Potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016 have all endorsed a more robust defense budget in recent days in a hawkish turn for the party, but differences still linger on how to address some world crises.
Prospective candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R., La.) spoke at a Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) forum on Wednesday, while Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) discussed national security issues at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council’s meeting on Tuesday. All three backed increases in defense spending amid steep budget cuts, effectively endorsing the GOP’s role as the party of national defense. Some members had flirted with targeting the Pentagon to trim budget deficits after election victories in 2010.
Cruz said the defense cuts known as sequestration are "having a serious, deleterious effect on our ability to defend our nation," though he noted that the Pentagon’s budget is "not immune from congressional pork." Even Paul, who had previously expressed a desire to reduce defense spending and has generally advocated for a more noninterventionist foreign policy, said he would support a larger defense budget if cuts could be found elsewhere.
Jindal released a paper in October with former Sen. Jim Talent (R., Mo.) where he called for anchoring the U.S. defense budget at 4 percent of GDP. U.S. defense spending fell below that mark in 2013 for the first time in recent years.
Jindal told reporters on the sidelines of the FPI forum that the United States is "in the process of hollowing out our military."
"The best way for America to lead … is for America to rebuild our tools of hard power," he said. "I think we are less likely to deploy our armed forces if we are actually prepared."
Jindal frequently invoked former President Ronald Reagan’s mantra of "peace through strength" as a means of deterring adversaries globally. However, he appeared less willing to outline his own doctrine as he declared support for increasing sanctions on Iran and arming Ukrainian forces for their fight against pro-Russian rebels.
Jindal said that while the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group is the "short-term danger" in Iraq and Syria, the United States "shouldn’t be deterred from our longer term goal of removing [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad." Allies and Syrian rebel groups have criticized the United States for focusing on IS and not doing more to replace Assad, an authoritarian leader who has overseen more than 200,000 deaths in his country’s civil war.
"It’s been hard for us to have some of our usual allies work more closely with us because they’re unsure of our long-term plans in the region," he said.
"In some ways it almost feels to some of our allies, especially Turkey, that we look like we’re trying to be halfway pregnant."
Jindal’s stance on Syria and Assad puts him more in line with GOP hawks such as Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), as well as Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), another potential 2016 candidate.
Jindal did issue a word of caution about removing dictators without a adequate follow-on planning, arguing that "sometimes we make the mistake that simply having an election equates into a functioning democracy."
In another speech on Tuesday, Cruz appeared to be more skeptical of the notion that a long-term U.S. engagement in the Middle East can install more stable governments.
"We should go in with overwhelming force, and then we should get the heck out," he said. "It is not the job of our military to produce democratic utopias across the world."