Election 2016

Republican Candidates Offer Incoherent Military Solutions During Debate

Lots of bluster about the "world on fire" but very little in the way of details.

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$600 billion
Dreamstime/Palto

The 2015 US military budget was a little more than $600 billion, but most of the six contenders at tonight's Republican presidential debate in Charleston, SC seemed intent on tripping over each other to declare the armed forces "gutted" and offer throaty claims about how they'd project American strength through massive spending and aggressive force.

None offered any concrete details like how far they'd be willing to go in terms of "boots on the ground" or what the appropriate military response to Iran's seizure and brief detention of the 10 Navy sailors whose two ships had entered Iranian territorial waters would be. But rest assured, in any of the Republican hopefuls' administrations, there will be guaranteed "strength."

With one brief preamble and question, Fox Business Network host and debate moderator Maria Bartiromo put the ball on a tee for each of the candidates to demonstrate just how tough each of their foreign policies would be:

Sometimes it seems the world is on fire. Where and when should a president use military action to restore order?

Though each of the candidates had their moment to opine on slight variations of questions which all hinged on the premise that America is in mortal danger, the "world on fire" question was directed at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who replied:

Here's my warning to everybody out in the audience tonight. If you're worried about the world being on fire, you're worried about how we're going to use our military, you're worried about strengthening our military and you're worried most of all about keeping your homes and your families safe and secure, you cannot give Hillary Clinton a third term of Barack Obama's leadership.

I will not do that. If I'm the nominee, she won't get within 10 miles of the White House.

Christie added, "We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasted of his vote for an amendment that would increase military spending to almost $700 billion, and declared, "If I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, never one for over-the-top bluster, kept his tone calm but made sure his words were sufficiently dire:

We're gutting our military, and so the Iranians and the Chinese and the Russians and many other countries look at the United States not as serious as we once were. We have to eliminate the sequester, rebuild our military in a way that makes it clear that we're back in the game.

We will rebuild the military to make sure that it is a solid force, not to be the world's policeman, but to make sure that in a peaceful world, people know that the United States is there to take care of our own national interests and take care of our allies. 

Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised to end Obamacare and "rebuild" the military, adding that President Obama is "more interested in funding Planned Parenthood than he is in funding the military." Without offering much in the way of details, Rubio laid out his plan to defeat ISIS:

When I'm president of the United States, we are going to win this war on ISIS. The most powerful intelligence agency in the world is going to tell us where we are, the most powerful military in the world is going to destroy them. And if we capture any of them alive, they are getting a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and we are going to find out everything they know.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson conceded that "We have the world's best military, even though [President Obama] has done everything he can to diminish it." Carson's "simple" proposal of what he would do as president to defeat ISIS:

I think we need to do a lot more than we're doing. Recognize that the caliphate is what gives them the legitimacy to go out on a jihadist mission, so we need to take that away from them.

The way to take that away from them is to talk to our military officials and ask them, "what do you need in order to accomplish this goal?"

Our decision is, then, do we give them what we need. I say, yes, not only do we give them what they need, but we don't tie their hands behind their backs so that they can go ahead and get the job done.

In addition to that, we go ahead and we take the oil from them, their source of revenue. You know, some of these—these engagement rules that the administration has—"we're not going to bomb a tanker that's coming out of there because there might be a person in it"—give me a break.

Just tell them that, you put people in there, we're going to bomb them. So don't put people in there if you don't want them bombed. You know, that's so simple.

"Taking the oil" has been an ISIS-destroying strategy frequently employed (though never explained in practical terms) by Donald Trump over the course of the campaign. Strangely, rather than asking Trump a direct question about the use of military force, moderator Neil Cavuto pivoted to the issue of Syrian refugees as his national security question for the former host of The Apprentice

That could be the great Trojan Horse. It could be people that are going to do great, great destruction. When I look at the migration, I looked at the line, I said it actually on your show recently, where are the women? It looked like very few women. Very few children. Strong, powerful men, young and people are looking at that and they're saying what's going on?

You look at the kind of damage that two people that two people that got married, they were radicalized — they got married, they killed 15 people in actually 15—going to be probably 16 but you look at that and you take a look—a good strong look and that's what we have. We are nineteen trillion dollars—our country's a mess and we can't let all these people come into our country and break our borders. We can't do it.

Finally, Ohio Governor John Kasich took the Fonzie approach to Republican foreign policy:

So look, in foreign policy—in foreign policy, it's strength, but you've got to be cool. You've got to have a clear vision of where you want to go. And I'm going to tell you, that it—I'm going to suggest to you here tonight, that you can't do on the job training.

I've seen so much of it—a Soviet Union, the coming down of a wall, the issues that we saw around the world in Central America, the potential spread of communism, and 9/11 and Gulf War. You see what the Saudi's—deliver them a strong message but at the end of the day we have to keep our cool because most of the time they're going right with us. And they must be part of our coalition to destroy ISIS and I believe we can get that done.

