TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Defense Chief Questions Iraq’s ‘Will to Fight’ ISIS After City’s Fall

"The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said

(WASHINGTON)—The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s takeover of Ramadi is evidence that Iraqi forces do not have the “will to fight,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, in the harshest assessment yet from a high-ranking Obama Administration official of Iraqi fighters and the loss of the provincial capital.

Iraqi forces outnumbered their opposition in the capital of Anbar province, but failed to fight and pulled back from the city in central Iraq, Carter said on CNN’s “State of the Union” which aired Sunday. The Iraqis left behind large numbers of U.S.-supplied vehicles, including several tanks.

“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered,” Carter said of the Iraqi forces. “In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [ISIS] and defend themselves.”

The fall of Ramadi last Sunday has sparked questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding Baghdad to reconcile with the nation’s Sunnis and bombing ISIS group targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.

Carter defended the use of U.S. airstrikes as an effective part of the fight against ISIS but said they are not a replacement for Iraqi forces willing to defend their country.

“We can participate in the defeat of ISIL,” he said, using another acronym for ISIS. “But we can’t makeIraq … a decent place for people to live — we can’t sustain the victory, only the Iraqis can do that and, in particular in this case, the Sunni tribes to the West.”

The Pentagon this past week estimated that when Iraqi troops abandoned Ramadi, they left behind a half-dozen tanks, a similar number of artillery pieces, a larger number of armored personnel carriers and about 100 wheeled vehicles like Humvees.

Over the past year defeated Iraq security forces have repeatedly left behind U.S.-supplied military equipment, which the U.S. has targeted in subsequent airstrikes against ISIS forces.

Carter did not discuss any new U.S. tactics in the fight against ISIS.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Restates Support of Israel in Synagogue Speech

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel while reiterating the need for a two-state solution at a Northwest Washington synagogue on Friday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security and my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakable,” Obama said, adding that not doing so would be a “moral failing.”

Obama spoke at the Adas Israel Synagogue on the inaugural “solidarity sabbath,” a holiday meant to consolidate support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism that falls toward the end of Jewish Heritage Month. On Friday, lawmakers were slated to appear in congregations across the country to mark the day.

In the wake of attack at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, there’s been growing attention to the persecution of Jews across the world. Obama noted that the rise of anti-semitism should not be treated as “passing fad.”

“When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed,” Obama said. “It will spread.”

The statements follow a wide-ranging interview published by The Atlantic on Thursday, in which President Obama stressed his love for the Jewish state of Israel, telling commentator Jeffrey Goldberg that supporting the rights of Jews abroad is equivalent to supporting the freedom of African-Americans at home.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

On Friday, he reiterated those sentiments, reflecting on his own introduction to the Israeli community. “For a young man like me grappling with his own identity, Obama said, “the idea that you could be grounded in your history as Israel was but not be trapped by it. That idea was liberating”

Obama’s statements to Goldberg and before the congregation at Adas Israel on Friday come amid nuclear negotiations Iran that have put strain on one of the U.S.’ closest relationships. But he made clear Friday that criticism is not going to change his mind.

“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” he told Goldberg.

And on Friday, before a crowd in a packed synagogue where the rabbi called him a “champion of freedom,” Obama sought to reassure the congregation that he could be both a friend and a critic of Israel.

“It’s precisely because I care so deeply … that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel,” he said.

TIME 2016 Campaign

How the Presidential Candidates See America in the World

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

From Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush to Scott Walker, charting the 2016 candidates by their foreign policy preferences

The Presidential candidates are finally talking about foreign policy, but, not surprisingly, they aren’t yet saying much. “America must lead. We must combat tyranny and defend freedom. Our allies are counting on us. Our enemies are watching.” We’ve heard all this before.

They have good reason, of course, to avoid detailed descriptions of their policy plans. A candidate’s message is crafted to maximize fundraising and vote counts, not to enlighten the public, and foreign policy is the area where candidates are most likely to go light on substance. Even in an uncertain world, the American voter cares much more about hot-button domestic issues like health care, immigration, tax policy, entitlement reform, gay marriage and gun rights than they do about Syria, Ukraine, trans-Atlantic relations, or China.

More importantly, the United States has been a superpower so long that many voters appear to think that successful foreign policy is mainly a test of toughness and will. They don’t see the need to make tough choices—or why those choices will matter so much for the lives and livelihoods of their children and grandchildren.

