Chris Christie wants war

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave a very odd speech. The Washington Post headline says it all: “Christie calls for more aggressive foreign policy.”

“The rest of the world watches in desperation and hope that America will realize and act upon once again its indispensable place in the world,” Christie said at an awards gala. “We must lead.”

Christie also called upon the United States to be “the strongest moral power for what is good and what is right in the world.”

What, if anything, does this mean in practice? Christie gives us an idea when he describes the state of the world.

“We see Russian activism once again rearing its head in the world, we see an America that backed away from a commitment made by the president of the United States in Syria, we see a country, our country, permitting even a thought of a terrorist state like Iran having nuclear capability,” Christie remarked ominously.

“It’s unthinkable that the America that has led in the way that it has always led this world would permit that to happen,” he continued.

The “commitment” the president made in Syria was a war. Congress, which actually has the constitutional power to make this commitment for the American people, did not go along. Fortunately, President Obama did not ignore lawmakers as he did in Libya.

If we are not going to permit “even a thought” of an Iranian “nuclear capability”—not bomb—and entertaining this thought is illustrated by engaging in diplomacy rather than threatening military strikes, the policy here too seems to suggest war.

As far as Russia is concerned, is a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate advising that we throw away one of Ronald Reagan’s greatest achievements—victory in the Cold War—over Vladimir Putin’s tough guy act? Our country has faced far greater threats in Moscow.

Christie seems to be saying that the party that brought us war with Iraq and helped keep us at war too long in Afghanistan should also deliver war with Syria, Iran, and perhaps even a nuclear-armed Russia.

Of course, Christie generally doesn’t use the word “war.” He cloaks his intentions in euphemism. He frames everything as a simple choice between good and evil, leadership and cowardice.

“Yet we are sitting in a world, we are watching the vacuum that the lack of American leadership has created being filled and it is almost never filled by virtue, it is almost always filled by evil,” he says.”

This sweeping rhetoric is straight out of George W. Bush’s second inaugural address: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” Like that statement from Bush 43, it is a call for never-ending intervention around the globe.

By Christie’s logic, if we do not police the world it will be overrun by evil. Like a neighborhood besieged by crime after the patrolman’s beat is finished.

Even if our economy and military could endure three or more preventive wars at a time, we could say goodbye to the goals of balancing the budget or shrinking the federal government. No matter how much political courage Christie can summon on entitlement reform, $1 trillion wars sit uneasily alongside fiscal conservatism.

Oddly, Christie spent other parts of his speech expressing concern about all the work there is to be done at home. While other Republicans, ranging from Mitch Daniels to Jon Huntsman, have invoked such challenges to call for restraint in our actions abroad, Christie does the opposite.

“We need to stand once again loudly for these values,” he said. “And sometimes that’s going to mean standing in some very messy, difficult places. Standing long and hard for those things that we believe in.”

Again, if Christie means something other than the projection of military force overseas, he should say so. If he means war, he should be forthcoming about that too.

Scandals in New Jersey and persistent rumblings of a Jeb Bush candidacy ought to have sharpened Christie on the stump. The man is undeniably a political talent. Instead he seems to be phoning it in, allowing can-do rhetoric about leadership to act as a substitute for thought.

“We will either lead or disappoint,” Christie said in his speech. “Those are the only two choices. Unfortunately, today, in my opinion, America is disappointing. But it’s not too late.”

If the Republican Party returns to the style of leadership that nearly ruined it under Bush, that will disappoint. But it’s not too late.


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