Press reporting after the recent CNN Republican foreign policy debate underscored a deep divide within the Grand Old Party, between interventionists and isolationists.
This suggests stark disagreement among the candidates over the use of force. Yet the foreign policies of every Republican candidate, with the possible exception of the libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, are jumbled, if not paralyzed, by challenges emanating from the Middle East.
Two issues consume the region and have consumed American policy: the fight against the Sunni Islamic State and Shiite Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations. The Republican candidates’ positions on these are by no means clear and are unlikely to fare well in head-to-head debates with Hillary Clinton.
The major Republican candidates — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and (to be charitable) Jeb Bush — don’t actually differ with each other on countering the Islamic State as much as they agree with President Obama’s aversion to putting American ground forces into Syria.
Despite their stinging rhetoric against the nuclear accord with the mullahs, Republican presidential candidates, to the extent that they have explained how they would handle Tehran after Obama’s nuclear deal goes into effect, are still stressing diplomacy over war, leaving aside the question of how exactly Washington unilaterally renegotiates a multilateral agreement, with the Europeans, Chinese, Russians and Iranians in opposition.