We’ll hear more about America’s role in the world in 2016, in part because Hillary Clinton served as President Obama’s secretary of state. That encourages Republicans to talk about foreign policy issues that voters would otherwise prefer to ignore. And that’s a good thing, because we need to talk more about foreign policy—and with a new sense of urgency. The next president will make crucial decisions in an increasingly complicated world—and without reliable public support for plans that demand a long-term U.S. commitment.

In my book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, I put forward three possible paths for the future of U.S. foreign policy:

  • Indispensable America: No other nation can provide the leadership that the world desperately needs
  • Moneyball America: We can’t do everything, but we must defend U.S. political and economic interests where they’re most threatened.
  • Independent America: We must rid ourselves of international burdens and focus on improving the country from within.

To help voters think about the top candidates and where they fit in on foreign policy, consider the following:

 

Jeb Bush: Indispensable America

Everywhere you look, you see the world slipping out of control,” warned former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in February 2015. This was not the first time he has argued that America must lead to set things right. “America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world…Our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places. We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace, and human freedom. Nothing and no one can replace strong American leadership… …If we withdraw from the defense of liberty anywhere, the battle eventually comes to us.

This emphatic and unapologetic appeal to defend liberty anywhere it’s threatened comes from a candidate who has coined the term “liberty diplomacy” to describe his foreign policy aspirations. He has called for arms for Ukraine’s government and an aggressive approach against ISIS: “We have to develop a strategy that’s global, that takes them out. Restrain them, tightening the noose and then taking them out is the strategy. No talking about this. That just doesn’t work for terrorism.” While Rand Paul and Ted Cruz often speak to the Libertarian leanings of younger Republican voters with assertions of Constitutional limits on executive power, Bush, who has never served as a legislator, offers a more traditional Republican appeal for strong presidential leadership for a more forceful American role in the world.

 

Hillary Clinton: Edging from Moneyball to Indispensable America

As President Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton offered a Moneyball-inspired vision of America’s future, one that set aside risks in favor of opportunities, emphasized economic rather than military power, and focused on political and economic inroads in East Asia rather than a global assertion of American values. She firmly rejected an Independent America approach: “There are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities. These impulses are understandable, but they are misguided. Those who say that we can no longer afford to engage with the world have it exactly backward — we cannot afford not to.”

She was a forceful advocate of “economic statecraft” which she described like this: “first, updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account; second, turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; third, stepping up commercial diplomacy — what I like to call jobs diplomacy — to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, and level the playing field for our businesses; and fourth, building the diplomatic capacity to execute this ambitious agenda. In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics.” To promote a “pivot to Asia,” she said that “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.” She argued that “A focus on promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic openness in the Asia-Pacific. The region already generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade.” She favored a pragmatic “reset” of relations with Putin’s Russia.

But in anticipation of the 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton’s rhetoric has become more universalist and more ambitious. In her book Hard Choices, she wrote that “To succeed in the 21st century, we need to integrate the traditional tools of foreign policy–diplomacy, development assistance, and military force–while also tapping the energy and ideas of the private sector and empowering citizens, especially the activists, organizers, and problem solvers we call civil society, to meet their own challenges and shape their own futures. We have to use all of America’s strengths to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries, more shared responsibility and fewer conflicts, more good jobs and less poverty, more broadly based prosperity with less damage to our environment.” Voters are left to wonder whether a President Hillary Clinton would pursue a shrewd, targeted foreign policy or one built atop a foundation of comprehensive global leadership.

 

Ted Cruz: Marching from Moneyball toward Indispensable America

Before he began to hone his message for a presidential campaign, Texas Senator Ted Cruz was an articulate advocate of a Moneyball foreign policy. In 2013, he opposed action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. “Assad’s actions, however deplorable, are not a direct threat to U.S. national security. Many bad actors on the world stage have, tragically, oppressed and killed their citizens, even using chemical weapons to do so. Unilaterally avenging humanitarian disaster, however, is well outside the traditional scope of U.S. military action….it is not the job of U.S. troops to police international norms or to send messages…U.S. military force should always advance our national security.

