WATCHING the fifth Republican presidential debate last Tuesday, one would think the current predicament in the Middle East was child’s play and the presidential contenders had just about everything figured out. The boisterous rhetoric and banal platitudes about American exceptionalism often conveyed the impression that the Republican Party already had all the answers to the scourges of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and illegal immigration – and that a more muscular foreign policy (like the one mistakenly pursued in the Bush Jr. years) would somehow guarantee peace and stability in the world’s most volatile and conflict-ridden regions.
As expected, at the end of the night there were indeed more questions than answers. Alas, if some of the policy proposals weren’t so alarming, they would be laughable. As usual, the political theatrics were on display and the incumbent president was made a scapegoat for the disasters in both Iraq and Syria. Above all, President Obama was chastised for endangering America’s national security, although the country hasn’t experienced a single terrorist act since he took office in 2009. Besides, it is owing to President’s Obama’s consensual and cautious approach (as opposed to the polarizing and belligerent style of George W. Bush) that several conflicts around the world haven’t adversely disrupted the global economy and also haven’t rendered the United Nations useless and irrelevant.
By any measure, this is easily the worst set of candidates the Republican Party has ever fielded in an election primary and it scares me to think (God forbid) that one of them can actually become commander-in-chief of the world’s only superpower. But then again, what do you expect of a political party that continually denies the reality of global warming due to greenhouse gases from fossil fuels? What kind of nation would elevate Donald Trump to a serious frontrunner given the anti-immigrant diatribes and the malicious insults he has hurled at just about everyone – and the buffoonery he continues to demonstrate amid worsening violence in the Middle East? How can a nation of immigrants continue to tolerate candidates who divide the country along ethnic, religious and racial lines? History aside, I didn’t think I would live to see America in the 21st century degenerate into such an irresponsible nation espousing religious fascism and diplomatic bigotry.
It would seem that the candidate who made the most sense on the night of the debate was the one who was most inconspicuous – and often treated as a political bantamweight. For what it’s worth, I thought Rand Paul was the only candidate who understood the serious consequences of regime change and American military interventionism in the Middle East. On foreign policy and mass surveillance, he remains the best candidate by far. It’s true he didn’t win the debate, but he certainly raised the most important questions of the night. When asked about his ideas to keep America free from terrorism, he explained: “I think that if you believe in regime change, you’re mistaken. In 2013, we put 600 tons of weapons – us, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar — into the war against Assad. By pushing Assad back, we did create a safe space.
There are still people – the majority on the stage, they want to topple Assad. And then there will be chaos, and I think ISIS will then be in charge of Syria….. When we toppled Gadhafi in Libya, I think that was a mistake. I think ISIS grew stronger, we had a failed state, and we were more at risk.”
Ever the avid advocate of realpolitik, I have always thought keeping dictators in place for the sake of stability is a policy worth considering strategically. Often these dictators are the ones who keep the various religious factions from descending into full-scale civil war. Soon after the regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt fell, these countries descended into chaos and confusion – destabilizing the entire region. Thankfully, Rand Paul’s was a rational voice in an otherwise polemical wilderness of delusion and sophistry. “Regime change hasn’t won. Toppling secular dictators in the Middle East has only led to chaos and the rise of radical Islam. I think if we want to defeat terrorism; I think if we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of ISIS. If we want to defeat terrorism, the boots on the ground – the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground,” the Kentucky senator asserted.
Meanwhile, the presidency of George W. Bush seemed to have attained a new status of nobility and his policies are being acclaimed by some candidates as the new gold standard. This is the same George W. Bush who left office with a 28% job approval rating. It’s difficult to find any president who did more economic damage and left the country in worse diplomatic shape than George W. Bush.
Yet, Senator Lindsay Graham – already trailing badly in the polls – believes that the George W. Bush era was the best thing that happened to American foreign policy. “I blame President Obama for ISIL. I’m tired of beating on Bush. I miss George W. Bush!” he fumed in an emotional outburst. “I wish he were president now. We wouldn’t be in this mess. I’m tired of dictators walking all over us. I’m tired of siding with the Iranians and the Russians.”
Of course, such implausible claims elicit derision. If dictators are walking all over America now, it’s because America’s policy of conveniently supporting and deposing dictators has somehow backfired. Apropos Iran, I was under the distinct impression that given the alternatives (military strikes and partly effective sanctions) the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations, which got global support, was the best option available at this time in blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the idea that America should not talk to countries it deems “enemies” or “recalcitrant” is deeply flawed. I think it is profoundly irresponsible to label especially Russia an “enemy”, despite Putin’s inflated ego and revisionist approach to history. This just goes to show the dangerous lack of diplomatic sophistication and political ignorance in the Republican camp. How on earth can you refuse to talk to China and Russia, both being members of the United Nations Security Council? Can you believe the loose rhetoric coming from Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, that it was time the U.S. “punched the Russians in the nose”?
As for Dr. Ben Carson, his implausible call during the debate for a moment of silence for the San Bernardino victims was nothing short of opportunism and eccentricity. Having chronicled most of his meaningless utterances and false equivalences, I believe once again Dr. Carson has demonstrated that he, like Donald Trump, is unfit to lead America on both the foreign and economic policy fronts. By the way, Dr Carson made some strange reference to “death by a thousand pricks”? What does he mean? I haven’t a clue – but neither does he I suspect.
By now it should be clear that a Republican presidency would be disastrous for America and the rest of the world. There are just too many critical economic and global issues to entrust the presidency to this current bunch of misleading, evasive and delusional candidates. When candidates begin to pull out their worst sloganeering and scaremongering tactics – and extol the reverence of the Bush years, then you know it’s time to appreciate a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
For comments, write to ClementSoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.