It's officially summer, and the GOP presidential campaign is heating up. Tim Pawlenty is planning more stumping in Iowa, Michele Bachmann has now officially entered the race, and multiple potential candidates are waiting in the wings -- preparing to enter the fray if the leading contenders stumble. And though all the pundits have proclaimed that this election will be dominated by talk of the economy and jobs, there has been a surprising amount of foreign-policy chatter in the first few months -- even though the major Republican candidates are still forming their brain trusts and their foreign-policy identities.
So who's whispering in the ear of the front-runners? Who's advising them of the sound position to take for an electorate both war weary and yet concerned about national security? Of the four main candidates right now, only Jon Huntsman can creditably claim to be a foreign-policy expert -- and he's looking like a realist. Mitt Romney is trying to balance his talk of renewed American primacy with his realization that the country is both tired of unlimited interventions and cash-strapped. Pawlenty is staking out his ground as a hawk but doesn't want to be tagged with the neoconservative label. Bachmann is also sounding a hawkish note, taking the mantle from Sarah Palin in pushing the Tea Party's isolationist impulses toward an aggressive national security agenda.
Complicating the candidates' mission, the Republican Party has been deeply split or at least seriously confused about its national security identity in recent weeks. There's no consensus on how to proceed in Afghanistan, other than to say that politics should not trump national security considerations. There's no agreement on what to do in Libya, other than to blame President Barack Obama for mishandling the situation there. GOP leadership is contemplating supporting defense budget cuts, to the chagrin of the party's military hawks.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Republican and conservative foreign-policy professionals and think-tankers in Washington have yet to pick a horse. "What's really struck me is how everybody has stayed away from being identified with a particular candidate," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute. "Four years ago at this time, everybody was lined up in one place or the other. Now, everybody is certainly providing counsel to lots of the candidates, but people aren't climbing into bed with anyone."
That may be true, but the candidates are quietly getting their ducks in a row, consulting a wide range of experts, and lining up Washington's foreign-policy elite. And, with a bit of digging, we found some surprises. So, at slight risk of jumping in a bit early, here's Foreign Policy's look at who's on board with the front-runners and what it might mean for Campaign 2012.
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