It’s hard to imagine a more forceful articulation of Moneyball foreign policy. Yet he added that “No other country is capable of putting together a coalition of like-minded nations and leading the fight against tyranny.” Political rhetoric aside, advocates of Moneyball America don’t call for a fight against “tyranny.”

Yet, as campaign season approached, the rhetoric began moving toward an Indispensable approach: “I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.Or this: “One of the things [US] Ambassador [to the United Nations Susan] Rice said that was absolutely correct is that America is the indispensable leader. But what our allies are expressing over and over again is that leadership is missing… When America’s weak, when the American President is weak, it leaves our friends and allies vulnerable.” That statement and others like it leave him squarely in the Indispensable camp, where he will likely remain throughout the 2016 campaign.

 

Rand Paul: Caught between Independent and Moneyball America

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul offers a complex foreign policy vision, one poised uneasily between the Independent America approach his father advanced in past election campaigns and the Moneyball viewpoint more common within the mainstream of the Republican Party. In 2013, he wrote that, “America’s national security mandate shouldn’t be one that reflects isolationism, but instead one that is not rash or reckless, a foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease.” That’s an excellent articulation of Moneyball foreign policy.

One sentence later, he moves squarely into Independent America territory: “This balance should heed the advice of America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, who advised, ‘America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.’” Anyone who supports Independent America will find truth in this statement: “We should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow become successful abroad.” Or this: “We cannot continue to try to bully allies or pay off our enemies. So many of the countries we send aid to dislike us…and openly tell the world they will side with our enemies.

Paul has, however, supported airstrikes against ISIS and a get-tough approach on Iran, a country he once said was “not a threat. Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline.” Senator Paul often appears uncomfortable with a full embrace of Independent America, but no candidate in the race offers a more forceful defense of this approach on individual questions of policy and principle.

 

Marco Rubio: Indispensable America

Ironically Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate who often demonstrates an ability to connect with younger voters, appears to have fully embraced the Indispensable America point of view favored by his party’s establishment and so many older Americans. Consider these three statements. On the Middle East: I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of [our] lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.On the needs of America’s economy: We’re 4 to 5 percent of the world’s population. So for us to grow our economy robustly and provide more economic opportunity to more people, we need to have millions of people around the world that can afford to trade with us, that can afford to buy our products and our services. On relations with non-democracies like Iran, China, and North Korea, Rubio has said that “There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the threat of totalitarianism.” For those who favor an Indispensable America, Marco Rubio is a compelling choice.

 

Scott Walker: Incoherent America

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker belongs in the Incoherent file. At times, he talks as if he might embrace the Indispensable. On ISIS, he has said, “We need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorists in and around the world….We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes…. When you have the lives of Americans at stake and our freedom-loving allies anywhere in the world, we have to be prepared to do things that don’t allow those attacks, those abuses to come to our shores.” During a trip to Britain, Walker answered a question on sending weapons to Ukraine’s government by insisting, “I have an opinion on that … but I just don’t think you talk about foreign policy when you’re on foreign soil.”

Walker has said he would scrap any deal President Obama signs with Iran’s nuclear negotiators, even over the objections of America’s closest allies: “If I’m honored to be elected by the people of this country, I will pull back on that on January 20, 2017, because the last thing — not just for the region but for this world — we need is a nuclear-armed Iran.” Maybe it’s just that candidate Walker is simply a political opportunist. Every candidate is guilty of that. Or maybe he has an unrealistic view of what’s possible. In response to a question about his ability to handle ISIS, Walker once claimed that “If I can take on 100,000 protesters [in Wisconsin], I can do the same across the world.” Let’s hope his worldview has since deepened.

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:

 

TIME Foreign Policy

What’s Wrong With U.S. Foreign Policy?

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks on technology on March 18, 2015 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks on technology on March 18, 2015 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

Identifying the major challenges as America navigates a new world

In this week’s issue — and at greater length in his new book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World — TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift that has afflicted U.S. foreign policy, and the desperate need for a new direction. Bremmer has a few ideas himself, but he also reached out to major figures in international business and government to ask them to complete this sentence:

The biggest problem in American foreign policy today is …

“The growing trend toward isolationism given seemingly endless frustrations with the world.” —Admiral James G. Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

“Maintaining domestic support for American underwriting of an open global system.” —Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary

“[That] we focus on states but need a strategy for people too.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation

