya has been inconsistent: he criticized the Obama administration for not intervening in early March and then attacked it for intervening in late March.

Mitt Romney

Given President Obama's glaring domestic policy missteps, it is understandable that the public has largely been blinded to his foreign policy failings. In fact, these may have been even more damaging to America's future. He fought to reinstate Honduras's pro-Chavez president while stalling Colombia's favored-trade status. He castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip. His policy of "engagement" with rogue nations has been met with North Korean nuclear tests, missile launches and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, funded terrorists and armed Hezbollah with long-range missiles. He acceded to Russia's No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

-Washington Post op-ed, July 6, 2010

In his 2008 run, the former Massachusetts governor's foreign policy views tracked closely with those of the George W. Bush administration, frequently describing radical Islam as America's most pressing security threat. Sometimes he even seemed more Bush than Bush: during one debate, he suggested that the United States "double Guantanamo." This time around, Romney has attacked the Obama administration's foreign policy for being "unprepared and without direction," particularly evident in the decision to "[follow] the French" into Libya. In the Washington Post op-ed, he argued that the New START arms control treaty with Russia was the administration's worst foreign policy mistake.

Sarah Palin

Please make up your mind, Mr. President. You can't vacillate when spending America's human and fiscal resources in yet another foreign country without good reason. You said that Libyan leader Gaddafi has got to go. Many of us heard that as your call to action and agreed, 'Okay, you're right. He's an evil dictator who kills his own innocent people, so enforce a no-fly zone so he can't continue an aerial slaughter.' But then you said our mission in Libya isn't to oust Gaddafi after all. (Or vice versa on the order or your statements. Between you and your advisers the public has been given so many conflicting statements on why we're intervening in Libya that I apologize if I can't keep up with the timing and rationale of your murky foreign policy positions.)

-Facebook message, April 26, 2011

The former governor will probably never escape the infamous 2008 Katie Couric interview during which she suggested that Alaska's proximity to Russia could substitute for foreign policy experience, but there are some signs she's working to develop an independent voice on foreign policy. ("Squirmishes" notwithstanding.) Palin recently cut ties with two neoconservative foreign-policy advisers, interpreted by many as a sign that she is embracing the Tea Party's skepticism about intervention abroad. She has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in Libya.

Tim Pawlenty

So when the United States of America projects its national security interests here and around the world, we need to do it with strength! We need to make sure that there is no equivocation, no uncertainty, no daylight between us and our allies around the world. The current administration doesn't seem to understand this principle. We undermine Israel, the U.K., Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia, among other friends. Meanwhile, we appease Iran, Russia, and adversaries in the Middle East, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. President, with bullies, might makes right. Strength — makes them submit. Get tough on our enemies — not on our friends. And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country. The bullies, terrorists and tyrants of the world have lots to apologize for. America does not.

-Speech at CPAC, Feb. 12, 2011

Pawlenty boasts that "for a governor I've got an unusual amount of foreign policy, or at least international and security, experience." This includes five trips to Iraq and three to Afghanistan to visit troops from his home state of Minnesota — as well as trade missions to Asia and Latin America. Pawlenty has attempted to make up for his perceived lack of international chops by emphasizing foreign policy in his appearances prior to declaring that he would run on April 13. He has criticized the administration for an "incoherent" response to Libya that he says is aimed more at appealing to European allies than ensuring America's security.

Jon Huntsman

"The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur," Huntsman said. "We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship."

-Farewell speech in Beijing, April 6, 2011

If, as expected, the Mandarin-speaking Utah governor-turned-ambassador to Beijing enters the race, he could credibly claim to have the most foreign policy experience in the GOP field. But it remains to be seen whether his service in the Obama administration and work to promote U.S.-China ties will taint him in the eyes of Republican primary voters. Huntsman's time in China was not uncontroversial, with disputes over the Dalai Lama, Internet freedom, and arms sales to Taiwan; nonetheless, Huntsman was given a vote of confidence, as he departed, by Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping.

Mitch Daniels

When asked if he is ready to debate President Obama on foreign policy: "Probably not."

-Meeting with journalists, May 3, 2011

Daniels, a darling of fiscal conservatives, is the first to admit that foreign policy is not his strong suit. The Indiana governor even seemed reluctant to issue a statement on the killing of bin Laden. He has said that "it cannot be illegitimate to ask" if the United States should scale back on its military commitments, though he didn't specify which commitments he was referring to, and has said that he defers to the president on matters pertaining to the war in Afghanistan. Daniels, who is partially of Syrian heritage, received an award this year from the Arab American Institute which praised him as "the adult in the room" for not pandering to anti-Muslim sentiment.

Ron Paul

As many frustrated Americans who have joined the Tea Party realize, we cannot stand against big government at home while supporting it abroad. We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world. We cannot talk about the budget deficit and spiraling domestic spending without looking at the costs of maintaining an American empire of more than 700 military bases in more than 120 foreign countries. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for cutting a few thousand dollars from a nature preserve or an inner-city swimming pool at home while turning a blind eye to a Pentagon budget that nearly equals those of the rest of the world combined.

