The rise of the Islamic State, heightened by recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, have more voters saying terrorism represents the greatest threat to the United States than any other challenge. As a result, the Republican presidential race has been reconfigured.
One early “outsider” pacesetter, estimable neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, has fallen precipitously in recent polls resulting from the admission of his advisors Carson was struggling to grasp foreign policy. While GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has experienced no immediate loss of support, his often changing seat-of-the pants comments reflect an inability to demonstrate even a basic understanding of foreign policy and are largely rooted in whim and impulse.
The chief “anti-establishment” Republican candidate gaining support is Sen. Ted Cruz. While Cruz excoriates the Obama administration for hollowing out the military, he’s closer to President Obama when it comes to fighting terrorism. He believes the Middle East was a safer place before the United States helped to overthrow the tyrant dictatorships of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. He favors a no intervention policy in Syria against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, saying the U.S. shouldn’t take a side in the Syrian civil war. Cruz cast one of only two Republican Senate votes (the other being Rand Paul) against the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, providing funding to the Department of Defense. Citing civil liberty concerns, Cruz also voted to gut the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata program, which provided information on numbers called, time of calls but not call content.
A more “hawkish” national security/foreign policy approach is advocated by another “first tier” Republican candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio. A member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Rubio supported the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act and advocated the continued collection of telephone metadata records under the Patriot Act. Rubio views the intelligence community as beleaguered and in need of political support. In contrast to Cruz, Rubio has called for the reassertion of U.S. leadership in the Middle East by broadening the coalition opposing ISIS and increasing our own involvement in the fight. He has forcefully argued for aiding those fighting Assad in Syria as a means to blunt the ambitions of Assad’s ally, Iran.
While Cruz asserts we have “no dog in the Syrian civil war,” Rubio is joined by other leading GOP presidential contenders — Carly Fiorina, Governors Chris Christie and John Kasich, and former Governor Jeb Bush — in the view we actually have to fight “two dogs” in Syria — both ISIS and Assad. The alternative is the endless chaos ISIS incubates and desperate refugees who come knocking on our door.
Ronald Reagan often spoke of a “three-legged stool” undergirding a “complete conservative.” Those legs include a commitment to both a free market economy and social conservatism. The indispensable “first leg” is a well formulated and strong national defense policy. The muscular national security positions advanced by Rubio — as well as by Fiorina, Christie, Kasich and Bush — stand in sharp contrast to the weakness being projected currently by President Obama against radical Islamic terrorism.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.