“[That] we have substituted comprehensive foreign policy with reactive, improvisational tactics.” —Greg Brown, CEO of Motorola

“[There is] no national alignment, and a leadership vacuum on where we’re going and how to get there.” —Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

“Our inability to develop a bipartisan national strategy and stick with it.” —Jon Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China

“Short-term partisanship and a lack of long-term strategy.” —Joseph Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

“[That] American politics can’t resolve what global power America should be.” —Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia

“That it seems to be stuck between self-doubt and stupidity.” —Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times

“A world in which disruptive non-state actors are as prominent as nation states.” —Mohamed el-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz

“The absence of policy consensus coupled with domestic political dysfunction.” —Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations

“A bipartisanship deficit, obscuring national strengths and undermining global leadership.” —William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“The lack of prioritization and dedication.” —Javier Solana, former Spanish Foreign Minister

“Our failure to understand how quickly order collapses into chaos.” —Robert Kagan, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

“Believing that there is a U.S.-imposed solution to every problem.” —P. Chidambaram, former Indian Finance Minister

“Reallocating resources [and] leadership from 20th century legacies to address today’s realities.” —Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey

“[That] no one totals the immense costs in lives and money accurately.” —Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google

“Finding unifying, organizing principles for dealing with a diverse, multipolar world.” —Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator

“Domestic politics/system which impedes development/execution of coherent strategy.” —K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

“To help reduce geopolitical risks in a period of growing uncertainty and danger in the world system.” —Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil

TIME Innovation

How the U.S. Foreign Service Lacks Diversity

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Two top diplomats have a message about America’s foreign service: It’s “too white.”

By Thomas R. Pickering and Edward J. Perkins in the Washington Post

2. Can we ‘test’ strategies against poverty like we test new medicines?

By Michaeleen Doucleff in Goats and Soda by NPR

3. Here’s why the fall of one town to ISIS might push Iraq toward total sectarian war.

By Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker

4. When HIV patients drop out of care, they die. Kenya found a way to prevent that.

By the University of California San Francisco

5. We can end the illegal sex trade.

By Jimmy Carter and Swanee Hunt in Politico

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie to Call For Larger Military, Defend Intelligence Collection

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Olivier Douliery—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He'll call for more warships and military planes in a speech Monday

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will call for an expanded military and defend American intelligence programs Monday in a speech laying out his foreign policy vision in New Hampshire.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate is set to criticize the emerging Iran nuclear agreement as well as President Obama’s handling of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to prepared remarks released by his political action committee.

“With Iran, the President’s eagerness for a deal on their nuclear program has him ready to accept a bad deal,” Christie will say.

Christie will issue a full-throated defense of American spying efforts, seeking to draw contrast with more dovish members of his own party, as well as many Democrats, who have unified against the National Security Agency since the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.

“They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids,” Christie will say. “They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of the Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.”

“Let me be clear: all these fears are baloney,” Christie will add. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy. And we shouldn’t listen to people like Edward Snowden, a criminal who hurt our country and now enjoys the hospitality of President Putin—while sending us messages about the dangers of authoritarian government.”

Christie will also propose an expansion of federal defense spending, including a repeal of the mandatory budgetary caps known as sequestration.

“The Army and Marines should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 strength, and our active duty forces should be at 500,000 Army soldiers and 185,000 Marines,” he will say, drumming the call of the nation’s defense hawks. “Our Navy should have more ships,” adding the Navy needs at least 350 vessels. The Air Force, Christie will say, should have 2,000 combat aircraft and a total strength of 6,000 aircraft.

Christie’s call for an expanded military mirrors the plans of other Republicans, even the more dovish Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who earlier this year called for an expansion of the military budget.

Read more: Rand Paul Proposes Boosting Defense Spending

Christie has seen his path to the presidency narrow amid a troubled fiscal situation in his state and the continued fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge by former aides in 2013. Monday’s remarks are the third in a series of addresses designed to restart his presidential efforts, as he prepares to make his candidacy official in the coming months.

Casting himself as a decisive leader in contrast to Obama, whom he says has not defined a strategy for America in the world, Christie will argue that the current administration is alienating American allies. One piece of evidence he’ll cite: Last week, Obama was set to host Gulf leaders, but several, including Saudi King Salman, pulled out in an apparent snub to the White House.

“The price of inaction is steadily rising,” he will say. “Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi king, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David. Our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them.”

