The media are anointing former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina as the winner of last Wednesday’s second Republican presidential-aspirant debate. They are saying that she was the best prepared and most convincing speaker, and, indeed, maybe she was. But what is being largely ignored is the actual content of the so-called debate, which was supposed to be focused on foreign policy. Presuming that all the potential candidates had been assiduously primed on the major issues by their advisers, what might have been informed opinion was instead pathetically ignorant and, more than that, dangerous.
Note for example what Fiorina had to say about her policy towards Russia: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
Yes, Carly would make sure that Putin would get the message that any possible cooperation with the United States would be a non-starter, even in places and situations where there might be common interests. Carly as president promises to take steps that directly threaten Russia on its own doorstep and would lead to a return to the Cold War. And possibly worse than that. Per Fiorina, it would also mean a new budget busting arms race to show how strong we are.
And Fiorina was not winging it alone. Senator Marco Rubio had a fantasy vision that saw him personally flying around the world directly confronting the bad guys. He pledged that “It [Air Force One] would also fly to China, not just to meet with our enemies, not just to meet with those adversaries of ours that are there, but also to meet with those that aspire to freedom and liberty within China. I would even invite them to my inauguration. We would also fly into Moscow and into Russia. And not just meet with the leaders of Russia, but also meet with those who aspire to freedom and liberty in Russia.”
How Rubio would obtain use of the presidential plane before his inauguration and arrange the logistics of flying into capitals of countries that he has labeled enemies to meet with dissidents was not quite clear. And the whole concept of cultivating opposition groups has a vaguely Democratic White House smell to it, a heavy dose of democracy promotion that leads to responsibility to protect, regime change and nation building. I thought Republicans had gone off the boil on that kind of stuff, but Rubio just might be getting bad advice from his posse of neocon advisers which includes Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman and Elliott Abrams.
But the evening’s biggest brouhaha concerned someone who was not even on the stage, GOP gadfly Ann Coulter, who responded to references to Israel by tweeting to her 600,000 fans “How many (expletive) Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” Coulter may have had a point in that American Jews are a small minority of the population who vote heavily Democratic in any event, but she would have been much more accurate if she had stated “Jew” rather than “Jews” as the comments by the potential candidates were really aimed at Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate of Law Vegas, who can literally pay for the entire GOP presidential campaign if he chooses to do so. For Adelson and his Democratic counterpart Haim Saban America’s presidential election is all about Israel.
Coulter understands that talking nice about Israel appeals to evangelical Christians, who many believe to be a sine qua non for any prospective GOP candidate who actually hopes to get nominated. But piqued by the Coulter outburst and out of curiosity I downloaded a transcript of the debate and went through it for any mention of Israel or Jews or even Benjamin Netanyahu. Contrary to Coulter’s assertion, Israel was only mentioned eleven times in the three hour debate and was not cited by Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Scott Walker or Donald Trump. Jews were not discussed at all and Netanyahu only named once, by Fiorina.
But the infrequency of the commentary on Israel should not be interpreted as a suggestion that the discussion of politics as related to the Middle East was any less Israel-centric or even somehow restrained or rational. Indeed, the potential candidates demonstrated an inability to connect with reality and scrupulously avoided basing U.S. policies overseas on actual interests and available resources.
This is Carly Fiorina’s plan for the Middle East and for pressuring reluctant allies in her own words: “You have not heard a plan about Iran from any politician up here, here is my plan. On day one in the Oval Office, I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him we will stand with the state of Israel. The second, to the supreme leader, to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we, the United States of America, will make it as difficult as possible and move money around the global financial system. We can do that, we don’t need anyone’s cooperation to do it. And every ally and every adversary we have in this world will know that the United States in America is back in the leadership business, which is how we must stand with our allies.”
Fiorina does not seem to be aware that by giving her “good friend” Benjamin Netanyahu the ability to draw the United States into a war that he chooses to start she is outsourcing our sovereignty. But perhaps that doesn’t bother her just as she doesn’t seem concerned that baiting Iran will pit the U.S. against the entire world, to include nearly all of America’s allies.
Jeb Bush also focused on the centrality of Israel to contain Iran as part of his foreign policy vision, stating that “the first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel’s back. If we do that, it’s going to create a healthier deterrent effect than anything else I can think of.”
