Opinion: Columnists

Who will be the GOP's grownup on foreign policy in 2016?

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Opinion,Columnists,Jed Babbin,2016 Elections,Foreign Policy

Vladimir Putin has a portrait of Peter the Great prominently displayed in his office. Peter, a 17th century “czar of all the Russias,” is best remembered - at least by Putin - for having made Russia an empire by military conquest.

In the Oval Office, before President Obama sent it back, there was a bust of Winston Churchill. Now, the only counterpoint in the president's office to Putin's portrait of his favorite czar is probably the “selfie” the Danish prime minister took of herself and Obama at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

The benchmark of the Obama administration's foreign policy has been ineptitude. It is comprised of the rejection of allies, the embrace of adversaries and the failure to give the most important crises the most urgent attention.

There is an underlying narcissism and immaturity that gave rise to it all. Instead of dazzling the Queen of England with his understanding of world affairs, Obama presented her with an iPod containing some of his speeches. When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a toy “reset” button to illustrate the supposed resetting of the two nations' relationship, it had the wrong Russian word on it. Instead of “reset,” it said “overcharge.” That was long before former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, in answering a Brett Baier question on Benghazi, said, “Dude, that was, like, two years ago.”

In an equally risible example, last week first lady Michelle Obama made a plea to rescue the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram. She posed with a “#BringBackOurGirls” sign which is as significant an act as the latest Tweet from Jennifer Lopez.

But, dudes, this week there's important stuff going on. While Iran is negotiating the key terms to continue its nuclear weapons program “limitations” with the P5+1 group in Vienna, Secretary of State John Kerry is spending two days in London meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resurrect his failed peace negotiations despite Abbas's reconciliation with the terrorists of Hamas.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Germany is trying to defuse the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, China's navy is clashing with the navies of Vietnam and the Philippines over oil drilling and fishing rights, North Korea is threatening another nuclear test, and a war is still going on in Afghanistan in which American casualties have skyrocketed since Obama took office.

If only we had grownups in charge. Among the likely 2016 presidential contenders, only Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has proclaimed himself ready to be president. But is he?

What Rubio and all the other contenders haven't yet demonstrated is the same thing Mitt Romney lacked in 2012: a clear expertise in foreign policy. Some candidates, such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have already proved themselves incompetent on foreign policy. (Paul has said it's ridiculous to think Iran is a danger to the United States). But what of the others?

They need to tell us - soon, before the horse race poll numbers overcome serious debate - what they would do to repair our foreign policy. It's not enough to claim the candidate would make America more secure. What, specifically, would they do to revive our economy, which has been the world's engine driving freedom since before World War II? What will they demand of the NATO nations who have declined to invest in their own defense? How would they repair relations with Israel, Britain and our other allies? How will they make India - the world's largest democracy - a closer ally? How will our adversaries be dealt with? Will they cancel Obama's nuclear deal with Iran?

These are not trivial matters to be left to young staffers. They are at the heart of a president’s character and fitness for office. We deserve to know how the soon-to-be candidates would deal with them.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research.
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