Home/Daniel Larison/The Awful State of Republican Foreign Policy Debate

The Awful State of Republican Foreign Policy Debate

Illustration by Michael Hogue

Daniel DePetris said last week that Paul’s exit from the race would hurt the quality of the foreign policy debate in the primaries:

Now that Rand Paul has dropped out of the presidential primary race, it will become increasingly difficult for Americans watching the debates to distinguish one Republican from another on the stage. Whether or not one happened to agree with Rand Paul’s policy positions on privacy, national security or terrorism, one thing is certain: he was the lone voice in the GOP primary race who was willing to buck the conventional wisdom of the party. With Paul gone, expect to witness a Republican presidential field that is far more monolithic.

The treatment of foreign policy and national security issues on Saturday in the eighth Republican debate showed just how true this is. Whether it was Cruz’s insistence on defending his ignorant carpet bombing rhetoric, Trump’s promise to bring “a lot worse” than waterboarding back into use on detainees, or Bush and Rubio’s silly belief that a Sunni Arab army can be conjured up to fight ISIS in Syria, virtually everything that the candidates said about foreign policy was either irresponsible or delusional or both. There was no one there to challenge Cruz’s latest unfounded fear-mongering about EMPs being detonated over America, nor was there anyone to counter Bush’s reckless willingness to launch a “pre-emptive strike” against a state like North Korea. Rubio wants to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism purely as a punitive measure, which would reverse the Bush administration’s decision to take them off the list. The candidates seemed to be unanimously in favor of every bad idea mentioned. To the bewilderment of many conservatives, several of the candidates were also fine with the bizarre and unnecessary suggestion to expand Selective Service registration to include women.

None of the candidates gave the slightest sign of valuing prudence or restraint. The closest that anyone came to that was when Trump said, “I’m not the one with the trigger,” but that didn’t stop him from indulging in his usual ridiculous talk of both bombing and taking oil fields. Dan McCarthy commented on this in his review of the debate:

Trump’s answers to the night’s foreign-policy questions should put paid to any talk of him as a realist. His answer to ISIS remains “stop the oil and take the oil—not just bomb it, take it—when you do that, it’s going to dry up very quickly.” Alluding to “medieval times,” he promised not only to reinstate waterboarding but also to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Paul’s absence from the race means that there won’t be anyone to inject even a little bit of sanity into future debates when it comes to foreign policy, and we were reminded on Saturday just how awful the rest of the field has always been.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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