I watched the GOP debate last night, and it was just about as bad as I expected. Having Republicans talk about national security is kind of like unleashing a salivating pack of dogs on a defenseless kitten, so it’s no surprise that most of them got ugly. The word of the evening, if we had been teleported to some opposite world, would be “restraint”, or maybe even “diplomacy”. Here’s the thing, and I will be blunt, there were only a few minutes of the entire debate that I thought even bordered on sanity. There is a great deal to address, but, for the sake of organization, I will go through the candidates one by one in the order of most foaming-at-the-mouth bat-shit insane to somewhat reasonable. Keep in mind that this is coming from a registered independent who has no love for the progressives, so you won’t hear me singing the praises of the other side of the aisle.
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor takes the cake and, judging by his likely history with cakes, the phrase is a bit of a metaphor about his approach to national security. The moment he said that he would enact and enforce a no fly zone in Syria was bad enough, but when he was asked to clarify and explained that yes he would shoot down Russian jets, I groaned audibly. That is insane. First of all, Russia has been invited into Syria and is thusly abiding by international law. For us to override that by declaring a no fly zone (because we are America and always right) would be an act of aggression against a neutral power. We would be forcing Russia into a situation where they are suddenly violating an arbitrary ultimatum when they have more justification for involvement than we do. It’s the equivalent to a soccer coach declaring that the boundaries of the field have changed and a player is now out of bounds and then shooting them for good measure, just to prove that he is in charge.
Christie did his typical complaining about how the American people don’t care about legislation and that he gets results as a governor etc. I found that claim to be incredibly insulting. I DO care about legislation, and I find it shameful that we have been going hog-wild in places like Syria without a congressional declaration of war or set boundaries on what we want to accomplish. The “boring” legislative process keeps authoritarian executives from jumping into bad situations. God forbid we take some time and let tempers cool before taking lethal action in a sovereign state. Christie was a nightmare, and the day he drops out of the race cannot come soon enough.
Carly Fiorina: Carly is pretty much equivalent to Christie in my book. She is also very much in favor of a no fly zone and spilling Russian blood to prove that we are the big kid on the block. As soon as she launched into her same old list of aggressive actions against Russia, I almost shut off the debate. One of the highlights of the debate for me was when she cut in on Trump explaining that he would have preferred we spent the money from the last dozen years of failed regime changes on domestic issues and infrastructure by claiming he was using Obama’s words. Yes, his use of the phrase “roads and bridges” was similar to Obama lingo, but he was making an entirely different point. That interjection made her look very petty and completely out of touch with the issue being discussed. It was like someone claiming I support Obama because I use the phrase “My fellow Americans”. Her comments on bringing Silicon Valley into the mix to help spy on Americans also rubbed me the wrong way. God knows we just need more huge corporations and the government working together to solve all our problems.
Jeb Bush: Bush said a great deal, aside from waging a war against the Donald, and some of it struck me as very George W 2.0 and some of it struck me as, well, creepy. Early on he made the point that the FBI already has the resources to monitor “un-American activity” (God forbid he define this) and that “We shouldn’t even be talking about it . . . out in the public”. So we can be sure that Bush’s administration would be all about transparency and protecting first amendment rights.
There was more, of course. He also called for a no fly zone so that we could “embed a military force”, which sounds very open-ended and much like our disastrous involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He then made the bizarre point that we should directly arm the Kurds while working “in concert with the Arab nations”. If he thinks that we will be working with Turkey at all after directly arming the Kurds, then Bush has been living in a dream world. Overall his proposals sounding like the making of a new quagmire.
(See also from feralyawp: The Return of Bush II Foreign Policy: No Really, Its Back)
(See also from feralyawp: Still Convincing Himself: The Bush Dynasty’s Worst Leftovers)
John Kasich: I’m going to make the Kasich analysis short, since he didn’t really have much to add. He did say that we should not be directly involved in any civil wars, which I can certainly get behind, but then in nearly the same breath he claimed that we need to “Punch Russia in the nose”. It sounded childish first off, and it was nebulously framed. What exactly does punching Russia in the nose entail? Would it be worth embroiling us in a much larger conflict?
Marco Rubio: I don’t like Rubio one bit, but man is he being groomed by somebody. His answers were slick and peppered with specific information and he spoke articulately. That was not enough for me to ignore the fact that his foreign policy is essentially a carbon copy of Obama’s. He disagrees with a heavy air campaign only, and argues that we also need Special Forces on the ground to train and inform a local Sunni force who does the bulk of the fighting. This is exactly what the administration has been trying and failing to do for years. He obviously didn’t use the term “moderate rebels”, but he might as well have. This policy is what led to tens of millions being spent for only a few fighters on the ground and whole US trained militias turning their weapons and intel over to Al Qaeda. He may have put a smooth talking spin on it, but the policies are nothing new, and they have failed thus far. He is also very much for bulk data collection and bypassing encryption, making the point repeatedly that the San Bernardino shooter was an American citizen and that intelligence agencies should have been able to check all his records and messages. That made me extremely uncomfortable.