-Foreign Policy, Aug. 27, 2010

The libertarian Texas congressman favors a noninterventionist foreign policy. He opposed the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, favors cutting the military budget, and wants to significantly cut U.S. foreign aid. Most recently, Paul pushed an amendment in the House that would have cut all foreign assistance to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan. Paul's views still don't have much support among his GOP colleagues, but with a host of new Tea Party-supported arrivals — including his son, Rand — favoring a less expensive, less interventionist brand of conservative foreign policy, they may become a more prominent part of the party's discourse in the future.

Michele Bachmann

Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It's because they've already decided that they're going to partition Iraq. And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I'm sorry, I don't have the official name, but it's meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made. They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.

-Interview with St. Cloud Times, 2008

Bachmann describes herself as a "student of foreign policy," though the statements of the Minnesota congresswoman and intelligence committee member can sometimes seem pretty far outside the realm of normal discourse, such as the above description of a potential "Iraq State of Islam" or her recent echoing of Moammar Gadhafi's talking points, when she suggested that "the only reports that we have say that there are elements of al-Qaida in North Africa and Hezbollah in the [Libyan] opposition forces." Bachmann's foreign-policy positions are often motivated by her religious beliefs: She has suggested that "as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play."

Mike Huckabee

There are vast amounts of territory that are in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs. Maybe the international community can come together and accommodate [the Palestinians].

-Speech in Israel, Feb. 2, 2011

Several of the potential GOP candidates have made trips to the Holy Land in recent months in an effort to demonstrate their pro-Israel bona fides, but few have taken the issue quite as seriously as the former Arkansas governor. Part of the attachment for the onetime evangelical preacher is religious: He has described Israel's struggle for existence as one that "goes back to Isaac and Ishmael, and it's not going to be changed by a couple of presidents or prime ministers." But Huckabee's opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state and suggestion that Arabs living in the territory should live elsewhere have been a bit more controversial.

Rick Santorum

But now we have caused two very dangerous things on the world stage: confusion and doubt. We now have a confused foreign policy in the hottest spots in the world: especially in the Middle East. And we have allies and freedom fighters all over the world who doubt our time tested and time honored commitments to them.

-Speech at the National Press Club, April 28, 2011

Better known for his conservative views on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, the former Pennsylvania senator laid out his foreign policy positions in an April 28 speech in which he lambasted the administration for not doing enough to combat "militant socialism" (according to the AP, an earlier draft of the speech called it "godless socialism") — referring to Hugo Chavez's growing influence in Latin America and China's "saber rattling in the South China Sea." Santorum argues that the U.S. should have intervened more forcefully in the early days of the Libyan uprising and armed the rebels. He also proposes increasing foreign aid to Africa as part of what he calls a "pro-life foreign policy."

Gary Johnson

If there's a clear genocide somewhere, don't we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation. Isn't that what we're all about? Isn't that what we've always been about? But just this notion of nation building — I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.

-Interview with the Weekly Standard, Dec. 6, 2010

The former New Mexico governor is, after Paul, the most prominent libertarian in the race. He told the Weekly Standard in December that he was open to cutting the defense budget, favored withdrawal from Iraq and Libya, and doesn't see Iran's nuclear program as much of a threat. He breaks with Paul on his theoretical support for humanitarian intervention in cases of genocide and his belief that the United States has a "vested interest in Israel."

Herman Cain

Politics have had too big a part to play in how we handled working in Afghanistan. General [David] Petraeus and the other generals should decide on the rules of engagement, not politicians and that has been part of the problem.... He [President Obama] is not qualified to write a military strategy. That's not leadership. Listen to the military experts. That's my approach to handling war and international conflict.

Interview with the Daily Caller, Oct. 11, 2010

The pizza magnate — declared by many pundits as the winner of the first GOP presidential debate in South Carolina on May 5 — may be an unconventional candidate, but his foreign policy views are traditional GOP talking points. He credits the Bush doctrine with making the Mideast revolutions possible, faults the Obama administration for being unprepared to handle them, and voices strong support for "helping Israel defend itself, whatever that takes." He has suggested that Obama was "very weak and timid" and waited too long to commit additional troops to Afghanistan, a decision that may have prolonged bin Laden's run from justice.

Donald Trump

It's so easy. I drop a 25 percent tax on China. I said to somebody that it's really the messenger, the messenger is important. I could have one man say, [High-pitched voice] 'We're going to tax you 25 percent.' And I could say another: 'Listen you m- - - - - - - - - - - - , we're gonna tax you 25 percent.' Now, you said the same exact thing but it's a different messenger."

Speech in Las Vegas, April 29, 2011

Many of Trump's (often profanity-laced) statements on foreign policy consist of ideas that would be considered gaffes if voiced by any other candidate. Consider his views on Libya: "Either I'd go in and take the oil or I don't go in at all ... in the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours." Trump's rhetoric on China has been particularly aggressive, urging Americans to stop buying "crap" produced in that country, presumably not including his own line of clothing.

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