I didn’t watch all of last night’s GOP debate, but I did see an extended section on foreign policy. It was a horror show in which the candidates competed to show their disdain for and disinterest in the rest of the world, as well as their avid eagerness to use military power to solve problems. They seemed to think that those two traits ought to define America’s approach to the rest of the world, and the audience loved them for it.
Ron Paul was the only one who demonstrated a lick of sense or restraint.
Rick Perry, for example, repeated a refrain from the previous debate by insisting that President Obama had just two options after a U.S. spy plane drone was brought down over Iran and captured: Go into Iran and take it back, or or send missiles to destroy it on the ground, as if the Iranians have it sitting out on some airfield with red arrows helpfully pointing toward it.
The foolishness of that approach is self-evident, but I expect no better from the half-informed cowboy governor. I did expect better from Mitt Romney, but instead what we got was as bad or worse. Moderator Bret Baier noted that Romney had earlier called Obama’s response to the drone capture “extraordinarily weak and timid,” and asked Romney whether this weakness had invited war.
For those who can’t watch the video, here’s how it went:
“Absolutely. Does timidity and weakness invite aggression on the part of other people? Absolutely. A strong America is the best ally peace has ever known. This is a president that …. a spy drone downed over Iran and he says ‘pretty please?’” Foreign policy based on `pretty please?’ You have to be kidding.”
Romney, it turns out, is also in the “destroy it or go get it” camp, as if it were possible for the U.S. military to put together a crash rescue mission into the heart of Iran and fly the drone out of there. It’s a scenario that would be ridiculous in a Hollywood movie.
In addition, let’s also note that President Obama did not ask Osama bin Laden, “May I kill you, pretty please?” Nor has he taken that approach with the scores of other members of al Qaida and Taliban leadership targeted in Pakistan or Yemen. Romney’s charge that Obama has been weak or timid in his use of force when necessary is ridiculous on its face.
In this particular instance, our spy drone was violating Iranian airspace. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad we’re keeping a close eye on things there. But its presence in violation of international law doesn’t exactly put us in a strong position to be outraged. Sending troops to retrieve it or trying to destroy it would escalate the matter into a major confrontation, with war a likely outcome. The price of oil would likely double or triple, the economy would go into a tailspin and the Middle East would erupt. Yet every candidate up there — again with the sane exception of Ron Paul — seemed to think that would be just grand.
Let’s review how a similar but much more important situation played out:
In April of 2001, a U.S. spy plane with 24 American military personnel aboard was forced down on Chinese soil after a collision with a Chinese jet. The Chinese refused to release either the plane or the personnel. The 24 Americans were held and interrogated for 10 days. We got the plane back three months later, in parts, after it had been disassembled and studied by the Chinese.
The plane’s release came only after we paid “restitution” to the Chinese for feeding and housing our personnel and for its expenses in dismantling our plane. We also sent a letter to the Chinese foreign minister, expressing American sorrow at the death of a Chinese pilot in the incident and for the fact that “the entering of China’s airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance.” President Bush even sent a condolence letter to the widow of the dead Chinese pilot.
By the standards expressed on that Iowa stage last night, President Bush’s handling of that affair went well beyond “pretty please” or “extraordinarily weak or timid.” It was downright craven, and heaven knows how the macho chest-beaters on the right would respond if the same thing occurred under Obama. Yet a decade later, the Hainan Island incident remains just that, an incident that is largely forgotten.
Yes, the Republican candidates were playing to an audience last night. They were pandering to its worst instincts. But it is a sad state of affairs when would-be leaders can’t or won’t engage voters in at least a somewhat adult conversation about such matters. I suspect audiences in other countries were even more appalled by the nonsense they heard last night.
– Jay Bookman