Eli Lake at the New Republic has a piece that tackles the individual foreign policy views of the GOP presidential candidates. There are four main positions. First, is the Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain strain of the Tea Party. This group staunchly defends U.S. allies at any cost and find the protests in the Middle East to be not helpful for U.S. interests because they could have a connection with Al-Qaeda networks or the Muslim Brotherhood. They also are entrenched in a belief that Shariah is the greatest threat to the American legal system. Bachmann’s views on Egypt and Libya best summarize this:
Bachmann’s connection to the Team B II Report—and her conviction that sharia law is a threat to the United States—helps explain some of the key places that she splits from the neoconservatives. To most neocons, the Arab Spring was good news, because it meant the potential spread of democracy in the Muslim world. But the Team B II crowd was pessimistic. “Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted—against history, law, language, and logic—that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy,” McCarthy has written. “It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.”
Such ideas almost certainly explain why Bachmann showed little interest in backing the Arab protesters earlier this year. Many neocons attacked President Obama for not doing enough to support the protesters in Egypt, but Bachmann criticized the president from the opposite side. “He wasn’t perfect, but [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak was one of the best friends that we had in the Middle East region,” she said in a speech in April. “When Mubarak was in trouble, where was the president? He was sitting on his hands and let Mubarak fall.”
Bachmann carved out a similar position on Libya. The neocons largely lined up behind theintervention, but Bachmann, like Gaffney and McCarthy, disagreed. She warned that the Libyans whom Obama was defending could in fact be enemies of the United States. “One thing the American people need to know is that we did not know—nor did the intelligence community know—who the opposition is,” she said on NBC’s “The Today Show” during the early days of the Libya campaign. “There are flickers of Al Qaeda. We don’t know how much Al Qaeda is involved in the opposition forces.” Recently, Bachmann voted for a resolution sponsored by Dennis Kucinich calling for an end to the Libyan intervention.
The next strain of thought in the Republican field is the neoconservative view held by President George W. Bush. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and, to some extent when he was in the race, Tim Pawlenty hold these views. According to the neoconservative worldview, democracy is possible in every country if the right group is supported. Regime change could also be necessary to achieve these ends. While Santorum is considered closer to a supporter of Bush’s policies, Romney falters a little depending on the mood:
Of all the Republican candidates that year, Romney was the one the White House should have been most worried about. Then as now, his views on world affairs were ill-defined. At its best, this can mean open-mindedness in the Romney campaign. For instance, in August 2007, Romney invited national security expert Michael O’Hanlon to brief him. O’Hanlon was both a Democrat (albeit a hawkish one) and, at the time, an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “I was gratified I was invited,” O’Hanlon recalls. “I thought it was a serious approach by the Romney campaign to get different points of view.” O’Hanlon briefed a group of about ten or twelve people. “I liked the way they worked together,” he says. “Governor Romney was content not to be the alpha dog in the meeting.”
But, while such open-mindedness is an admirable thing, people also want to know that presidential candidates have strong convictions on the most important issues. And, with Romney and Iraq, it wasn’t always clear whether he did. His camp in 2007 was divided. One of Romney’s top foreign policy advisers, Mitchell Reiss—a longtime American diplomat who served as the head of policy planning at the State Department in the second half of Powell’s tenure—was a surge skeptic. But Dan Senor—an unofficial member of Romney’s inner circle who had served as a senior adviser and spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq—was a surge supporter, according to sources familiar with the 2008 Romney campaign. In the end, the surge forces won, and Romney never publicly questioned the policy. And, beyond the surge, Romney seemed content to take pages from Bush’s playbook on transforming the Muslim world. The neocons, after all, were the establishment—and Romney was the establishment candidate.
But, sometimes, it was possible to catch a public glimpse from Romney of what sounded like hesitation about the neoconservative worldview. At a debate in September 2007, Romney was asked about Iraq. He gave a rather measured answer in which he said that the surge was “apparently working”—two words that quickly drew a response from McCain. “Governor, the surge is working,” McCain admonished. “The surge is working, sir. It is working.” “That’s just what I said,” Romney replied. But McCain would have none of it. “No, not apparently,” McCain continued. “It’s working.”
Another group to enter the race is the thinking of Rick Perry. Perry looks at foreign policy from a business perspective, what works best for the nation and his state. Lake says it’s similar to Dick Cheney’s views at Haliburton, where he wanted the sanctions lifted against Iran to get a profit before he entered the executive branch and switched to a Iran hawk. One particular example involving Venezuela’s nationalized oil company and a Chinese telecommunications firm illustrates Perry’s views:
In 2004, Perry enticed Citgo—owned by the Venezuelan government, no friend of the United States—to expand refineries in Corpus Christi and move its corporate headquarters to Houston by putting together a grant and low-interest loan package worth $35 million. Perry also sought to persuade the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to expand its North American headquarters in Texas. Last year, the intelligence community quietly pressed Sprint not to use Huawei components in building a national 4G network, fearing the company’s close ties to the People’s Liberation Army would effectively give the Chinese government a listening post in every cell tower of the new wireless network. On August 18, eight Republican senators sent a letter to Obama administration officials warning that the deal could undermine national security. Sprint eventually complied. But, on October 1 of last year, Perry attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company’s new headquarters in Plano, Texas. “Huawei has a strong, worldwide reputation as an innovator of quality telecommunications technology, with facilities spread across the globe,” Perry proclaimed.
The last set of views, one that Lake does not talk about at length, is those of Ron Paul. Paul is called a neoisolationsist and thinks these wars are wasteful and wants to cut off foreign aid to save money. Paul has traction with many libertarians in the Republican Party and some liberals who see foreign intervention, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, as wasteful. Needless to say, that does not make him popular with the neoconservatives or realists in the GOP crowd.
In the end, the election will most likely come down to the economy and not foreign policy. The reason it should be highlighted is that the GOP is not united on these topics. If foreign policy started to become the central focus, events in the world are very fluid, there could be an internal war in the Republican presidential field.