Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Republicans Need To Debate Foreign Policy

After the hysteria stirred up by the Islamic State lopping off a few heads in a faraway land, including those of a very small number of Americans, Republicans running for president fell all over themselves in beating the drums of war. That response was predictable, given public opinion polls that showed Americans, horrified from media stories about the beheadings, wanted something to be done about the group – as long as it didn’t involve heavy costs in blood and lives, a la Afghanistan or Iraq. Never mind that beheadings have also occurred in the U.S.-friendly countries of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, President Obama read the same polls and sent U.S. air power over Syria and send air and ground forces back into Iraq to battle the group without any congressional approval, as the Constitution requires.

Yet the Republican narrative of criticism, of course, has been that Obama somehow caused the rise of ISIS by doing too little rather than doing too much. In their minds, Obama should have enmeshed the United States earlier in the Syrian civil war by aiding "moderate" Syrian rebels and negotiated with then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to leave a small number of U.S. troops in Iraq – even though George W. Bush also was unable to do so with an Iraqi leader dealing with his own population that was fed up with eight years of foreign occupation. Republicans love to forget that the Islamic State group sprang from al Qaeda in Iraq, which in turn had been created to fight George W. Bush’s idiotic invasion of Iraq. (This misadventure bore a striking similarity to U.S. military assistance to the Afghan mujahideen during the 1980s, which inadvertently led Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to eventually give us Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.) And providing arms and training to indigenous forces in the Middle East hasn’t gone well recently. The U.S.-trained Iraqi army fled the battlefield with the Islamic State on two major occasions, allowing the group to capture much sophisticated U.S. weaponry, Furthermore, the Pentagon trained a whopping 60 "moderate" rebel fighters in Syria and the CIA a few more, only to have both groups debilitated by an attack from al Nusra, the al Qaeda in affiliate in Syria.

With a track record of gross military incompetence during the two most recent presidential administrations of both parties, one would think politicians would be more leery of pulling the military trigger and making the Islamist jihadist threat worse, as the track record indicates has occurred. Unfortunately, the worse the American military does in combat, the more militarized American society becomes in singing the praises of a sclerotic and unimaginative bureaucracy. The country’s founders – most of whom were cognizant of America’s uniquely safe strategic position away from the world’s conflict zones and who were squeamish about even having a standing army in a republic – would be shocked and dismayed at modern day America’s conception of "patriotism."

Republicans always cite the founders’ vision much more than Democrats, but they usually omit the founders’ distaste of standing militaries and needless overseas wars. The one Republican candidate who did mention such niggling issues had been Rand Paul, but he then became so enamored with expanding his appeal that he started dancing with the many hawks in the party. He signed Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran interfering with and undermining the president’s constitutional responsibility to negotiate treaties with foreign countries and proposed a hefty hike in defense spending in exchange for cuts in U.S. foreign aid.

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