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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

This time, 'It's foreign policy, stupid'

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, left, Mitt Romney,

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, left, Mitt Romney, center, and Newt Gingrich, answer questions at the CBS News/National Journal foreign policy debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena in Spartanburg, S.C. (Nov. 12, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

What a mess.

Just look at a world map today. It calls for Xanax, Excedrin, and maybe some Ritalin, too.

The jigsaw pieces that make up the globe all seem to be in motion at once, pushing up against one another like tectonic plates beneath earthquake zones. From the proxy war breaking out in Yemen between 10 Arab nations and soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, to Vladimir Putin's unceasing machinations, to Japan justifiably flexing its muscles at China with the launch this week of a large aircraft carrier -- the first since her 1945 surrender on the USS Missouri -- the world is drifting into dangerous waters.

Israel is more isolated than at any time in its history, with the U.S. administration and the leader of the Jewish state openly hostile to one another. And terror networks are spreading instead of receding, as both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama told us they were just a few years ago. Meanwhile, after 12 years of war in Afghanistan and one of the most anemic post-recession growth period in its history, Americans have little appetite for foreign interventions. The general attitude is that we have enough problems here at home.

This is the stage onto which the 2016 candidates for president are stepping, and they had better be ready for it.

A generation ago -- my God, it really was a generation ago -- candidate Bill Clinton and his political team defeated President George H. W. Bush by reminding themselves, "It's the economy, stupid." And it was.

Bush, who had been flying high with a 92 percent approval rating following the successful 1991 Gulf War, appeared to take his eye off the ball at home, and Clinton eviscerated him for it. "It's the economy, stupid" became accepted campaign dogma for all future presidential candidates.

But a glance at the world situation today show that it's not just the economy. The world situation demands that foreign policy mastery be a prerequisite for the 2016 candidates -- whether voters want to talk foreign policy or not.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has credentials, but they may be her greatest liability. The Obama administration has proved just how badly the world can screw itself up when the leading world power equivocates in its role. It proves how dangerous it can be to elect an American president with zero foreign policy bonafides.

We need to learn from that.

Potential Republican candidates are being grilled at forums on jobs plans, toughness on immigration issues and on how fast they'd roll back Common Core and Obamacare. Great questions, but they're not enough. Each candidate needs to be thoroughly vetted on foreign policy knowledge and outlook from the outset of his or her campaign. And criticism of the Obama administration doesn't count as a policy in itself. We need to hear clear worldviews.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush laid out potential foreign policy advisers for his presidency last month. He did it even before announcing a candidacy, which shows that he understands the critical importance of world events to American interests, both foreign and domestic. Bush's team seems to be a healthy mix between the realists his father relied on and the neocons to whom his brother listened. Like them or not, at least he put them out there.

Others Republican candidates should do the same in short order, lest it look like they're only thinking about the economy, stupid.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.


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