Amid the 2 1/2 hours of bombast, bravado and bully boy bluster that defined what was mercifully the last Republican presidential debate of 2015 last night, one significant, substantive fault line emerged over national security issues: nearly half the wannabes broke with the neo-con policy of regime change that got the U.S. into our current mess.
In various ways and words, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Ben Carson all spoke up during the CNN debate from Las Vegas in opposition to the policy that led George W. Bush and his fellow chicken hawks to oust Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein, thereby destabilizing the Mideast and leading the nation into its current standoff with ISIS and other jihadists at home and around the globe.
It is remarkable that two of the candidates opposed to meddling interventionism – Trump and Cruz – have an actual chance of winning the GOP nomination (and losing to Hillary Clinton). If either of them were to become the Republican nominee – whether voters were even aware of what they were doing – it would mark an important shift for the party, and the country, no matter how the election turns out.
It is a matter of national shame that every one of them practiced demagoguery and fear-mongering, in a moment when a true political leader would have tried to calm, not terrify. Americans. As a group, these GOP contenders represent perhaps the most bellicose field ever to appear on a debate stage. Every one of them, with the possible exception of Senator Rand Paul, is just itching to throw more American blood and bodies at “radical Islamic terrorists.”
Chris Christie even spoke enthusiastically at one point last night of having the chance to shoot down Russian planes in Syria, which led to the best line of the night, from Paul:
“Yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now,” Christie said to cheers from the audience.
“Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III you have your candidate,” Paul answered.
Here are six other takeaways from last night’s affair:
Trump says No to 3rd party: Trump, in answer to conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, said flatly that he would not run an independent candidacy for president if this whole Republican thing doesn’t work out, a sharp contrast to the position he took in the first GOP debate of the season, about 12 or 13 years ago. It’s entirely possible, however, that no one in his campaign has yet had the temerity to explain to Trump that polls are different than votes, and that he might take a different look at the thing the morning after the Iowa caucus.
Good night for Jeb. Jeb Bush came out smoking, and went right after Trump from the first question, saying The Donald is not “a serious leader” and staying in his face when Trump came back at him – “you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency, Donald.” Later, he recalled the front-runner’s comment that Trump got most of his foreign policy information “from the shows” – “I don’t know whether that’s Sunday morning or Saturday morning.” In the end, though, it was most likely too little too late for Jeb!, as Trump noted: “Oh yeah, you’re a tough guy Jeb. Real tough … I’m at 42, Jeb, and you’re at 3.”
Cruz vs Rubio: All the Sheep Big Brains of the Beltway seem to have settled on this week’s conventional wisdom, which is that the GOP race eventually will shake out to a mano-a-mano between the two Cuban-American rookie senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. There were a couple of previews as the two clashed last night over immigration policy and the NSA’s data collection. Bottom line, they’re both smart fellas and ace debaters, but Rubio did a good job of muddying the waters on his past support for comprehensive immigration reform, which Cruz should have been able to hang around his neck more effectively.
Carson’s piety: Gentle Ben has been in free fall after exhibiting his utter ignorance of foreign policy a few debates back, and clearly had boned up on a few factoids that he threw around last night with the air of a medical student showing off on morning rounds after cramming all night to memorize the 270 bones in the body. Carson also shamelessly exploited the horror of San Bernardino by asking the audience to join him in a moment of silence for the victims, about 15 minutes after the debate started; no word yet on a silent moment for the people murdered in the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado by a Christian extremist.
Carly the Code Cowboy: Carly Fiorina was her usual charming Wicked Witch of the West self, and added a new wrinkle by repeatedly trying to portray herself as some kind of tech geek (wasn’t that the marketing department of HP you came out of, Carly?), shucking and jiving about how she’d practically destroyed Al Qaeda single handedly by diverting an HP truck to the government after 9/11 and assuring the world she could get Silicon Valley fully enlisted in the war against ISIS because she’s, you know, one of them. At one point she actually said, “we were using the wrong algorithms” to try to stop terrorists. Now there’s a slogan America can get behind: “Carly for President: She’ll Use the Right Algorithms.”
How do you shut down the internet? Trump doubled down on his pledge to rout ISIS by routing their routers to keep from communicating on the ‘net, or something. Huh? Seems like kind of a stretch for a guy who didn’t even seem to know the three parts of the Pentagon’s nuclear triad, but hey, we suppose in the World of Trump, anything’s possible.
All that said, we actually found ourselves agreeing with The Donald for once, when he offered his summary argument of what the Bush Doctrine has wrought, not only in the Mideast but also in the U.S.
What do we have now?
…We have spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly if they were there, and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all the other problems we have, we would have been a lot better off, I can tell you that right now. We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East but to humanity, the people that have been killed, the people that have been 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.