Some remarkable moments in the Republican presidential debate last night in New Hampshire, at least in regard to foreign policy. Very little bombast, very little Islam-bashing, not a lot of bloodthirsty calls for attacking other countries, a lot of skepticism on Afghanistan and Libya. Here’s my summary:
First, the candidates were asked by a voter: “Osama bin Laden is dead. We’ve been in Afghanistan for ten years. Isn’t it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?” Not a bad question from a Republican to Republican candidates. Answered Mitt Romney:
“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. That’s an important distinction.… I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban.” Not bad!
Ron Paul chimed in, as expected:
“I wouldn’t wait for my generals. I’m the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I’d bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan. I’d start taking care of people here at home because we could save hundreds of billions of dollars. Our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there. We have no purpose there. We should learn the lessons of history. The longer we’re there, the worse things are and the more danger we’re in as well, because our presence there is not making friends.”
Tin Pawlenty responded mushily, and stupidly, simply saying that “the first duty of the president of the United States, as the leader of this nation and commander-in-chief, is to make sure the nation is safe. You bet.” He promised to keep bombing the crap out of Yemen, if he thinks it’s necessary, so count that as one vote for President Obama by Pawlenty.
Michelle Bachmann, asked about Libya specifically, first quoted Secretary of Defense Gates, who said that US national interests are not at stake in Libya, and she added: “Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed.… The president was not leading when it came to Libya. First of all, we were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack. There was no vital national interest. I sit on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation’s vital classified secrets. We to this day don’t yet know who the rebel forces are that we’re helping. There are some reports that they may contain Al Qaeda of North Africa. What possible vital American interests could we have to empower Al Qaeda of North Africa and Libya? The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya.” Zowie.
Even Newt Gingrich, whose fanatical opposition to all things Muslim and Middle Eastern knows no bounds, and who can’t sleep at night worrying that sharia law is about to be imposed on him, all of his wives and his mistresses, said: “I think that we need to think fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region. I think that we should say to the generals we would like to figure out to get out as rapid as possible with the safety of the troops involved. And we had better find new and very different strategies because this is too big a problem for us to deal with the American ground forces in direct combat. We have got to have a totally new strategy for the region, because we don’t today have the kind of intelligence we need to know even what we’re doing.” Double zowie! Gingrich says: “Get out as rapid[ly[ as possible.”
Rick Santorum, perhaps the rightest of the right-wing last night, blathered on about how urgent it is to have military bases all over the world to “confront our enemies,” whoever they are. And in his most idiotic comment, he said that President Obama “has turned his back on American allies and he has embraced our enemies.” He provided no details on which enemies Obama is embracing.
What’s remarkable, so far at least, is that the candidates generally didn’t (with some exceptions, such as Santorum) accuse Obama of being an appeaser and closet Islamist. Instead, they verged on accusing him of being a warmonger.
Romney, in particular, went out of his way to insist that Sharia law ain’t happening, and he defended tolerance: “First of all, of course, we’re not going to have Sharia law applied in US courts. That’s never going to happen. We have a Constitution and we follow the law.… I think we recognize that the people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principal of religious tolerance. That’s in fact why some of the early patriots came to this country and we treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion.”