What’s Holding Back the 2016 Foreign Policy Debate

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What’s Holding Back the 2016 Foreign Policy Debate


Brian Katulis, Chairman of the Board at NSN
September 13, 2015 | WALL STREET JOURNAL

Hillary Clinton‘s speech Wednesday about the Iran nuclear deal and the tea-party rally against the deal headlined by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz may help shift foreign policy to a more prominent place in the 2016 presidential campaign.

So far, candidates who have raised the topic of national security, including Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, have not gone much beyond sloganeering. And most skirmishes have been retrospective, such as the back and forth between Jeb Bush and Secretary Clinton on Iraq.

It’s common this early in a campaign cycle to hear more rhetoric than clear policy positions about the way ahead. But a more forward-looking debate that deals with real-world challenges is needed, especially on issues where Congress has been deadlocked: cybersecurity legislation is stalled, no authorization has been passed for the use of military force against Islamic State one year into that campaign, and China’s evolving role in U.S. politics raises questions ahead of this month’s bilateral summit.

Three factors make it difficult for candidates to get into details of forward-looking policies, especially at this stage of the political process…Overall, policy changes from the Obama administration to the next administration are likely to be incremental no matter who is elected next November. But candidates seeking an edge at this early stage might look to move beyond slogans and offer details on approaching key foreign policy challenges. Doing so could fashion a framework that helps Americans understand the complicated changes in our world.


Secretary Kerry giving a speech on the Iranian Nuclear Deal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. [U.S. Department of State, accessed 9/14/15]

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other NATO Ministers of Defense and of Foreign Affairs met together at NATO headquarters to give final political guidance in preparation for the meeting of Allied Heads of State and Government at the upcoming NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal in November in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday October 14, 2010. DOD photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison(RELEASED)5440002785_7b1ed0ac3e_b