The parade of 2016 presidential hopefuls is starting to make its way to Iowa. Before the hunt for votes begins, it’s time to expand the campaign conversation.
When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 and sought re-election in 2012, wouldn’t it have helped for voters to know that he believes that our country has a moral obligation to strike militarily for humanitarian purposes overseas?
Clearly, it would have.
Many Americans have been taken by surprise in recent weeks to find that the commander in chief holds such views and that our country recently found itself on the verge of launching a military strike on those grounds.
The point isn’t that humanitarian intervention is unheard of; it’s a legitimate issue for debate. The point, rather, is that in the upcoming campaign, candidates need to do a better job of fully explaining their values, skills and experience when it comes to foreign-policy challenges. And voters shouldn’t tune out those discussions.
Our presidential elections rightly focus to a great degree on important domestic concerns — jobs, the economy, education and more. But as the Syria situation has shown, no president can avoid difficult decisions about foreign affairs or using military force.
Part of the problem is that a lot of presidential hopefuls (not all, of course) seem to have given little thought to foreign policy. As a result, they tend to trot out tired clichés tailored to their party bases. For Democrats, the general theme has been along the line of, “George W. Bush was bad, and I’m for peace and domestic renewal.” For Republicans, it’s, “Ronald Reagan was fantastic, and I’m in the Reagan mold.”
That’s not enough. During election season, the candidates need to make clear what their abilities and philosophies are when it comes to dealing with difficult situations overseas. A president needs to be as conversant in discussing international relations as in domestic policy.
Members of Congress have that obligation, too. We just saw the president come close to asking lawmakers for permission to strike militarily at Syria. That means our Congress needs to have men and women of serious mind who will grapple with the complexities and dilemmas that often arise in international relations.
The answers on these issues will not always be easy or obvious. There usually will be room for debate. But one thing is now clear: In the 2016 election, presidential aspirants won’t have the luxury of ignoring foreign policy.
The Cold War may be long over, but the heavy foreign-policy duties facing a U.S. president are not.