NYT: GOP Candidates Have No Int’l Credentials
G.O.P. Presidential Hopefuls Look to Build International Credentials
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky likes to note that he didn’t have a foreign policy three and a half years ago, when he was a full-time ophthalmologist.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was an appellate lawyer in Houston before he was elected in 2012, a job that put him in front of judges, not world leaders.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has little reason to worry that a foreign crisis is going to rock Louisiana. So when Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state and current Stanford professor, visited him last year they spoke mostly about education reform.
As President Obama prepares to announce his strategy on Wednesday for combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, there is no shortage of condemnation from Republicans like Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Jindal, who are considering running for president in 2016. Yet they, like almost every Republican who might try to succeed Mr. Obama, have a common résumé gap: foreign policy experience.
In fact, several of them will have to confront an especially glaring paradox. Like Mr. Obama when he first ran for president, they are relatively young first-term senators, with limited experience beyond the country’s borders.
If the world’s unstable regions continue to dominate headlines in the next two years, some Republicans say they worry that their party’s nominee could have trouble persuading Americans to elect someone untested in international affairs.
“The potential for some unforeseen events is clearly going to create a great deal of unease,” said Richard G. Lugar, the former Republican senator from Indiana who led the Foreign Relations Committee twice, in the late 1980s and the mid-2000s. With so much unrest, Mr. Lugar said, Americans will inevitably ask themselves, “What if one of these Republicans became president? Would it be any better? Are they any better prepared?”
“And at the moment,” he added, “the answer is probably not.”
Unlike when George H. W. Bush and John McCain won the Republican nomination in part because voters put trust in their foreign policy experience, the 2016 field is likely to be dominated by candidates who lack that background — senators who have been in office just a few years and governors who have had no exposure to the complexities of war and diplomacy.
Republican senators like Mr. Paul, 51, Mr. Cruz, 43, and Marco Rubio of Florida, also 43, could have an awkward case when arguing that they are better suited to address the world’s problems than Mr. Obama was when he was first elected. And while senators can point to their time in Washington as educational, the Republican governors who are weighing a White House bid, like Mr. Jindal and Chris Christie of New Jersey, have had limited global exposure.
“We have just seen an incompetent senator as president, from the Republican point of view,” said Elliott Abrams, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and is now with the Council on Foreign Relations. “And that argues for someone with significant executive experience,” like a governor, he added. “But those people are by definition not going to have foreign policy experience.”
While unstable international conditions would seem to boost Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, if Americans still associate her with the policies of an administration they view with growing disapproval, Mrs. Clinton could find her tenure as Mr. Obama’s chief diplomat a liability.
“She does not want to totally identify herself with Obama foreign policy,” said Lee H. Hamilton, the Democratic former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees. “On the other hand, it’s not credible to totally separate herself.”
Still, voters tend to look to their own economic prospects rather than to conflicts thousands of miles away. Even in presidential elections when foreign involvement was central, including in 1980, during the Iranian hostage crisis, the percentage of people who said international affairs was the most important problem facing the country never broke into the double digits, according to Gallup polls.
In a CNN poll conducted September 5-7, just 7 percent of respondents said the situation in Iraq and Syria was the most pressing concern facing the country today, compared with 30 percent who said the economy — by far the most common answer.
International inexperience has not prevented Republicans or Democrats from winning. Ronald Reagan, who as a former California governor had a limited background in foreign policy, defeated Jimmy Carter. (A badly deteriorated economy was even more important to voters that year.) Mr. Reagan’s pick of Mr. Bush, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and ambassador to the United Nations, helped balance the ticket.
In 1992, Mr. Bush found out painfully that his credentials, which by then included winning the Persian Gulf war, did not sway voters who wanted a new direction on the economy and elected Bill Clinton.
George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, persuaded voters in 2000 to overlook his foreign policy shortcomings by surrounding himself with respected hands like Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary, and Ms. Rice.
The leading Republican contenders for the 2016 nomination are, to varying degrees, building their portfolios with high-profile speeches and the hiring of staff members versed in world affairs. Mr. Paul has taken pains to distance himself from the more isolationist views of his father, Ron. In an opinion article published by Time last week, with the headline, “I Am Not an Isolationist,” he argued for destroying Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
Mr. Rubio, who is one of only two Republican senators to serve on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, is planning a major foreign policy speech this month. His schedule, advisers said, has included meetings with foreign dignitaries, including the former leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba.
Mr. Cruz has wooed leading conservative thinkers like William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.
Mr. Jindal has positioned himself as aggressively hawkish, particularly with regard to Syria. In an opinion piece published last month on the website of Fox News, he wrote of the people who beheaded James Foley, the captured photographer: “How about we offer these people death instead of justice?”
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Mr. Christie have been courting Republican elder statesmen. Mr. Perry has met with George P. Shultz, Mr. Reagan’s secretary of state. And Mr. Christie has met with Henry Kissinger.
But conservatives acknowledge that candidates in the 2016 field have a long way to go in convincing voters they can be trusted on the world stage.
“It’s not about, ‘I spent three hours with Henry Kissinger and now I’m ready to be president,’ ” said James Jay Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies for the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Carafano has met with almost all the 2016 contenders.
“It really is about doing your homework,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a voyage of self-discovery.”