Christie will call for the linkage between the sanctions on Iran stemming from its nuclear program to that country’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East, including its support for Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Such suggestions have been rejected by the Obama Administration as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal.

TIME Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Dismisses Pope Francis’ Views on Cuba, Israel

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Running for President, Leading a Global Faith Have Different Goals

During a Q&A on foreign policy Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio took a shot at an unlikely public figure: Pope Francis.

After delivering a meaty speech outlining his hawkish foreign policy priorities at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Florida Republican criticized the 78-year-old pontiff’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Cuban standoff.

“His desire is peace and prosperity, he wants everyone to be better off. He’s not a political figure,” Rubio said. “Anything he can do to open up more opportunities for them, he’s going to pursue.”

Rubio contrasted that with his own approach.

“My interest as an elected official is the national security of the United States and embedded in that is the belief that it is not good for our people—or the people of Cuba—for an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores,” he said.

And asked about the Vatican’s support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio said the United States must stand with its ally Israel.

“It is the only free enterprise, democratic, pro-American country in the Middle East. If we had more free enterprise, pro-American democracies in the Middle East, my speech would be a lot shorter,” Rubio said.

Asked about his earlier support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio was dour: “I don’t think the conditions exist for that today.”

It won’t be the last time Pope Francis plays a role in U.S. presidential politics. He’s set to visit Philadelphia in September of 2015, as the presidential race gets even more heated.

Read more: The Possible Presidential Candidate Who Agrees the Most with Pope Francis

TIME Foreign Policy

The Republicans’ Iraq Trap

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.
Ricardo Arduengo—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.

Jeb Bush still doesn’t know how to talk about Iraq.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate’s strategy for handling his trickiest political inheritance has swung wildly in recent days, earning criticism from both sides of the aisle.

On Saturday the former Florida governor appeared to say he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq even if he knew weapons of mass destruction weren’t present. By Tuesday, Bush was backpedaling, claiming he “misheard” the question. And by Wednesday he was punting, arguing against answering “hypothetical” questions about a war that claimed 4,491 U.S. lives.

No candidate this year is haunted by that conflict like Bush, who must weigh political and familial considerations. But he’s not alone in his struggles. In a campaign dominated so far by foreign policy themes, GOP presidential hopefuls are increasingly torn between the need to project toughness and the need to acknowledge what many voters see as the defining error of the last Republican commander-in-chief.

It’s a balancing act driven by the demands of the electorate. Years of surveys show the American public’s rejection of a war launched on faulty intelligence: a 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, found 71% of voters thought the war “wasn’t worth it,” compared to just 22% who thought it was. At the same time, the tumult rippling across the Middle East—from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) to the unrest in war-torn nations like Libya, Syria and Yemen—has rejuvenated the nation’s hawkish impulses. A succession of polls this year suggest most Americans support sending ground troops to fight ISIS.

As a result, GOP candidates have embraced anew a muscular foreign policy that had atrophied for much of the Obama presidency. Promises to calm the chaos of the Middle East have dominated early candidate cattle calls, while tough talk on Iran has taken the place of Obamacare as a stump speech fixture. Even Sen. Rand Paul, who advocates a restrained foreign policy as part of the party’s more isolationist wing, introduced an amendment to significantly boost the defense budget. After announcing his presidential bid in April, the Kentuckian posed in front of a retired aircraft carrier in the port of Charleston to repeat his call. On a recent trip to South Carolina, Sen. Marco Rubio invoked Liam Neeson’s avenging promise from the movie Taken: “We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”

The bellicosity is one element of a broader strategy that includes also blaming President Obama for the mess in the Middle East and tethering Bush to his older brother. “If we knew then what we know now and I were the president of the United States, I wouldn’t have gone to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN. Paul told the Associated Press that Bush’s comments represent “a real problem if he can’t articulate what he would have done differently.”

“Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq,” Sen. Ted Cruz told The Hill.

Rubio went even further in an interview Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it. He said so,” he said.

Turning Iraq into a centerpiece of the campaign is fraught with risk for Republicans, who have wrestled with the demons of a misbegotten war for a decade now. In 2004, the GOP made support for the conflict into a proxy for patriotism and rode the decision to victory in the presidential election. But by 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress amid the persistent casualties and growing sectarian violence sweeping Iraq.

