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Potential Presidential Candidates Give Speeches On Foreign Policy

AUDIE CORNISH: The next U.S. president may well be nostalgic for the Cold War standoff which, in retrospect, looks stable compared to today's geopolitics. Three people who'd like to be the next president gave speeches today in Washington about foreign policy - Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

We thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the emerging 2016 presidential field and what role foreign-policy could play in the debate. And NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. And Mara, first, Hillary Clinton was at Georgetown talking about smart power. What does that mean? What did she have to say?

MARA LIASSON: Yes, you can't argue with smart power, can you? Well, she gave a speech to a rather small crowd. She was talking about how necessary it was to include women in foreign and defense policies. She didn't say much about her intentions for a presidential campaign, but she did have this description of the war in Syria.

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HILLARY CLINTON: Syria is now a multisided conflict - the Assad government propped up by Iran, Russia and then this proliferation of nonstate actors. It's not only now a fight against Assad. It is a fight to seize and hold territory.

LIASSON: And that's the situation that any new president would inherit. And in the 2016 campaign, if Hillary Clinton runs, she will be the stand-in for every foreign policy shortcoming - every mess that's erupted during the Obama administration. And although she didn't do this in her remarks today, Mrs. Clinton has began to carefully - very carefully put some distance between her and President Obama on some foreign policy issues. Those distinctions aren't phony or manufactured because on issues like Syria she was at one point advocating a different policy - a more hawkish policy on Syria.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned Senator Cruz and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaking about foreign policy as well at the Foreign Policy Institute - what was the Republican vision for this?

LIASSON: They didn't offer a new Republican. There was plenty of blistering criticism of the Obama foreign policy, and that is the theme that you will hear on the 2016 Republican campaign trail. Senator Cruz said this administration's foreign policy has been a manifest disaster everywhere in the world. He said this is what he hears from allies.

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SENATOR TED CRUZ: Whatever the challenge was, whether it was standing up to ISIS - whether it was standing up to Iran - whether it was standing up to Russia and Putin's aggressiveness - one after the other of our allies would say listen, if America doesn't lead, the world is a heck of a lot more dangerous.

LIASSON: And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaking at the same conference had much the same criticism.

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GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: What are Iranians learning from America's unpredictability in the world and our refusal to stand with our allies - from our failed red line in Syria and our failure to act in other parts of the world as well?

LIASSON: There is a real foreign policy debate inside the GOP between Republicans who want less intervention like Senator Rand Paul - although he's been working hard to lose the isolationist label - and those who want a more hawkish approach, a more muscular approach - Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and, as you heard today, Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz.

CORNISH: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.