MENA Viewpoints: USA Presidential Primaries Debate (R) #1

August 6 marked the second American Presidential Primary debate for the Republican party, an event that promised to be full of interesting (read: highly questionable) soundbites, particularly on American foreign policy in the Middle East. The candidates did not disappoint, sharing their (scary) views on the future of the Islamic State aka Daesh; how to deal with terrorists once they’re caught and, of course, the Iran Nuclear Deal. A look:
Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and wife Melania infront of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE. Sourced from The Gaurdian
Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and wife Melania infront of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE. Sourced from The Gaurdian

What Middle Eastern country should we be BFF with?

Candidate Scott Walker was asked which Middle Eastern country he thought we should focus being friend’s with. Implying the recent US relations with Iran, Walker replied that we should focus on countries we’ve been friends with, rather than our enemies. He first listed Egypt, saying the country does a great job; Israel and also Saudi Arabia were on the list.  It’s kind of interesting when you think of the relations with these three nations: Egypt is important because it actually signed a peace accord with Israel, and unlike Jordan it has a huge population and more resources. Israel is important because the Israelis need our protection, because no one else will have their back. Saudi Arabia is important because….they
My view: In order of their importance, the friendships we should focus on 1.Iran  2.Saudi Arabia  3.Egypt  4.Iraq  5.Israel (and Palestine)  6.Jordan  7.UAE  8.Lebanon  9.Tunisia  10.Bahrain  12.Syria  13.Morocco  14.Oman  15.Qatar  16.Yemen  15.Libya  16.Afghanistan  17.Algeria  18.Kuwait

Who should we aid?

Similarly, Rand Paul was asked about who we should aid and give money to. He said that we should “quit sending money to countries that hate us,” and that we should even eliminate aid to countries like Israel so that we don’t “project bankruptcy.” The former statement is a clear riff, again, on the Iran Nuclear Deal. In a way, it doesn’t seem bizarre: why would we want to support a country that hates us and wants “death to America?” Alas, sometimes we can buy our enemies: money talks, if only temporarily. The latter statement is surprising only in that he used Israel as an example, since the country would likely fall on the international stage without US support.
Paul also said we shouldn’t arm the Islamic State nor the allies of the Islamic State. When did we start directly arming the Islamic State? Unless he’s referring to the fact that some of the weapons we give to Syrian rebels could end up going to the Islamic State, I’m not sure what he’s referring to.
My view: we should give financial aid, but smaller amounts. Also, can you imagine if someone came up with the idea that all foreign aid had to be equal?!? 

The Patriot Act

The Patriot Act and protecting American citizens from terrorism divided the candidates: Chris Christie thinks that we should spy to everyone, since he has imprisoned terrorists that way in the past, while Rand Paul believes we need a warrant or court order first to listen in to someone’s conversations. Hello, right of privacy?! What about innocent until proven guilty-doesn’t spying on everyone imply that we all could be guilty?
My view: Quit spying on Americans! Get a warrant first! Aren’t American citizens granted probable cause? Stop racially profiling Arabs.
In regards to challenging the Islamic State, Ted Cruz was completely opposed to any attempt to attack the problem at its roots, rather than just skimming off dandelion heads (you have to pull the root out too, duh!) He first complained that President Barack Obama doesn’t call IS “radical islamic terrorists.” Clearly, Cruz would be supportive of yet another war in Iraq, because he declared “that is nonsense” regarding the idea of changing conditions on the ground so that young men are not susceptible to the IS. His solution? “If you join isis and wage jihad then you’re signing your own death threat.” Really, how can you say that it is nonsense? Terrorists are all about power and rarely about the ideology that they promote. This IS the answer: we need to help create jobs for them so that they have money and a purpose; so that they can rebuild their country and be proud. We need to stop these thoughts by fixing the problems that allow them to form.
Cruz did admit “of course” that the problem is an ideological one, but given his comments on religion I’m sure he likely feels the problem is Big Scary Islam, not a rare complete misinterpretation of Islam. He also name-checked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, saying that unlike Obama, who acts as an apologist, called out “radical Islamic terrorists” and stood up to them. Props to Sisi, since I don’t think any single foreign Head of State was mentioned besides him.
My view: Fix the Iraqi economy. Oh, and give these people a copy of the Qu’ran to read and some guidance which gives a more honest interpretation of the Qu’ran, since they clearly haven’t read it.