(See also from feralyawp: The Rubio Doctrine: Confusing and Conflicting, the American Way)
Ted Cruz: I’m actually quite surprised that Ted Cruz made some decent amount of sense at times. Yes he went on about carpet bombing regions of Syria, but he also clarified that he doesn’t mean wholesale grinding cities into dust. The massive air power approach is not great, but the magical moderate rebel theory hasn’t really paid off in the meantime. Cruz seemed a little lost between championing individual’s liberty and right to privacy while also demanding that government also have the power to spy on the “bad guys”, as though they all have ISIS bumper stickers or openly announce that they sympathize with jihad.
His decent point came after Wolf asked him if he thought maintaining dictators was in America’s interest. He didn’t take the bait, and I have to give him props for arguing that if the goal is national security, then we shouldn’t really care if another country is oppressive to their people or not a shining beacon of democracy. If they are willing to work for mutual interest, then that is all we need to care about. I actually agree with his point, and I found that quite surprising.
Ben Carson: Some may be surprised to find Carson so far up on this list, and his position in no way evidences any knowledge he has about security or foreign policy. Honestly, I liked Carson more than some others because he didn’t sound like a warmonger calling for bombing runs. He had his low points: essentially saying “pass” when asked who he agreed with between Cruz and Rubio, since it was obvious he had no clue what they were talking about, but I actually liked his comment about the use of the term “Ruthless”. He raised a good point about how there may be a much larger problem with our view of intervention and national security if ruthlessness is one of the qualities needed to be commander in chief. I think Carson looked alright, despite his lack of knowledge because he talked the least about bombing people, so he gets a boost for common decency.
Donald Trump: I don’t even know what to do with Donald half the time. He gets high marks for not talking about making spiteful plays of provocation at Russia just to prove who is boss, and he also gets points for focusing on immigration security. Here’s the reason why I don’t fault some of Trump’s bluster: there is no reason for us to care about what offends or inconveniences non-citizens. We are a country of laws, he is right. Once we begin inconveniencing American citizens in favor of playing best friend to the world, then we are no longer acting in self-interest. For a businessman like Trump that’s just common sense.
While it’s obvious that he doesn’t really have specific knowledge on many of these issues, I really think he is coming from a good place. His comments about how much better spent all the trillions of dollars wasted on regime change in the Middle East, which has only led to disaster and ISIS, would have been at home on domestic issues were well received. Honestly, most people are tired of being mired in foreign conflicts and wasting billions on conflicts in which we really should have no interest. Of course Trump gets marked down for his inanity about “penetrating the internet” and some of his other vagaries, but he said nothing about no fly zones or more misadventures in the sand, and that’s ok in my book.
Rand Paul: Rand doesn’t have a shot in hell at the nomination. I’m actually kind of surprised he has hung on for this long, but that does not take from the fact that he gets the double-edged sword of interventionism. I wish he would be more honest about the fact that ISIS and other national security threats exist precisely because of Hawks like Christie, Fiorina, Bush etc. Yes, regime change has unequivocally failed and made regions less secure, and the vacuums that followed in the wake of governmental collapses have given room for groups like ISIS to grow. I also liked that he pointed out the idiocy of a no fly zone, and that Russia has been invited to assist by sovereign powers. Honestly, he seemed like the only candidate who actually gave two shits about international law and the importance of keeping ourselves just as accountable as we keep others. The problem with Rand is that he gets it, but he is unwilling to be more forceful in pointing out the disastrous policy ideas of his peers, since there is such a large opposing consensus in the party. It’s a shame that Rand won’t be more forceful, and since he’s not going to get the nomination anyway, he might as well go out with a bang.
In conclusion: There was a great deal of insanity on the stage. I am constantly baffled by the insistence of air campaigns in other nations coupled with the demand that we police people here at home too. How many people would be interested in carrying out terror attacks in America if we weren’t bombing the daylights out of their home country? Do these people not see that spying on Americans would not be an actual concern or even needed if they weren’t inciting massive resentment throughout the Middle East with constant interventionism and destabilizing regime change? Nearly every single candidate claimed that we need more military spending, yet they also complained about our inability to address threats abroad. We are spending our own money to create problems, and then demanding more to ‘fix’ them. This debate made it very clear to me that there is very little common sense in the republican field, and that posturing and world-policing is far more important than any real and meaningful introspection on how we undermine our own security.