GOP 2016 field feasts on Obama's foreign policy
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Republican presidential candidates and likely candidates lined up Saturday to take swings at President Obama’s foreign policy during the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner.
Eleven official or rumored White House hopefuls criticized Obama’s mistakes abroad during the event in Des Moines.
“We’re a resilient people,” Perry said of Americans.
“We’ve been through a Civil War, two World Wars,” he said. “We’ve been through a Jimmy Carter. We’ll make it through Barack Obama.”
Perry promised listeners that “the best days of America are ahead of us.”
His positive tone did not prevent him from strongly criticizing the Obama administration Saturday night.
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why Washington, D.C., thinks it is the font of all wisdom,” Perry said.
“You see ISIS showing up in Garland, Texas, and you see what a challenging world it is,” he said, citing a recent shooting inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in his home state.
“I know it can be better,” Perry, a possible presidential candidate, added.
ISIS was a frequent concern of speakers.
“This is no longer simply a threat in Iraq or Syria or even Australia or Paris,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a rumored 2016 contender.
“The president needs to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam.”
“I think it’s a disaster,” Paul, a GOP presidential candidate, said of Libya. “I think it’s a failed state.”
“Maybe we should think before we act,” he added. “We’re talking about the Middle East, where history repeats itself.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) pushed even further, blaming Obama for the rise of jihadist terrorism in Iraq.
“I blame Barack Obama above all else for squandering the gains that were so hard to come by in Iraq,” Graham, a potential 2016 candidate, said.
“If you fought in Iraq, the surge worked,” he said. “It’s not your fault it’s going to hell.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush avoided discussion of the controversial 2003 invasion of Iraq launched by his older brother, former President George W. Bush.
He instead focused on his tenure as the Sunshine State’s governor between 1999 and 2007.
When Bush veered off that topic, it was to attack Obama’s priorities on foreign policy.
“Our friends needs to believe in us again and our enemies need to fear us again,” Bush said, touting a strategy of “peace through strength.”
“Country after country, our relationships are worse,” he added, calling Cuba and Iran the only exceptions.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also zeroed in on Iran, criticizing the coalition Obama had assembled to negotiate with Tehran on its nuclear arms research.
“Let’s not confuse ourselves,” said Fiorina, the GOP’s only official female candidate thus far. “China and Russia are not sitting on our side of the negotiating table with Iran.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, argued foreign policy was more about “safety” and less about “national security.”
“Safety is something you feel,” he said, saying that videos of ISIS atrocities thus provoked powerful emotions.
“I get awfully frustrated with a president who draws lines in the sand and then lets people cross them,” he said.
“Radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to us all, and we need to act on it,” said Walker.
Presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, used medical terminology while challenging Obama’s decisions.
“While our enemies are metastasizing and magnifying, we are shrinking back,” he argued.
“There are jihadists who want to destroy us and want to destroy our way of life,” Carson added.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) emerged as the evening’s war hawk by asserting a policy of aggression against Iran and ISIS.
This pairing, he said, presented Americans with “the two evils” of the Middle East.
“We need to take them on and take them out,” he added of ISIS.
New York business mogul Donald Trump said he saw China as the biggest potential rival abroad during his remarks.
“China is building a military force the likes of which we may never see again,” said Trump, who has long teased his candidacy. “They’re building something that is unbelievable.”
Saturday’s roster was so crowded that each speaker only received ten minutes to make their case.
The brief spotlight still offered plenty of chances to break out from the pack, but not always for the reason candidates liked.
Fiorina was the night’s lone victim of an overlong speech. The ex-technology executive was silenced and played off the stage by loud music when she missed the ten-minute mark.
“It’s terrible she got cut off so rudely like that,” quipped Trump, who spoke after Fiorina. "We should bring her back.”
Graham, meanwhile, had the crowd chortling with his frequent jokes.
The South Carolina lawmaker called Pope Francis a “cool dude,” said Carson was “too smart” for the presidency and mocked his own address as the dinner’s “bathroom break.”
Paul, a vocal advocate for privacy rights, distinguished himself by talking about the National Security Agency (NSA) and its warrantless bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
"Some of us think the government should be minding its own business,” the Kentucky senator said.
“I want to catch terrorists but I also want to protect our Constitution,” he said.
Carson, the only black GOP candidate so far, also gave his unique perspective on race.
“It’s just the default position some people fall back on,” Carson said of the political mainstream’s focus on racial tensions in cities like Baltimore.
"We have allowed the haters to get in here and convince us that other Americans are our enemies,” he said of divisions between different subcultures in the U.S.
“We the American people have to be smart enough to recognize that we are not each other’s enemies.”

- Updated at 10:23 p.m.