Kevin McCarthy

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy before speaking about foreign policy at the John Hay Initiative on Monday. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

By Karoun Demirjian
September 28, 2015 at 5:11 PM

The heir apparent for speaker of the House delivered his vision for America’s foreign policy future Monday afternoon and it boils down to this: America should be tougher.

In a speech that was heavy on references to Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) espoused the value of being “feared” as well as “respected,” and dismissed efforts to achieve peace without freedom as “meaningless,” as he outlined a force-first strategy for confronting challenges posed by Russia, the Islamic State, and Iran.

“When it comes to tyrants, dictators and terrorists, strength and the threat of force is the only language they understand,” McCarthy said at the John Hay Initiative, a group of Republican foreign policy heavyweight, mainly from the George W. Bush administration. “Peace comes through strength, not through retreat.”

Shortly afterwards, McCarthy announced his campaign to replace resigning Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) through a letter he sent to his Republican colleagues. So far, he looks like he has the inside track on the speakership.

McCarthy’s ideas are not novel – most have been percolating in Republican circles ever since the Iran deal, Ukraine crisis, and Syrian war emerged. But McCarthy’s speech reconfirmed the assumption that if he succeeds Boehner as speaker, House Republicans won’t be taking any softer a tone on President Obama’s foreign policy agenda.

McCarthy criticized the Obama administration for “failed” efforts to roll back Russia’s campaigns in Ukraine, as he advocated sending lethal aid to Ukrainian government forces fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. He also advocated stepping up sanctions against Putin, his allies, and entities like Russian oil giant Gazprom, while suggesting that the United States sell energy to European countries currently dependent on Russia.

He had familiar words of criticism for the Iran nuclear deal as well, charging that the “unconscionable” pact “does nothing to restrain Iranian-backed terror.”
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