Lost in much of the reporting about CPAC is that almost all of the likely presidential candidates—really, all of them, with the exception of Rand Paul—seemed to place themselves at the Reaganite hawkish-internationalist end of the foreign policy spectrum. The much-heralded return of Republican isolationism or anti-interventionism wasn’t much in evidence, except during Rand Paul's half hour on the stage. The other candidates all criticized President Obama for his foreign policy weakness and timidity, and made the case for greater American strength and resolve.
Of course, most of the speakers didn't go into great detail, especially on the question of the defense budget and rebuilding the military. One could even get the mistaken impression from them that a simple change of attitude in the White House would solve almost all our problems. It's true that such a change in attitude would help a lot, but the fact is that additional resources for defense are needed to undergird any policy of peace through strength. Some of the candidates tended to gloss over that fact.
One speaker who addressed this in a more head-on way than most is, ironically, a governor who (so far, at least) isn't running for president. It was Indiana governor Mike Pence who forthrightly said, "I believe the time has come for dramatically increased defense spending to confront the knowable and unknowable threats facing the United States and our allies in this still new century." Pence had a strong involvement in national security matters in his twelve years in Congress, and perhaps he simply believed it important to say what he thought about foreign and defense policy in his speech. But what he said wouldn't be a bad starting point for all the presidential candidates. Here's the section of his speech (the whole thing is very much worth reading) on foreign and defense policy:
First, let’s recognize that 2016 could be the first foreign policy national election since 1980. The world seems to become more dangerous by the day.
Sadly, the administration has reduced our Army to its smallest size since 1940. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916, and our Air Force has its smallest tactical fighter force in history.
History teaches that you cannot reduce our military strength without provoking our enemies.
Weakness arouses evil.
As we speak, ISIS is setting up franchises across the Middle East and is on the offensive across the Arab world.
The president says jobs are the answer to violent jihad.
Mr. President, “Jihadi John” doesn’t want a job.
He wants to see paradise and I think we should help him get there as quickly as possible.
With the growing threat of homegrown terror, it’s important to remember that our first line of defense is the right to self-defense. Now more than ever, the right to keep and bear arms must not be infringed!
Violent jihad is not our only threat.
In Asia, China is massively expanding its military. Just last month, the Pentagon admitted that China’s satellite and ballistic missile technologies are rapidly approaching parity with our own.
And as we gather tonight, a new Iron Curtain is descending down the spine of Europe as modern Russia seeks to redraw the map of Europe by force. Unlike the former Soviet Union that respected the strength of the West, Putin’s Russia ignores talk of sanctions and claims land and supports rebels in Ukraine with impunity.
As if we didn’t know enough about the threat we face from Iran, the Heritage Foundation’s Annual Index of Military Strength released this week lists Iran as “by far the most significant security challenge” facing the United States, its allies and interests in the Middle East.
In a few days, the leader of our most cherished ally will come to Washington to warn Congress and the American people of the gathering storm he believes will strike his country and threaten ours if we allow the world’s most dangerous regime is to have the world’s most dangerous weapons.
Traveling to Israel last December, I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the very day the Palestinian Authority was trying to force a settlement on Israel through the United Nations that would compromise Israel’s security.
I saw first-hand the resolve and determination of this courageous leader who stands too often alone in times of great peril across the Middle East.