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“Most Simplistic And Mindless Solutions Imaginable”: Breaking; GOP Candidates Admit American Military Force Has Its Limits

Amid the competition in last night’s debate to see which candidate could make Americans more terrified that we’re all going to be killed by terrorists any day now, an actual substantive policy difference emerged on national security. While none of the candidates took positions they hadn’t taken before, it was the clearest explication of what actually is a real division within the Republican Party on foreign policy.

Though we sometimes think of the GOP as divided between Rand Paul on one side and everybody else on the other — one lone candidate skeptical of foreign interventionism up against a bunch of unreconstructed hawks — the truth is more complicated. And as we saw last night, the candidates currently in first place (Donald Trump) and second place (Ted Cruz) in the race represent a foreign policy vision that acknowledges that American power has its limits. That’s a stark contrast with their opponents, who essentially believe in George W. Bush’s vision, which says that American military power can solve nearly any problem and plant the seeds of democracy anywhere.

There are reasons not to give too much credit to Cruz and Trump, which I’ll get to in a moment. But their beliefs on the fundamental question of the limits of American power, particularly in the Middle East, were clearly laid out last night. Here’s part of what Cruz had to say:

So let’s go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama led NATO in toppling the government in Libya. They did it because they wanted to promote democracy. A number of Republicans supported them. The result of that — and we were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over. Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.

Move over to Egypt. Once again, the Obama administration, encouraged by Republicans, toppled Mubarak who had been a reliable ally of the United States, of Israel, and in its place, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came in, a terrorist organization.

And we need to learn from history. These same leaders — Obama, Clinton, and far too many Republicans — want to topple Assad. Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

And if we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And the approach, instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter, we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.

We didn’t actually topple Mubarak and we didn’t exactly topple Gadhafi, but in any case, Cruz is articulating a realist foreign policy vision here: We should focus on direct threats to American national security and not try to impose democracy, because overthrowing dictators creates volatile situations in which the outcome can be even worse than what came before. This is a direct contradiction to George W. Bush’s expansive vision in which the right invasion or two would spread democracy across the Middle East in a glorious flowering of freedom. (And yes, we should acknowledge that this vision was always selective — nobody proposed overthrowing the government of Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive dictatorships on earth).

After Cruz’s statement, Marco Rubio and John Kasich chimed in to argue that we actually should overthrow Assad, then Donald Trump came back with a statement that could have come from Bernie Sanders:

In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.

It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.

The typical telling of the Iraq story Republicans offer is that everything was going great until Barack Obama came in and screwed it all up. But here, Trump isn’t even bothering with that — he’s saying that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a bad idea from the start and had all kinds of negative unintended consequences.

It’s important to understand that Trump and Cruz aren’t doves. In fact, they have wedded this skepticism toward nation-building with the most belligerent attitude toward the Islamic State. Trump says he wants to “bomb the s— out of them,” while Cruz proposes to “carpet-bomb” them. So on the one hand they have a broader approach that seems grounded in history, while on the other they’re offering the most simplistic (you might even say mindless) solution imaginable to the immediate problem of the Islamic State.

For many of the other candidates, it’s precisely the reverse. Against all evidence, they still talk as though American power is essentially limitless and there are no unintended consequences we need to concern ourselves with when we do something like inject ourselves into a civil war in the Middle East. Yet on the Islamic State, they try to sound like they have a nuanced plan that’s built on an understanding of the complexities of the situation. Marco Rubio’s Islamic State plan might be wrong in all its particulars, but at least it has particulars, meant to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about. (You may have noticed that Rubio spends a lot of time trying to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about.) The same could be said of Jeb Bush.

As last night’s fear-fest made clear, the candidates know that their electorate is on edge and looking for a strong leader who will make them feel like the threats they perceive around them are being confronted. Trump and Cruz are offering instant gratification in the form of a glorious bombing campaign against the Islamic State, combined with a more careful approach over the longer term that would seek to avoid quagmires in places where, as Cruz likes to say about Syria, “We don’t have a dog in that fight.” The question is whether that’s appealing to a significant portion of the Republican electorate. We don’t yet know the answer, but eventually we’ll find out.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 16, 2015

December 18, 2015 - Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , ,

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