Bobby Jindal's foreign policy farce: Inside a dopey pre-presidential routine

Louisiana governor is latest presidential possibility to "lay out his foreign policy vision." Hint: it's hawkish

Published October 8, 2014 6:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
(AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

There comes a time when a prospective presidential candidate -- a governor, a senator -- whose public role has largely been confined to domestic disputes has to Lay Out a Foreign Policy Vision. This is usually done in a well-marketed newspaper editorial or a speech at a think tank. We're seeing a flurry of politicians Laying Out Their Foreign Policy Visions right now, because some big foreign policy events are in the news and the myopic thinking is that 2016 will be a Foreign Policy Election. Well, probably not. People will forget about ISIS and Ukraine in short order and kitchen-table issues like "having no money" will return(?) to dominate voters' minds.

Laying Out a Foreign Policy Vision allows someone who hasn't spoken up much about foreign policy, or never knew much about it in the first place, to show off one's deep knowledge of international affairs, having been tutored by lobbyists and political consultants. To show that they've got a firm grasp of this stuff. Think of Karl Rove teaching George W. Bush all of those foreign leaders' name, and him just rattling them off one after the other. That's when America knew it could trust George W. Bush to make wise foreign policy decisions.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, now bespectacled, wizened, and ready to manage the United States government's foreign assets, laid out his foreign policy vision in an op-ed this summer. Senator Ted Cruz, of government-shutdown, anti-Obamacare fame, laid out his foreign policy vision recently and intends to run a presidential campaign centered on international affairs. And this week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal -- a looney toon who a few stray humans think could be a viable presidential candidate in 2016 -- laid out his foreign policy vision in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

The problem with these speeches, op-eds, and "positioning" opportunities on the Republican side is that all of the Laid Out Foreign Policy Visions policies are more or less the exact same: hawkish. They want to bomb people, they want to increase the military budget, Obama is weak, Hillary Clinton is weak, our enemies pounce on weakness, bomb bomb bomb, Ronald Reagan. "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argued for a stronger military defense and railed against both the president and secretary of state," MSNBC reports, "in an address that positioned the Republican as a war hawk ahead of 2016’s presidential election." You don't say?

“The Russian reset. Iraq. Afghanistan. Israel. Egypt. Iran. Libya. Europe. China. In each of these areas, it’s not just that the president took too long to come up with an answer. It’s that the answer was wrong,” Jindal said in his speech at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute on Monday. “If only he’d had the help of a wise, steady hand, a policy expert in dealing with foreign affairs, he’d have come up with better answers. But instead he just had Hillary Clinton.”

Monday’s address marks Jindal’s biggest foray into foreign policy to date and the strongest indicator yet that he’ll run for president in 2016. In an address with a coordinating policy paper, he called for a stronger military, an emphasis on American exceptionalism, and blamed the president and Clinton for world conflicts, saying that “weakness is provocative.”

("Europe" must mean Russian aggression in Ukraine. Or maybe not? Europe must burn!)

There just isn't much debate within the GOP about foreign policy, and little room for legitimately competing "visions." The latest conflagration in the Middle East has wiped out whatever argument existed between "isolationists" and "hawks"; everything's funneled hawk-ward. The only prominent GOP presidential possibility with an against-the-grain foreign policy, Rand Paul, is now on team Destroy Them All, because that's the only way he can win. And as anyone who's ever followed a GOP presidential primary process can attest, the rhetoric won't get any more dovish within the context of endless primetime debates. It will be all, "I like war more than him," "No, he's wrong, I like war more," "They're both wrong: I am the war candidate."

Instead of holding events to Lay Out Foreign Policy Visions, candidates could save reporters the time and energy by just issuing lists of which countries they intend to bomb in the first week, and we can make Venn Diagrams.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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