All in all, it was a display of fear, anger, and despair. Worse from a Republican strategic standpoint, it was a missed opportunity for the party to differentiate its policies from those that led to the Obama administration's disastrous military interventions of the past seven years.

This is where Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was truly missed on the stage tonight, for he would have likely reminded his rivals that international incidents such as the attack on the embassy in Benghazi would have never happened had then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not pushed for US (and NATO)-led efforts to depose Muammar Gaddafi. Libya was briefly one of Obama and Clinton's proudest foreign policy moments, with the former Secretary once bragging "We came, we saw, he died!" Now Libya is yet another country where ISIS has established a foothold, and the power vacuum has led to the North African nation becoming (in Eli Lake's colorful phrasing) "scumbag Woodstock." 

Last month, Nick Gillespie spoke with American University professor Scott Adams about why "U.S. foreign policy always come down to the question of when and where to deploy the military." Watch below.

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  1. international incidents such as the attack on the embassy in Benghazi would have never happened had then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not pushed for US (and NATO)-led efforts to depose Muammar Gaddafi.

    I find it interesting that libertarians used to extremely critical of the notion of “stability” during the Cold War. Supporting Gaddafi in the name of “stability” was bad but he shouldn’t have been ousted because of “stability”.

    1. How about we just stay out of it? Truth is Benghazi doesn’t happen if we aren’t using it as an outpost to run guns into Syria. Which Hillary lied about. And Republicans all supported.

      America’s foreign policy is about doing something even if no one knows what the results of that something will be. Our foreign policy is incompetent and doing nothing is a lot better. Not just from a libertarian standpoint, but from a pragmatic one, as well.

      1. The point is they used to harp quite a bit about how supporting “stability” was a bad thing which is not the same as advocating “doing nothing”. And now about “destabilization” is a bad thing which again is not the same as advocating “doing nothing”.

        America’s foreign policy is about doing something even if no one knows what the results of that something will be. Our foreign policy is incompetent and doing nothing is a lot better.

        Problem is this sort of reasoning implies that US Foreign policy can “make things better” and be “competent” at it which isn’t inherently non-interventionist.

        And what is with this “our”? I thought the government isn’t “us”?

  2. There seems to be a great many instances of critics misleadingly conflating the federal government’s military expenditures themselves, purely as an amount spent, and maintaining a universally capable, ascendant military. The United States is entirely able to establish, as it has, and maintain, as it should, a supremely powerful, overwhelming military to instill abject fear of embarking on the various degenerate misadventures the more retarded cultures of the world would surely pursue were it not for American hegemony, our might as a hyperpower, without wasting billions on foreign adventurism.

    It is not the responsibility of the United States to provide security for all of mankind. We are encumbered by no moral obligation to spend, toil, and die in the world’s innumerable hotspots and warzones. We entangle ourselves in alien conflicts to our own detriment, and the interventionists who send Americans to bleed for some nebulous aspiration to liberate and transform the shitholes of the world care nothing for the consequences.

    Our duty is to fiercely, mercilessly, and unforgivingly defend our homeland from aggression and invasion, and to protect American citizens from enslavement by foreign powers — a good example of which, funnily enough, would be the Marine sent to rot in a Mexican jail for possessing firearms during a momentary, accidental foray into Mexican territory. That is the full range of actions the United States should take militarily, when necessary, and no more.

  3. If Donald Trump, or Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton, or whichever other authoritarian bureaucrat has garnered the attention of a given day, whatever party he belongs to, wishes to bluster and advocate meaningless exertion and loss through martial misadventure, he should equip himself with appropriate personal weaponry and make his own way to a foreign battlefield. Surely, if these fine slavers exemplified for all Americans the courageous determination they exhort us to exhibit by sending our countrymen to fight worthless wars, their case would be easier to make.

  4. Let’s talk a bit about libertarian foreign policy. A lot of it is warmed over interwar American Firstism. Another bit is Rothbard’s attempt to ape Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution. Revolutionary Defeatism, Brest-Litovsk etc. He also claimed that the USSR had a libertarian foreign policy! Because nothing says “libertarian” then the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Soviet bloc was just the Soviets getting a buffer zone (something that defenders say today) and they “chose” Communism (elections were rigged) and only became Commie because Truman was mean to Stalin (contra Rothbard elections were rigged before 1948) and the US had invaded Europe twice in the World Wars, unlike Russia.

    1. *(something that Putin defenders say today)*

    2. That strawman isn’t putting up much of a fight, so why are you sweating so hard?

      1. I am referring to Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty”. His fondness for Leninist tactics is no secret.

  5. I wish the moderators would have wandered into some nuclear-weapons policy Q&A with these guys. Should get the room pretty silent in slack-jawed horror after the first couple answers.

  6. “If I’m the nominee, [Hillary] won’t get within 10 miles of the White House.”

    WTF, Christie?

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