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Dec 3, 2014 3:13 AM

GOP White House prospects clash on foreign policy

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) As politics turn to the 2016 race for president, the GOP's most ambitious are clashing over the nation's role in global affairs.

Several high-profile Republicans offered differing visions this week on foreign policy, pitting the party's national security hawks against libertarian-minded conservatives whose influence is growing in GOP politics. Largely an afterthought in the last presidential contest, the growing foreign policy debate has emerged as a key issue as Republican contenders jockey for position before officially launching White House bids.

The GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, on Wednesday offered a more positive review of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy than that of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely Republican presidential contender who favors a smaller American footprint in the world.

"I don't think he has any credibility," McCain said of Paul, who the day before charged that McCain favors "15 more wars." Asked about the foreign policy of Clinton, the former secretary of state, McCain responded, "I think she's OK."

McCain was one of the featured speakers at a Wednesday foreign policy forum that was among several events and speeches this week exposing GOP divisions in the early stages of the 2016 presidential primary season.

While no candidates have yet launched bids, the election is expected to feature a new generation of conservative leaders who favor a limited role for America abroad Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz among them and establishment-minded Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose father and brother launched military conflicts in the Middle East.

"It seems the whole world is on fire right now," Cruz said Wednesday in his second foreign policy address in as many days. In his first, he suggested he would favor U.S. military action only as a last resort.

"If and when we have to, it should be with a clear, stated objective up front," Cruz said. "We should go in with overwhelming force. And then we should get the heck out."

Paul on Wednesday formally introduced a "declaration of war" against the Islamic State a move designed to paint himself as a strict constitutionalist as he explores a White House bid. The largely symbolic resolution would expire after one year, allowing ground combat forces only to shield Americans from imminent danger and to gather intelligence or pursue high-level targets.

Paul, one of the leaders in what critics call the GOP's "isolationist wing," on Tuesday lashed out at Republicans who favor a dramatic increase in military spending with little regard for the national deficit.

"There are conservatives who (say), 'I'll spend anything and I don't care if it bankrupts the world.' ... That's wrong," Paul said. "I truly believe that the No. 1 threat to our national security is our debt."

At another event, Bush, whose brother George W. Bush ordered the invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003, cited "a growing awareness that we can't withdraw from the world."

"The United States needs to lead. Lead with humility, lead with respect but lead," Bush told a group of prominent Cuban-American leaders in Miami on Tuesday. "We are not an equal partner in a so-called community of nations. We are a leader among equals."

The foreign policy focus comes as violence rages across the Middle East and tensions intensify across Eastern Europe. As would-be presidential candidates seek a leadership role in the debate, others are scrambling to strengthen their international credentials.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is expected to visit Israel for the first time early next year, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie heads to Canada on an official trade mission later in the week his second foreign trip in recent months. In addition to meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other officials, Christie is expected to focus heavily on North American energy production, including the Keystone XL pipeline project, building on a policy platform he began to articulate during his recent trip to Mexico.

Polling suggests that war-weary voters may favor the views of Paul and Cruz.

A CNN/ORC poll in September found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans think the United States should not play a leading role among other countries in trying to solve the world's problems.


Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New Jersey and Michael Mishak in Florida contributed to this report.


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