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GOP, Cautious Of War Weariness, Takes Hard Line On Foreign Policy


Here's a trend as the 2016 presidential election nears. We are witnessing the return of the hawk. That's a common name for a person who takes tough stances on foreign policy and is willing to use force. The disasters of the Iraq War once quieted hawkish Republicans. Now they sense an opportunity. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start with the letter to Iran. It was Republican Senator Tom Cotton's idea. Here he is on CNN.


SENATOR TOM COTTON: There are nothing but hard-liners in Iran, nothing but hard-line Islamic extremists who have been killing Americans around the world for 35 years. That's why Iran cannot be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.

GONYEA: Forty-seven GOP senators put their name on the letter, which Cotton acknowledges is designed to undermine Obama administration negotiations aimed at halting Iran's nuclear weapons program. Now take these sentiments out on the campaign trail and this is what it sounds like. Here's a recent sampling.


JEB BUSH: This president is the first president, I believe, in the World War II - post-World War II era that does not believe American power is a force for good in the world.


GONYEA: That's Jeb Bush. Here's Ted Cruz.


SENATOR TED CRUZ: We defend the constitutional rights, but we also stand and lead the fight against ISIS and a nuclear Iran.


GONYEA: And Rick Perry.


RICK PERRY: We didn't start this war, nor did we choose it. But we will have the will to finish it.


GONYEA: It sounds a lot like rhetoric from the administration of George W. Bush, a former president that today's crop of Republican hopefuls, his brother Jeb Bush included, don't talk a lot about. It was because of President Bush, especially over the Iraq War, that Republicans couldn't really emphasize what's always been one of their top issues during the elections of '08 and '12. A slumping economy was dominant as well back then. Clearly that's changing now. Carroll Doherty is with the Pew Research Center.

CARROLL DOHERTY: Through much of the Obama years since the killing of Osama bin Laden, its foreign policy and terrorism have taken kind of a backseat to the struggling economy, sluggish economy.

GONYEA: Polls show worries about the threat, abroad and at home, posed by the rise of Islamic extremism rising significantly. Most of the increase has come from Republicans, and a lot of it is wrapped up in strong partisan dislike of Obama.

Meanwhile, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll says 4 out of 5 Republicans, compared to only about half of all Americans, want a candidate who supports using ground troops against ISIS. So GOP hopefuls see opportunity for political advantage by taking a hard line. And while they may sound a lot like George W. Bush, they prefer to cite an earlier and far more revered touchstone, Ronald Reagan, who delivered this speech while standing up to the Communist threat some 50 years ago.


PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer, not an easy answer, but simple - if you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.

GONYEA: Foreign policy and terrorism look to be big issues in the entire 2016 campaign. But Pew's Carroll Doherty notes that the discussion could be very different once the primaries are over. After all, despite the rise in overall support for military action against ISIS, there is still a weariness about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And it remains to be seen how much of a role that fact will play come November of next year. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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