This is the second GOP national security debate, from November 22.
Part one of my thoughts on the foreign policy discussion in the Republican primary is here.
4. At least Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and Huntsman know what they are talking about. If the primary was just about foreign policy, the race would narrow fast. Huntsman is obviously the only one talking as if he would run the country’s foreign policy as an institution in the real world, rather than a Rambo movie. I do wish he would get some traction. I’d love to give him a shot. Gingrich, while I do think he’s brilliant (I know, I know - most people think he’s a charlatan), has morphed into a disturbing superhawk on Iran and the faux ‘due process’ of the drone war even though I think he knows better. (Full Disclosure: I worked for the GOP in Congress during Gingrich’s Speakership.) Romney sounds increasingly like what the Japanese, Indians, Koreans, and Australians want us to be – containers of China. I still think this should be their job first, if containment must happen, and Huntsman was right to warn him off. Santorum shocked me the most. His answer on Pakistanis loose nukes was downright intelligent, especially from the guy most famous for saying this. Hm. Not quite sure what to make of that…
5. Ron Paul is my new … gah, I can’t say it, please help … hero in the primary, at least on foreign policy professionalism. While his ‘let-em-die-without-healthcare’ creepiness, loathing for the Fed, and love of the gold standard (?!) terrifies me on domestic policy, his foreign policy answers were, to be perfectly honest, the most consonant with the rule of law, and the legal and moral constraints the president does and should face – despite his isolationism which I don’t care for. He stuck to the Constitution and insisted that the Congress, not the prez, declare war. (Thank god someone still says that after Korea, Vietnam, Iraq 1, and Iraq 2). He rejected the legality of hellfiring Awlaki (a US citizen). He defined waterboarding as torture (that is just how low the bar is now, good god). And he argued against striking Iran, which would almost certainly chain-gang us into yet another horrible conflict in the ME. Throughout the debates, he has rejected empire, rejected GWoT legal games, spoken regularly of our growing inability to pay for all these wars, bases, and other exertions, and counseled legal and financial restraint in the face of the Republican adulation of the imperial presidency, which even Obama has expanded (sooo disappointing that). Here’s Sullivan on Paul’s foreign policy importance as well.
6. ‘I will consult with my generals’ is becoming the biggest dodge of tough questions in the race, and it gets used so often, that it’s making me wonder if GOP questions the supremacy of civilian authority. Why don’t we just nominate David Patraeus instead? Indeed, if you listen carefully to the debates, the attitude toward the military is almost sycophantic (note how the armed forces are used as a touchstone), which reinforces my growing suspicion that the GOP equates American greatness overseas with the use of force. Contrast that with the extreme niggardliness of the contenders on foreign aid (Perry’s zero-based budgeting). So we might occupy your country or fly drones over it, but we wouldn’t dare build you a functioning sanitation system. What a terrible signal to send the rest of the world!
The locution ‘our men and women in uniform’ has a become an applause line, a throw-away pander to the red-meat Tea Partiers, conveniently shoe-horned in to defend almost any possible position – waterboarding, killing Iranian scientists, intervening in Pakistan, whatever. Yes, we support the military, and yes, we should provide it with the resources needed when tasked with missions. But we are more than a nation of armies, indeed, we are/should be an open, relaxed democracy FIRST. I would much prefer that the the primary face of our global image be the Peace Corps than men with guns. What is it with the GOP and uniforms and firearms? Didn’t we learn anything from the insurgency in Iraq? I would much rather that foreigners think of America as a place of great artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, poets, etc. than the regular diet of militarization on tap with the GOP since 9/11. Did anyone else notice in the emailed-in question about opposing torture, that the questioner felt obliged to say he was a veteran in order to have the moral standing necessary to question GOP dogma? ‘Service guarantees citizenship!’
7. And there is yet another sycophancy – toward Israel. Again, the pandering was almost embarrassing. The candidates seemed to fall all over themselves to proclaim fealty to even the most maximal positions on Israel, the Palestinians, and Iran. Again, yes, we want Israel to survive and be prosperous and all that. But we are two different states; our interests don’t always align, and the current Israeli administration is surely the most irresponsible and needlessly aggressive in a long time. But here, Israel is the 51st tea partier state.
8. And then, worst of all, there is – there had to be I guess in this primary season of ideological purity – the bloodlust – the relish in the use of force and pain. This more than anything else has scared me. The cheering and clapping from the audience has goaded the candidates to ‘outhawk’ each other; in fact, that is probably too generous – ‘out-brutality’ each other is more accurate. Bachman has her nuclear war. Paul would let people die if no charities came forward to help with medical bills. Perry came off almost bloodthirsty on the Texas death penalty and yet again on waterboarding (“I’ll be for it until the day I die”). Does Perry, previously a somewhat normal guv, really want to be remembered this way? As the ‘guy who loves the death penalty and waterboarding’? (This is what I mean by the Tea Party audience members goading these guys into extremism; Perry is clearly being pushed by this race into rashly saying lunatic things about the Fed, Israel, wateboarding, etc.) But for Paul and Huntsman, the rest endorsed waterboarding and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ too. On Israel, Iran, and Pakistan, the pressure to reach further and further to extremes is so obvious. Even Huntsman, desperate to look ‘tough’ on anything, said he send special forces into Pakistan to chase loose nukes, after even Santorum (!) said that was a bad idea.
There must be a limit. What would the GOP reject? Can the president use drone strikes inside the US? Should he use nuclear weapons in the GWoT? I think it would really help the rule of law if the moderators could tie down the candidates to some framework, but the audience won’t have it. Its too late. The Tea Party understands the GWoT in the Jack Bauer way – the rule of law is for lawyers and sissies; real men carry guns and inflict righteous pain even if its illegal. Terrifying.