In Mexico, Chris Christie hopes to project foreign policy prowess

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Davenport, Iowa in July.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

Gov. Chris Christie, R-New Jersey, heads to Mexico Wednesday for a trip that is officially billed as a trade mission, but will also afford him a chance to show he can navigate the ins and outs of foreign relations.

Christie, like his fellow Republicans eyeing the 2016 presidential race, has plenty of executive experience from leading a state, but little in the way of navigating international diplomacy.

That inexperience was on display earlier this year in a meeting with Republican activists just says after Russian troops had invaded the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

"I don't believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment," Christie said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a recording obtained by the New York Times. "Let's leave it at that."

One attendee told the Times that it was "uncomfortable to watch;" another that Christie had far too much swagger and too little substance.

He illuminated his thinking further last March saying, "Foreign policy, in my view, is about human relationships," according to another recording obtained by the Times.

It's not his first slip up. Speaking to a Jewish group in May, he called the West Bank and Gaza Strip "occupied territories," angering American supporters of Israel who, like the Israeli government, don't believe the territory is occupied.

But Christie has taken steps to burnish his own knowledge, the Times reports, polishing off history books and engaging figures like former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger to learn more about policy. Robert Zoellick, the former head of the World Bank, spent three hours schooling Christie on major issues in Asia, Europe and Mexico.

Christie is hardly the only Republican to note that foreign policy may take on increased prominence in 2016. Not only are there several international crises that are unlikely to be completely resolved by the time the campaign begins in earnest, but there is also a good chance the Republican nominee will face a Democrat with years of foreign policy experience, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden.

Part of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's image rehabilitation after a disastrous presidential bid in 2012 involves beefing up his foreign policy credentials. He has weighed in on topics like the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, warning that Islamic militants may have already entered the U.S. via the Mexican border.

He has also made sure reporters know he's been receiving policy briefings on the state of the world.

"I had a rather in-depth briefing on what's going on in Kurdistan," he told a reporter at the Iowa State Fair earlier this month. Perry, like Christie, has also traveled abroad, including a visit to Israel last October and an upcoming trade mission to Japan and China next month.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for