For the better part of two years the campaign saga has pounded the surf of our daily lives like a relentless black tide. Now, in a matter of hours, polling places at last will close, with either President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney emerging victorious at the other end, the flotsam and jetsam of the last 24 months receding quietly into memory.
For the most part, it’s a lot of detritus we want to see go. Forever. But think about it, in the morning light, the world will look a lot more dangerous than it even did two years ago. Furthermore, all we know about the candidates on foreign policy and national security is that the incumbent has no fresh ideas and the new guy, well, he was nominated from a collection of Republican circus acts who distinguished themselves by debating whether Palestinians were “invented,” how fast they could declare war on Iran, who loved Israel most, how many illegal immigrants could be sent home at once, how many more zillions they would add to the military budget, and who was more exceptionally exceptional about America’s super-duper exceptionalism.
Thanks for the memories. Really. Some of them were downright funny — in a bleak, cynical and moronic sort of way. In fact, The Republican primaries were like one step up from watching high school juniors dueling for class president promising no mystery meat and less homework. Except the red meat here was no mystery, and these paper dolls obviously don’t do homework. Hearing Rick Perry call for predator drones (for spying, really) on the Mexican border, only to be outdone by Herman Cain’s endorsement of a 2,000-mile electrified fence, was more proof than ever that we are headed for the zombie apocalypse — and woefully unready.
Think about it — as we enter the final hours of this quadrennial ritual, the Middle East is not only embroiled in war and revolution, but is sizzling on the verge of a Sunni-Shia conflagration. There are some 68,000 American troops still in Afghanistan, not to mention countless contractors and government personnel, and by all accounts (outside the desperate Pentagon spin machine), our Band Aid is barely keeping the place together. Pakistan is a tinderbox, Africa too. The Drug War is bleeding Mexico and Central America like a leech. Fiscal crisis has paralyzed Europe and no one really knows how Iran will react to the boot the U.S. has managed to plant firmly on its throat.
Yet for two years we have heard virtually nothing about how the candidates plan to approach these confounding global challenges, only a virulent blame game in which the current president is accused of apologizing and appeasing too much. By the way, nothing says “I’m sorry” like a wedding party flattened by a Hellfire missile, or incinerating a 16-year-old American boy because he has the wrong parentage. They should be pleased, but the Republicans have instead chosen to ramp up their own manic house organ in hopes that no one will notice they’re all playing the same tune.
Sadly, the only countervailing balance in this woeful ensemble was eventually dropped from the circuit, making all foreign policy and national security talk a race to inanity. Ron Paul and to some small extent, Jon Huntsman, were able to provide some semblance of clarity, calling into question the militaristic doggerel coming from such sultans of smarm as Newt “the Muslims are coming” Gingrich, and Rick “onward American soldiers” Santorum, not to mention the man running for president on the Republican Party ticket today.
“We have to stop being the policemen of the world!” Paul charged in the December 2012 GOP debate in Iowa. “We don’t need another war in Syria and we don’t need another war in Iran.”
For his part, Huntsman pushed back on the popular GOP war narrative, too. At the November 2011 debate in Washington, no doubt sick of hearing Romney’s oft-repeated declaration that he “stands with the commanders,” not the president, on how soon the U.S. should leave Afghanistan, he quipped, “at the end of the day, the President of the United States is Commander in Chief.”
“I also remember when people listened to the generals in 1967 and we heard a certain course of action in South Asia that didn’t serve our interests very well,” he added icily.
Zing! One of the most powerful comebacks in all the foreign policy debates combined, yet it died out like a match in the rain as Huntsman left the campaign in January and Paul became increasingly drowned out by the racket in the booby hatch during what is now known as the long dark winter of the Republican Primary.
And what a racket it was, some of it quite amusing and dismal at the same time. Kind of like watching one episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm” after an another, on depressants. But this was no satire, it was painfully real.
