To see what difference a president makes, you need look no further than the violence raging throughout the Middle East and the lack of U.S. influence. Certainly, this was a long time in coming, the inevitable result of President Obama’s notion that the United States should retrench and leave the burden of international stabilizing to others.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq. (Militant video via Associated Press)

The next president will have his or her hands full. On a day-to-day level, changes or continuity with this president can have huge consequences.

Consider the ban on oil exports. The Post reports:

The European Union is pressing the United States to lift its longstanding ban on crude oil exports through a sweeping trade and investment deal, according to a secret document from the negotiations obtained by The Washington Post.

It’s not entirely surprising. The E.U. has made its desire for the right to import U.S. oil known since the U.S. started producing large amounts of it in the mid-2000s. It signaled again at the outset of trade negotiations, and its intentions have become even more clear since.

This time, though, the E.U. is adding another argument: Instability on its Eastern flank threatens to cut off the supply of oil and natural gas from Russia. “The current crisis in Ukraine confirms the delicate situation faced by the EU with regard to energy dependence,” reads the document, which is dated May 27.

This is a no-brainer for the United States. By opening oil sales and speeding up LNG exports, we not only help the U.S. economy and undercut Russia, we also demonstrate that we actually listen to allies. Wasn’t that one of Obama’s complaints – that his successor ignored our allies or took a high-handed approach with them? Whoever follows Obama should reverse this nonsensical and counterproductive policy. (In the meantime, someone should ask Hillary Clinton what she thinks about this.)

But the next president might also make things worse on an increasingly important policy choice: drones. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joins the far left in wanting to severely restrict the use of them to hit American jihadists in remote areas where we cannot apprehend them. The Post observes:

Travel to Syria by Americans and Europeans to fight in the civil war there has become a major concern for U.S. and European law enforcement and intelligence officials. U.S. authorities confirmed last month that a 22-year-old American from Florida, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria in late May.

“This is a global crisis in need of a global solution,” [Attorney General Eric] Holder said. “The Syrian conflict has turned that region into a cradle of violent extremism. But the world cannot simply sit back and let it become a training ground from which our nationals can return and launch attacks. And we will not.”

Holder urged other countries to pass legislation that criminalizes “preparatory acts,” laws such as the material-support statute in the United States that allows law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals in the initial planning stages of terrorist plots. France and Norway enacted similar statutes in the past two years, and Norway, whose intelligence agency estimates that 40 to 50 of its citizens have traveled to Syria, charged the first person under its law in February.

All of that is well and good, but some American jihadists will get through to Syria. Are we supposed to simply wait until they carry out plots against the homeland (or allies like Israel)? This makes zero sense and conveys the same lack of appreciation for the jihadist war in which we are engaged as Obama has displayed. Another president who envisions war against jihadists as simply another criminal justice matter could well lead to calamitous results in a world potentially with an Islamic State carved out of territory in the Middle East.

These are two relatively discrete issues but they point to the necessity of fully vetting presidential contenders on the specifics of their foreign policy. Republicans serious about running better have detailed and informed answers to all sorts of questions in addition to energy exports and drones:

  • Should Gitmo remain open to house terrorists who can’t be tried in the U.S.?
  • Should we shut down NSA surveillance programs in the absence of any evidence of abuse?
  • Should we expand NATO?
  • Should we sit by while a terrorist state forms in the Middle East?
  • Should we go to zero troops in Afghanistan no matter the conditions there?
  • Should we rebuild/expand our navy to counter China’s massive buildup?

The stakes are serious and, unless the GOP puts forth a serious candidate that voters can envision as commander in chief, Hillary Clinton (or Elizabeth Warren or whoever) is going to be calling the shots.