No Jeb, it will do the opposite. It will force Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon to defend itself. And going far beyond Bush, Mike Huckabee presented a broader nightmarish and largely fantasized view of a clash of civilizations, stating “This is really about the survival of Western civilization. This is not just a little conflict with a Middle Eastern country that we’ve just now given over \$100 billion to, the equivalent in U.S. terms is \$5 trillion. This threatens Israel immediately, this threatens the entire Middle East, but it threatens the United States of America. And we can’t treat a nuclear Iranian government as if it is just some government that would like to have power. This is a government for 36 years has killed Americans, they kidnapped Americans, they have maimed Americans. They have sponsored terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, and they threaten the very essence of Western civilization. At the end of my presidency I would like to believe that the world would be a safe place, and there wouldn’t be the threats. Not only to the U.S., but to Israel and our allies, because we would have the most incredible well-trained, well-equipped, well- prepared military in the history of mankind. And they would know that the commander-in-chief would never send them to a mission without all the resources necessary, but people wouldn’t bully us anymore. Because they would know that that would be an invitation to their destruction.”
Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, presumably would “destroy” bullies just as he destroyed English grammar in his statement. One might observe that if ending international bullying were even vaguely his objective he would start with Washington, which has been abusing the rest of the world since 9/11.
Huckabee’s fellow evangelical Senator Ted Cruz also had something to say, clearly on board with reordering the world in a more muscular Christian fashion, saying “…I also want to respond to several folks up here who said we should trust this Iranian deal, see if the Iranians will comply. Anyone who is paying attention to what Khamenei says knows that they will not comply. There is a reason Khamenei refers to Israel as the little Satan, and America as the great Satan. If I’m elected president our friends and allies across the globe will know that we stand with them. The bust of Winston Churchill will be back in the Oval Office, and the American embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem.”
Normally semi-rational John Kasich came across as the moderate in the Iran discussion by virtue of not calling for immediate bombs away, stating “Secondly, nobody’s trusting Iran. They violate the deal, we put on the sanctions, and we have the high moral ground to talk to our allies in Europe to get them to go with us. If they don’t go with us, we slap the sanctions on anyway. If they fund these radical groups that threaten Israel and all of the West, then we should rip up the deal and put the sanctions back on.”
Senator Marco Rubio piled on with another complaint, “We are eviscerating our military. And we have a president that is more respectful to the ayatollah in Iran than he is to the prime minister of Israel.” And expanding on his plan to fly around and spread good will to our friends while confounding our enemies the peripatetic presidential wannabe added that “If I’m honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel, in South Korea, and Japan. They know we stand with them. That America can be counted on.”
Finally, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was clearly out of his depth even though the discussion was not exactly cerebral, iced the cake by concluding the foreign policy debate with “And I will tell you this, around the world, I will not shake hands with, I will not meet with, and I will not agree to anything with a country that says death to us and death to Israel and holds our hostages while we sign agreements with them. It will be an America that be strong and resolute, and will once again be able to stick out its chest and say, ‘we truly are the greatest nation in the world, because we live our lives that way, each and every day.’”
Christie’s rant was a fitting conclusion for the evening, underlining the essential Republican foreign policy message, which is that basically, as the esteemed George W. Bush put it, “you are either with us or against us.” We don’t have to talk to foreign leaders we don’t like and if they persist in the error of their ways we send in the cruise missiles. Only Senator Rand Paul and John Kasich indicated clearly that they would hesitate before the bombs start to drop.
GOP-think also has an underlying racist tone to it, with the presumption that those not quite Caucasian foreign people are not really like us, don’t think like us and can be shot or droned on sight when they fail to heed our advice. It’s not about Israel per se or about anything that would make sense to any disinterested observer. It is all about having a “security zone” that is global in reach and preempts the rights of anyone else. It is coupled with superpower hubris driven by an “exceptionalism”-derived unwillingness to treat people who are not Americans with any respect or consideration. Washington reflexively turns potential friends into enemies at every opportunity and perseveres in a foreign policy based on a whole basket of false premises that has been disastrous vis-à-vis any actual United States interests. Unfortunately for the American people the likely alternative to all this blatant and dangerous nonsense is Hillary.