Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy was a reminder that in post-9/11 America, the Constitution has taken a back seat to fear and expediency. Faced with the Herculean task of attacking President Barack Obama for being too dovish in international affairs, the candidates presented a hideous showcase of their respective foreign policies. With the notable exceptions of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the candidates expressed a ready willingness to authorize torture, bomb Iran, order the assassinations of Americans without due process, and unnecessarily escalate tensions with China; all with the hearty approbation of the audience. In sum, the debate was a terrifying freak show, an indomitable lesson in bizarro statesmanship.
In any reality-based debate, the largely ignored Paul and Huntsman would have walked away the overwhelming winners. They made the best of their limited time and politely explained how everyone else on the stage was completely out of their minds.
On Afghanistan, Huntsman declared, “It’s time to come home,” in front of the unabashedly hawkish audience, who did not appreciate his unwillingness to pander to their more bellicose inclinations.
Paul dared to speak out against waterboarding and Obama’s unconstitutional assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, as well as the killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. After the other candidates showed their enthusiastic support for these due process-free killings of Americans by the president, Paul hit a home run by pointing out that since none of the candidates trust Obama to fix health care, it is ridiculous of them to trust him with the power to unilaterally decide which American citizens are worthy of death.
Beyond these two men, the foreign policy views of the other candidates were virtually indistinguishable.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reiterated his belief in American exceptionalism, which is a slightly less ridiculous way of saying, “We’re number one!” Herman Cain deflected several questions about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and torture by saying he would defer to the advice of military officials, which is a less obvious way of saying, “I don’t know.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) showed everyone how pro-life he is by advocating military strikes on the Iranians. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) claimed that the CIA is run by the ACLU.
Rick Perry said that every year, countries receiving U.S. foreign aid would have to justify those expenditures anew. When later asked in a Twitter question if this applied to Israel, he bravely said it would. But even before the debate had even ended, his campaign issued press release reaffirming Perry’s obsequious support for Israel in what was undoubtedly meant as an act of damage control. So much for bravery.
Newt Gingrich called for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, pandered to New World Order conspiracy theorists by suggesting that the obscure and toothless United Nations’ Agenda 21 is a threat to American sovereignty, decried the now-forgotten Church Committee (which increased presidential accountability to Congress), and said that it was acceptable for the president to kill American citizens so long as they are deemed "bad" by a secret White House panel.
Such proposals would be frightening prospects, but for the fact that most of them have already been implemented or continued by the Obama administration. America’s pernicious national security state, with its rampant foreign interventionism and cavalier disregard for basic constitutional precepts, now amounts to bipartisan consensus. All else is window-dressing.
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