Two years later, Obama’s early opposition to the war helped vault him past Hillary Clinton in their epic primary contest. He then used Sen. John McCain’s outspokenness for the war against him, mocking McCain’s suggestion that there might be an American presence in Iraq for 100 years. In 2012 Obama won re-election while highlighting his commitment to end the war.

But as the stability of Iraq crumbled in the wake of Obama’s troop withdrawal, Republicans sensed they could regain the upper hand. GOP candidates have criticized Obama for not leaving a larger security force in place to support the Iraqi government. Party strategists believe the path to the presidency hinges in part on an ability to disavow George W. Bush’s mistakes while blaming Obama for making the mess much worse.

Recognizing it won’t be easy, some of the party’s presidential contenders are treading lightly. In a speech laying out his foreign policy vision Wednesday, Rubio only briefly alluded to Iraq, implying that Obama’s troop drawdown was too swift and invoking “Afghans worried that America will leave them like we left Iraq.”

The delicate balancing act is sharply different from the strategy employed by the likely Democratic nominee. After years of standing by her vote to authorize the war, Clinton wrote in her 2014 memoir that she “got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

It was a reflection of how the politics of the issue had shifted—and may be shifting still.

TIME global trade

Did Senate Democrats Just Kill Obama’s Free Trade Deal?

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.

In his years-long effort to advance a massive new trade deal, President Obama weathered a major setback Tuesday from an unlikely source: his fellow Democrats.

While Senate Republicans largely rallied around a vote to consider the so-called fast-track trade bill, which would strengthen Obama’s authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all but one Senate Democrat voted to block it.

The fast-track bill would limit Congress’s ability to amend future trade pacts and is widely considered a vital first step on the path to ratifying the partnership, the biggest free trade deal of all time and a legacy-defining priority for the Obama Administration.

Whether Tuesday’s setback is permanent is now the big question.

Shortly after the vote, a half-dozen liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO, Democracy For America and Greenpeace, which have vehemently opposed both fast track and the trade deal, celebrated Tuesday’s blocked vote as a major victory. “We appreciate those senators who stood with working people today against a bill that would have led to undemocratic trade deals that lower wages and eliminate jobs,” crowed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “This vote sends a message loud and clear.”

But whether the vote actually forebodes the end of the fast track—and the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership more broadly—is actually not clear at all.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder and president of the New Democrat Network and a supporter of free trade, explained the day’s drama as simply an effort by Senate Democrats, many of whom have every intention to eventually vote in favor of fast-track, to sweeten the pot a bit in the meantime. “What Democrats are saying is, if you want our votes, we need more than what we have now,” he said.

What exactly Senate Democrats hope to get out of this maneuver—and whether their power play will work—will likely be hashed out in negotiations in coming weeks.

Pro-trade Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who coauthored the fast track bill, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who also supports giving the president fast track authority, have not been shy in their demands. Both said they would not vote to advance the fast track until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to include in the package three other trade measures, including one that would crack down on currency manipulation, one that would aid U.S. workers harmed by a new free trade deal and another that would strengthen the government’s ability to crack down on violations of the trade deal.

There is apparently room for negotiation. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in favor of the fast track and the free trade deal, but said he withheld his support until a measure on currency manipulation was included, told the New York Times that he might be willing to drop that demand. By Tuesday evening, McConnell was already wheeling and dealing, telling reporters that he had already repackaged the fast track bill with the measure helping U.S. workers, and said that Democrats could add other measures as amendments.

But Bhaskar Chakravorti, the founding executive director of Tufts University’s Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, warned that it’s not that simple. New measures can’t simply be added overnight to the draft trade deal, which currently encompasses the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Chile and would govern 40% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. U.S. negotiators will have to take each change back into multiple rounds of discussion with all 11 partner countries, all of which are at different stages of development and have different things to gain from the pact, Chakravorti said.

One of the stickiest wickets, experts say, might be a measure restricting currency manipulation. Japan has said explicitly that it will not join a free trade deal that includes such restrictions.

But, Chakravorti added, the Democratic Senators’ public mutiny against their own president could also help U.S. negotiators in the long run. “Preventing the fast track is already sending a signal to the negotiators on the other side of the table [in foreign countries] to offer certain protections for certain type of jobs,” he added. “It was meant to send a signal and I’m sure that signal is being heard.”

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