Iraq and Treatment of Prisoners

The legacy of the Iraq War (or “Second Iraq War”) will haunt American politics and foreign society for a long, long time. Jeb Bush, perhaps to save face over his brother’s mistake, repeated that in hindsight we shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq, and what’s more, is that it was a “mistake” to abandon Iraq since the void we left “created IS.” It’s weird but Bush actually seems likable, unlike his brother: it’s nice when somebody admits to error, especially when that error is so blatant. Although I do think it was a mistake to abandon Iraq without helping to fix its infrastructure, I don’t think our leaving created a void in anything but security: IS is the result of previous parties like the Baathists dissolving post-Saddam, and the weakening of al-Qaeda.
And what about the torture tactics America used to break captured enemies and terrorists? Ben Carson was asked his opinion on this, and he came out with, at first, seems to be an obvious answer: “I wouldn’t broadcast what we’re gonna do.” Easy enough, until you remember that America is SUPPOSED to stand for human rights, the Geneva Convention and all that jazz. “There is no such thing as a PC war,” Carson went on to say that if we don’t tie the [military’s] hands “they’ll be effective.” Again, this may seem like an obvious answer–but again, America is supposed to stand up for personal dignity and freedom. Oh wait, the Republicans don’t believe in that sort of foreign policy: America isn’t privy to most United Nations conventions that deal with human rights, right?
My view: torture and water-boarding? You’ve got to be kidding me. I know no war is good, but in this case I truly believe to do unto others as you would want done yourself. America needs to be transparent about its actions and to start acting like we give a damn about international cooperation.

Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal has the candidates up in arms, with Rand Paul insisting that the [international community] should have “consistent evidence of compliance” from Iran in regards to the deal’s terms before lifting the sanctions. It’s a pretty fair point: the sanctions bring immediate gain to Iran, while the international community will have to wait…and wait…to see if Iran is keeping good on its word.
Mike Huckabee likewise agreed, pointing out that Iran “gets everything they want” in the deal while America and the international community get nothing but a “burgeoning nuclear power” on their hands. Again, his point isn’t exactly invalid (although I ultimately vote in favor of the Iran Deal, I still have my reservations): we don’t get anything except 10 years of bought time and the hope that by then Iran will be BFFs with America. “The Iranians have said we will wipe Israel off the face of the map and bring death to America…by God you ought to take them seriously!” he admonished, and I’m sad to say that I agree with this man whose views on women and abortion I couldn’t agree with less. I mean, they’re not just saying these threats to puff themselves up, are they? This is highly, er, unorthodox diplomacy: in fact, there’s nothing diplomatic about it. There’s no formality what so ever.
My view: we shouldn’t lift the sanctions immediately, and we should be extremely vigilant in monitoring Iran on all fronts.

Conclusion: PC-Approved Diplomacy?

It’ll be interesting to see how the candidates’ views on the Middle East change as the debate progresses. Weirdly enough, it was Donald Trump that gave what was perhaps to me the most memorable soundbite: “The biggest problem this country has is being politically correct….I don’t frankly have time for political correctness.” Foreign policy, and politics itself, are just a dance of political correctness, since diplomacy entails doing all one can to not insult the other person. Whoever wins the 2016 election is going to have to be candid and honest in our relationships with the Middle Eastern nations.
My ranking of the candidates based on the sanity of their Middle Eastern rhetoric (provided I was a Republican, HA HA):  
  1. Jeb Bush
  2. Scott Walker
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Rand Paul
  5. Mike Huckabee
  6. Marc Rubio
  7. Chris christie
  8. Kasich
  9. Ben Carson
  10. Ted Cruz


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