Given that it was the Obama Administration’s job to merely defend its policies and try to convince America a bag of coal is a satin purse of diamonds, it was up to the Republicans to outdo the President on even his most hawkish, interventionist policies. As we await the fate of the duopoly, let us recap some of the highlights of this garish Republican exercise, a spectacularly odious and benighted road map to today’s election:
“Is what I said historically correct? Yes. Is it factually true? Yes … Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists…” — Newt Gingrich during the Dec. 11 debate in response to a question about why he called Palestinians an “invented people” who had the “chance to go to many places.”
“..Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend, Bibi Netanyahu and say, would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do? — Mitt Romney’s response to Gingrich’s “invented people remark” during the debate.
“Well, first of all, you thank heavens that Fidel Castro has returned to his maker and will be sent to another land.” — Romney in response to a hypothetical question about Fidel Castro’s death, during the Tampa GOP Debate.
“I guess the only thing I would suggest is I don’t think that Fidel is going to meet his maker. I think he’s going to go to the other place.” — Gingrich in response to Romney’s response.
“The bottom line is the theocracy that runs Iran is the equivalent of having al Qaeda in charge of a country with huge oil reserves, gas reserves, and a nuclear weapon. That is something that no president could possibly allow to have happen under any circumstances.” — Rick Santorum in response to a question about whether the American public would support military attacks on Iranian missile sites, at the Tampa debate.
“It (electric fence) might be electrified, I’m not walking away from that, I just don’t want to offend anyone…” — Herman Cain on controversial immigration remarks, while meeting with anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio in October 2011.
“I think the person who really has a problem with illegal immigration in the country is President Obama. It’s his uncle and his aunt who are illegal aliens who’ve been allowed to stay in this country, despite the fact that they’re illegal…I will build a double-walled fence with — with an area of security neutrality in between. I will build that, because this is what we know. This is an economics issue and a jobs issue” — Michele Bachmann in response to a question about whether a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border is necessary, at the Las Vegas GOP Debate, October 2011.
“I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don’t agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people, that are evil.” — Romney during GOP foreign policy debate in Washington, Nov. 22, 2011.
“A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities…. a safer world and a more prosperous America go hand-in-hand … we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen.” — Paul Ryan, in a speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society, June 2012.
I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century.” — Romney remarks before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, July 2012.
“Like a watchman in the night, we must remain at our post — and keep guard of the freedom that defines and ennobles us, and our friends…In an American Century, we secure peace through our strength.” — Romney at VFW.
“If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.’ I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people.” — Romney, at a private fundraiser, May 17, 2012.
“They (Iran) are racing toward a nuclear weapon,” Ryan, Vice Presidential Debate, October 2012.
“I would not meet with Ahmadinejad. He should be excluded from diplomatic society. He should be indicted for the crime of incitement to genocide under Article III of the Genocide Convention,” Romney, Republican Jewish Coalition, December 2011.
“This President appears more generous to our enemies than he is to our friends. Such is the natural tendency of someone who is unsure of America’s strength — or of America’s rightful place in the world. The course of appeasement and accommodation has long been the path chosen by the weak and the timid. And history shows it is a path that nation’s choose at their own peril.” — Romney before Republican Jewish Coalition.
“I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States … if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.” — Michele Bachmann, before the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“We are all George Washington now, and this is our Delaware crossing, our march on Trenton. Liberation from tyranny is ours if we are willing to fight hard enough for it. Sharia law is our tyranny. It’s not exactly here yet. But it will be. And when it is — when we are all wearing burqas and long straggly beards and hanging limply from trees for our transgressions — we’ll be sorry we had listened to the ‘secular-socialists’ running the country instead of intellectual revolutionaries like the good people here at AEI, and of course, myself.” — Gingrich before the American Enterprise Institute, August 2010.
“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American Left who hates Christendom. … What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values” — Santorum, campaigning in South Carolina, 2011.
“I think the Democrats are actually worried he (Obama) may go to Indonesia and bow to more Muslims.” — Santorum, Fox News, May 2010.
Many of us who are displeased with how foreign policy and national security have devolved over the last two administrations and throughout this campaign will have little to cheer about on Nov. 7 either way, whether it be status quo, or Clown Town. The morning after and days that follow will no doubt bring the pangs of regret: that no one was strong enough to transcend the foolishness and make a real difference, and that this is all hastening to the time where things truly fall apart.
Follow Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos.