Unfolding events in the region could help shape the fight for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 just as it did for Democrats in 2008, when
Even as Americans take an increasingly dim view of President Obama's handling of foreign policy, however, they have generally supported his positions on the Middle East. Their disapproval of his leadership style rather than his policies has further complicated Republican divisions.
Few Republicans in
Those who have spoken out don't always agree, and their debate joins similar internal Republican spats over
"What's going on now I don't blame on President Obama," he said. "Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the
Paul's views put him in direct opposition with lawmakers such as Sens.
"I predicted this fully and completely and did it time after time after time," McCain said last month.
Though McCain has not called for sending in new ground forces, he has been one of the few in his party to publicly call for a more forceful military role, including arming Syrian rebels and conducting airstrikes in Iraq. He says many Republicans support his philosophy.
"I talk with them constantly; they understand what Sen. Graham and I are pushing," he said, while acknowledging that Paul is a notable exception. "Most of them that I can see agree."
McCain was a forceful proponent of the
"Some of the presidential contenders, this is their moment," said Rep.
But Republicans may find it hard to take advantage of Obama's woes without a unified foreign policy approach of their own.
"You haven't seen a rallying of the public to the Republican alternative on foreign policy because it's not obvious what the Republican alternative is," said Christopher Preble, a defense policy analyst for the Cato Institute.
At an event last year where he offered his most extensive comments on foreign policy since becoming a senator, Texas Republican
"I consider myself somewhere in between those two poles," he said.
"We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We have to see the world the way it is. And we must address these issues before they grow unmanageable," he said.
Rubio last week called Obama's decision to send 300 advisors to Iraq "a good first step," but said U.S. involvement should ultimately include airstrikes targeting Islamic State leaders and supply lines used to transfer weapons. He also called for arming moderate Syrian rebels and further "counter-terrorism measures" in Syria as part of a broader strategy to promote regional stability.
The potential Republican fault line over Iraq has lured former Vice President
In response to Paul's public criticism over Cheney's role in Iraq, Cheney fired back by telling
Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who worked for Cheney in the
"The political genius of Dick Cheney has always been as a provocateur," he said. "He's going to play an enormous role in framing the debate in 2016."
Republicans running in 2016 would be wise to develop a clear vision, he said.
"I think national security issues are underappreciated in general in the context of how important they are and how determinative they can be in a Republican nominating contest," Schmidt said. "[The Middle East] is a caldron that is not on a trajectory to simmer down. So it is far more likely at this point that we're going to see a world-on-fire scenario in a way that makes foreign policy a top-of-mind issue for voters."