Surprised? Republican Presidential Debate Gets Militaristic
Candidates try their best to out-hawk each other
The hawks were out in full force during CNN’s 2016 Republican debate. National security issues took a back seat during the first debate, when folksy anecdotes, social issues and Donald Trump dominated.
In a lengthy and discursive part two, however, CNN went directly to matters of war, opening with a direct question to the candidates about how comfortable they are with Trump in charge of nuclear weapons. Suffice to say, the candidates kicked that one to the voters.
From there, questions included the candidates’ thoughts on the Russian military presence in Syria and the state of the Iran deal. This shouldn’t come as a shock, but they don’t like Iran, the deal … or Pres. Barack Obama.
Lindsey Graham out-hawked them all
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina set the hawkish tone earlier in the evening during the underdog debate between race’s bottom-barrel candidates. Early on, Jake Tapper asked Graham a question about Trump, and Graham used the question as a springboard to talk about something else entirely … kicking Islamic State ass.
“If I’m president of the United States, we’re going to send more ground forces into Iraq because we have to. To every candidate tonight, are you willing to commit before the American people that you will destroy [ISIS] and you understand we need a ground force to do it?”
Graham then suggested using upwards of 10,000 troops to destroy the Islamic State. Why send that many ground troops?
“Because if you don’t,” Graham explained. “We’re going to lose. Are you willing to send American combat forces into Syria as part of a regional army, because if you don’t, we’ll never destroy [ISIS] in Syria.”
Trump wants to watch the Middle East burn
The debate turned to Syria and Russia when Tapper asked Trump how he’d deal with Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin. “They have to respect you,” Trump said. “[Putin] has … no respect for Pres. Obama.”
“Syria’s a mess,” he continued. “You look at what’s going on with ISIS in there, now think of this: we’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.”
Later on, Trump reiterated his opposition to the Iraq War. “I am a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military.”
Carly Fiorina shows military chops … and 80s nostalgia
One thing’s for sure, Carly Fiorina’s military know-how put the rest of the group to shame. She’s also for a pretty huge military expansion.
“We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it,” Fiorina said. “And, specifically, what that means is we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300, and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad.”
The Marines currently have 23 battalions, the Navy has 273 deployable warships. The Army will downsize to 30 brigade combat teams by 2017.
She said she’d met Putin but would never talk to him again. If Fiorina thinks talking is worthless, how does she propose to deal with Russia backing Assad? The former HP exec fell back on Cold War rhetoric.
“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet,” she said. “I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
American missiles in Poland have long been a point of contention between Washington and the Kremlin. The George W. Bush administration started the talks all the way back in 2002. Obama canceled the project in 2009.
But that’s not the end of the story. Obama later proposed placing mobile SM-3 interceptors in Poland as a part of a phased rollout of missiles in the region. In 2013, the Obama administration canceled some but not all of the planned placements.
Regardless, Warsaw announced later it would build its own missile defense system. There will be more missiles in Poland. All that remains to be seen is who will take credit for it.
Sen. Marco Rubio wants to go big or go home
“The United States was not built to conduct pinprick attacks,” Rubio said.
But during the past 15 years, many of the Pentagon’s most successful military victories have been so-called pinprick attacks conducted by special operations forces. Commandos killed Osama Bin Laden, buried countless other Al Qaeda leaders and helped capture Saddam Hussein.
In contrast, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he wouldn’t send more troops to Iraq, necessarily. It depends on what the Pentagon would recommend. The current number of 3,500 troops is fine — but he said they should be able to join the fighting instead of just advising.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, coming from the complete opposite end of the spectrum, doesn’t think American troops should be involved at all.
Jeb Bush wants offensive cyberwar with China
This is an often neglected subject in national politics. China’s espionage efforts are massive, along with the flood of American intellectual property — both commercial and military — leaking through insecure networks.
“We should use offensive tactics as it relates to cyber security, send a deterrent signal to China,” Bush said.
But it’s too bad Bush’s emphasis was on offense, which already gets the lion’s share of the Pentagon’s budget for cyberwarfare. What about a more nuanced debate about how to defend, so America can bounce back from cyberattacks and espionage? That didn’t happen.
There’s another problem. How does cyber-offense deter Beijing from stealing American military secrets? By stealing Chinese military secrets? American secrets are more valuable to China than the other way around.
Iran is an existential threat, according to Mike Huckabee
“They have sponsored terrorist groups,” Huckabee explained. “Hamas and Hezbollah, and they threaten the very essence of Western civilization.”
Hamas and Hezbollah are both groups of very bad dudes. But let’s get real. Iran has the largest military in the Middle East, though it’s badly out-spent by American allies along the Persian Gulf. Iranian support has kept Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad in power, but he’s still losing ground to the rebels. Now Assad has run to Putin for help.
Iran’s special operations Quds Force is one of the best in the region. But its conventional army was molded by the Iran-Iraq War — a large-scale ground invasion which the Mullahs fear might happen again. Tehran’s ability to project power beyond its borders at scale is limited, and its army is starved of funds due to sanctions and low oil prices.
The candidates were universal in opposition to the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. Bush supported supplying “sophisticated weapons” to Israel as a means of deterring Iran. No specifics. Could he have meant bunker-busters and the bombers to carry them?
That’d be a bad idea … for a lot of reasons. If Israel even accepts them.