New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is no shrinking violet – and that’s true when it comes to foreign policy, too.
The likely Republican presidential candidate, on a campaign trip to New Hampshire on Monday, delivered a speech on America’s role in the world including an aggressive defense of America’s controversial spying program and calls for an expanded U.S. military presence overseas.
Christie also used the 45-minute address to go after President Obama, accusing him of being too eager to “accept a bad deal” with Iran over the country’s nuclear program and argued that the terrorist group known as ISIS has been able to flourish while the commander-in-chief failed to act decisively.
Christie’s address in the first in the nation primary state came as he finds himself towards the back of the pack of the emerging GOP field -- and just weeks after federal prosecutors brought charges against three of his former allies in the scandal known as “Bridgegate.” Still, Christie is forging ahead, holding town hall meetings in New Hampshire and delivering several policy speeches there. Among other things, he has called for an overhaul of the nation's entitlement programs and a five-point plan to encourage economic growth. He’s pitching himself as one of the few would-be candidates offering specific policy proposals.
Over the weekend, Christie was noticeably absent in Iowa, where 11 GOP White House hopefuls spoke to party activists with a big focus on foreign policy. Several of those vehemently criticized Obama over negotiations with Iran and his handling of ISIS. A spokesperson for Christie's political action committee said Christie was not at the Iowa event because he had a conflicting commitment with the Republican Governors Association.
In New Hampshire, Christie tried to distinguish himself on the issue of the federal government’s controversial intelligence collection policy.
“When [National Security Agency contractor] Edward Snowden revealed our intelligence secrets to the world in 2013, civil liberties extremists seized that moment to advance their very own narrow agenda,” Christie said.. “They want you to think that there’s a government agent listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of 'The Bourne Identity' or some other Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.
"Let me be clear – all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous,” he added, arguing such programs are vital to fight terrorism. Christie also called on Congress to pass a clean extension of the controversial Patriot Act.
If no action is taken by the end of May, some provisions of the act will expire – including the ability to conduct roving wiretaps, business record searches and gathering information on individuals who are suspected of terrorist activity but aren’t necessarily affiliated with a particular group. The governor pointed to his prior experience as a U.S. Attorney and how in New Jersey he used the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. "We use information to save lives, and that's why intelligence matters," he said.
Similarly, during a trip earlier this month in New Hampshire, Christie said he disagreed with a recent federal appeals court ruling that the government’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal.
It’s an issue that has divided Republicans. Libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky hailed the court decision as “monumental” for “all lovers of liberty.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said the ruling confirmed what many Americans already know—that the NSA “went too far in collecting the phone records.” Others, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have been more in line with Christie. Rubio recently said on the Senate floor that a perception has been created that “the United States government is listening to your phone calls or going through your bills as a matter of course. That is absolutely and categorically false.”
Christie on Monday also proposed beefing up America’s military presence. Specifics included not reducing the Army and Marines to their pre-9/11 levels, having at least 350 ships in the Navy instead of the likely 260, and building up to 2,500 combat aircrafts for the Air Force for a total force of 6,000.
On the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, Christie said the existing framework “seems flimsy, and I have grave concerns over how we’re going to make Iranians live up to their end of the bargain...” He also pointed to ISIS’ weekend takeover of Ramadi in Iraq and said, “In August the president announced a campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS. But right now they seem to be getting stronger every day.”
Christie—who has been criticized for not having much foreign policy experience, along with several other GOP governors – has recently gone after potential Republican competition, especially former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on the issue. Last month, he told conservative radio host that Bush’s thoughts on foreign policy have been “rather general” and that he “didn’t’ really give a great insight into what he wanted to do.” And as Bush stumbled on questions last week over whether he would have gone to war in Iraq in 2003, Christie said definitively that if he were in that situation, “I wouldn’t have gone to war.”
The governor, who planned to hold a town hall meeting in Hudson, N.H. Monday afternoon, has said he’ll make a decision on whether or not he’ll run for president sometime this month or next.