Last night’s Republican presidential debate resembled a dreary party without its usual boisterous, ego-centric party animal. But with the GOP frontrunner Donald Trump boycotting the debate over a spat with Fox News, Republican candidates finally had the chance to talk policy without being derailed by personality.
Yet a closer look at the candidates’ remarks on foreign policy and national security reveal a surfeit of bumper-sticker slogans—and a dearth of serious policy proposals that could actually help keep the country safe. Here are three of the worst ideas proffered by Republicans’ prospective presidential nominees.
1. Ted Cruz wants to carpet-bomb ISIL: “You want to know what carpet bombing is? It’s what we did in the Persian Gulf war; 1,100 air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy. Right now, Barack Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day.”
Cruz’s point is relatively straightforward: If the US Air Force could obliterate the Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm, they could do the same thing against the Islamic State. Obama’s current air campaign, Cruz argues, is but a trickle of what it would be under a Cruz administration. He promises to make a blitz of bombs rain down upon the enemy.
What Cruz ignores is that Desert Storm and the battle against ISIL are completely different military campaigns. In the former, the US could target the Iraqi army’s tanks and trucks as they rolled down major highways and divisions of regular troops who actually wore uniforms.
Now the US faces an entirely different combat environment. Groups of ISIL militants have deliberately embedded themselves into the civilian population in dense urban areas. If Cruz truly thinks carpet-bombing is a good idea, he better get used to the prospect of thousands of civilians being killed and the very likely probability that US military personnel would be accused of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.
2. Marco Rubio pledges to nix the Iran nuclear deal: “’[W]hen I am president of the United States, on my first day in office, we are canceling the deal with Iran, and nations will have to make a choice. They can do business with Iran, or they can do business with America.”
It is no surprise that Rubio is a strident opponent of the nuclear agreement with Iran. He actively lobbied against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and he was one of the first Republican senators to come out with a statement denouncing the accord on the very day it was signed by US, European, Iranian, Chinese, and Russian negotiators. “Failure by the president to obtain Congressional support will tell the Iranians and the world that this is Barack Obama’s deal,” Rubio wrote at the time, “not an agreement with lasting support from the United States.”
But in the current environment, it’s troubling that Rubio appears unwilling to continue to police the Iran nuclear deal even if it happens to work. To their credit, the Iranians to date have abided by the terms of the deal, from shipping out 25,000 pounds of its low enriched uranium stockpile overseas to dismantling and storing two-thirds of its centrifuge infrastructure under the United Nations’ seal. So far, the deal is working as it was intended to. It’s preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in short order and affording international inspectors with unprecedented access to Tehran’s nuclear facilities. “Cancelling” the agreement, as Rubio supports, would nullify the only check on Iran’s nuclear ambitions that the international community has.
3. Jeb Bush promises to do the things we’re already doing: “The caliphate of ISIS has to be destroyed, which means we need to arm directly to Kurds, embed our troops with the Iraqi military, re-engage with the Sunni tribal leaders. Get the lawyers off the damn backs of the military once and for all.’
Jeb Bush has long touted his counter-ISIL strategy as a dramatically different approach from current US strategy. But the fact of the matter is that Bush’s proposals—working with Sunni tribal forces in Anbar province, using airstrikes against ISIL, using US special forces to pinpoint ISIL commanders, and arming the Kurds—are all being done as we speak.
US trainers and advisors working with Iraqi division commanders to ensure that coalition pilots in the air and Iraqis on the ground are synchronizing their operations to maximum effect. The Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have received anti-tank missiles, ammunition, small arms, and armored personnel carriers from or through the United States since August 2014. And developing the military capability of Sunnis in Anbar province is a critical component of the present U.S. strategy. Indeed, after Ramadi was liberated by Iraqi special forces, Sunni police officers from the region were called in to keep the peace and hold the city.
As far as Bush’s proposal to get the lawyers of the backs of the military, we should all remember that those lawyers are present for a very important reason. Their job is make sure that war efforts are in line with international humanitarian law.
Look past all the flame-throwing and tough language, and Americans can quickly recognize that these three policy proposals bring nothing to the table. At best, Republican candidates are advocating for efforts that are already underway. At worst, they’re proposing tactics that would be directly harmful to US national security interests.