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Chris Christie may be the biggest hawk in the 2016 field

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

This Sunday, Chris Christie made a speech that positioned him as the most hawkish potential presidential candidate in the GOP field. The New Jersey governor made an expansive case for intervention to promote American values abroad — and he said it wouldn't be easy. "We need to stand once again loudly for these values, and sometimes that is going to mean standing in some very messy, difficult places and standing strong and hard for those things that we believe in," Christie said. "And it will mean sacrifice from the people of our country."

Though no one has yet announced a presidential run, the invisible primary for the GOP nomination is proceeding apace. Candidates are staking out positions and sending signals to donors, activists, interest groups, and whichever voters happen to be paying attention this early, to indicate where they'd take the Republican Party. On foreign policy, where the GOP currently lacks a significant agenda, these signals are particularly important. Eli Lake wrote in 2011 that the GOP foreign policy discussion had "imploded," leaving "a difficult-to-parse ideological brew of policy disagreements and competing instincts. The main divide seems to be between between those advocating wide-ranging involvement overseas to promote American values and interests, and those more skeptical of such commitments — like Rand Paul, who's said, "I'd argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy."

It's long been evident that Christie would run as a hawk. Last year, he criticized Paul's anti-interventionist views, saying "This strain of libertarianism that's going through parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought." He added that Paul and others had forgotten the lessons of 9/11: "I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation ... I'm very nervous about the direction this is moving in." In response, Paul said he was trying to grow the party by "appealing to people who would like to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy."

Christie clearly has no such intentions. In Sunday's speech, with rhetoric reminiscent of President Bush's first speeches after 9/11, the governor made a moralistic case for clearly distinguishing between "good" allies and "evil" enemies. He said we needed "signals like the ones Ronald Reagan sent when he was president as to who our friends are and that we will stand with them without doubt, and to who our enemies are, who we will oppose regardless of the cost." (This last bit is a clear contrast to Paul, who who has called for a foreign policy that considers the "constraint" of "fiscal discipline.") Christie said that today, "No one understands any longer who America stands with or against. No one really understands exactly what we'll stand for — and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it." The US, he said, must be "the strongest moral power for what is good and what is right in the world."

Though Christie offered few specifics, he particularly trashed Obama's policies on Russia, Syria, and Iran. "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," he said. "Here's something that should not be up for debate, that once you draw that red line, you enforce it — because if you don't, America's credibility will be at stake and will be at risk all over the world."

No potential GOP candidate has much foreign policy experience, but in the past, Christie has argued that he fought terrorism as the US Attorney for New Jersey. He once referred to "those of us who were on the front line" after 9/11 — "the US Attorneys, the FBI, the CIA, the people who are on the front line of trying to keep this country safe." And while Christie acknowledged that most voters won't care very much about foreign policy, he correctly pointed out that the eventual presidential nominee will have wide latitude to determine the party's direction. "Foreign policy and America's role in the world is something that is often not popular to discuss in political campaigns." he said. "But I suspect that every person who has had the opportunity to lead this country recognizes fairly early on that it is that role that will define the character and the strength of their leadership."

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