Where the Republican presidential candidates stand on Israel, Ukraine and China
There's a common belief that foreign policy does not win presidential elections, but 2024 may be the exception.
It's a tense time on the world stage. The U.S. is playing a supporting role in two foreign wars, Ukraine and Gaza, while simultaneously trying to shift its national security focus to the challenges posed by China.
If there were any questions about the role of foreign policy in the Republican primaries, the answers came following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. At the last debate in Miami, Republicans clashed over their support for Israel.
In a November Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll, 57% of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers said the Israel-Hamas war is "extremely important" to them as they evaluate candidates.
On the campaign trail, former President Donald Trump has been tapping into these fears about foreign conflicts, boasting that he's the "only one that will prevent World War III."
The increased attention on global affairs has coincided with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's rise in the polls. She's been able to lean on her experience as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Foreign policy is one of the few areas where there are real differences in strategy among the candidates, particularly between those with more traditional hawkish roots and the rise of more conservative populist candidates.
Should the U.S. support Israel unwaveringly?
The Republican field has largely lined up behind Israel, as is the typical conservative ideology, and rejected calls for a cease-fire — though there have been some differences.
Trump initially criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and referred to the Iran-backed Hezbollah, another militant group in the region, as "very smart."
Those comments were widely criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. Trump later vowed to "fully support" Israel following the outcry.
Haley attacked Vivek Ramaswamy for suggesting initially that the U.S. phase out aid to Israel. At the Miami debate in November, Ramaswamy then said he would advise the Israeli leader to "smoke those terrorists on his southern border and ... I'll be smoking the terrorists on our southern border."
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie actually visited Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and met with survivors, the first GOP presidential candidate to do so since the war began.
During the Miami debate, Christie said he'd tell Netanyahu, "America is here, no matter what it is you need."
Is support for Ukraine in the vital interests of the U.S.?
While there is broad agreement about support for Israel, Republicans are increasingly divided over the idea of sending additional military aid to Ukraine.
As the war has dragged on and public interest has declined, the war has become a key indicator of how presidential hopefuls believe the U.S. should engage with the world.
And no issue in the arena of foreign policy probably illustrates the growing divide between Republican isolationists and foreign policy hawks more than Ukraine.
On the one side are candidates like Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have both pushed U.S. leaders to focus more resources on domestic issues. On the other side, are more GOP traditionalists like Haley and Christie who argue the U.S. must stand up to adversaries like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What role should the U.S. play in the war against Ukraine?
- Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., says it's important to support Ukraine, but not with a "blank check." He has said Europe should shoulder more of the financial burden, but emphasizes Russia cannot be allowed to win.
- Former Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has called the conflict a "proxy war" between the United States and China. He traveled to Ukraine and spoke of the inhumanity that he witnessed.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., made waves when he called the war a "territorial dispute" between Russia and Ukraine. He later backtracked amid an outcry of criticism, but he continues to oppose sending more military aid to Ukraine.
- Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has defended U.S. aid as being crucial to American security and preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin from aggressively moving on other European nations.
- An aggressive critic of U.S. aid in the war, Vivek Ramaswamy said he was "absolutely unpersuaded" by calls for more funding for Ukraine. He's been critical of the Kyiv government and suggested Ukraine cede some of its territory to Russia to end the war.
- Former President Donald Trump, once impeached over his conduct in a phone call with Ukraine's president, has been cagey about whether he would continue military aid to Ukraine. He argues that the war is more important for Europe — and therefore it should be carrying more of the financial burden. He has also called on congressional Republicans to withhold military support until the Biden administration cooperates with its investigations into the president and his son's business dealings.
Should the U.S. sever economic ties with China?
The Republican candidates not only agree that China poses the greatest threat to the United States, but they appear to be competing for who is the biggest hawk against Beijing.
As president, Trump imposed a series of tariffs on Beijing. He now plans to go further, promising a decoupling of the U.S.-China economies.
Haley has accused the former president of being "singularly focused" on trade and missing the military threat posed by Beijing.
"China was military stronger — militarily stronger — when President Trump left office than when he entered. That's bad," Haley said during a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
She says the U.S. needs to modernize its military and end trade relations until China takes greater action on fentanyl.
DeSantis has compared the threat posed by Beijing as being equal or greater than the one posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He's pledged to "reorient" U.S. foreign policy toward China.
But there is nuance among their positions when it comes to using military force against China.
Should the U.S. use military force in support of Taiwan if it is attacked by China?
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