The most keenly interesting element of the CNN GOP presidential debate was the clear split in sentiment among the candidates on how to handle the most pressing national security problem America confronts. They split between the tough doves, Cruz and Trump, massively leading in the polls, and five militant hawks, Bush, Rubio, Christie, Kasich, and Fiorina, who are lagging. And Dr. Carson, who talks like a dove but promises hawkish policy. Call him a partridge.
Most commentators focused on the social dynamics, such as Donald Trump’s very gallant praise for his most potent rival, Ted Cruz, as well as for his other rivals. And on the political dynamics, such as the commitment that Mr. Trump made to the Republican Party, withdrawing his threat to mount a third party run. Both were significant.
But neither were nearly as significant as the clear choice the candidates are giving voters on national security and defense policy.
On the main stage, Trump and Cruz, the two leading presidential contenders, plus Sen. Rand Paul, are taking a clear “Reagan Realist” stand for nonbelligerent strength — “peace through strength” in the phrase coined by Senator John F. Kennedy and appropriated, and featured, by Reagan. Trump, Cruz, and Paul — the three tough doves — rejected the “Forever War” and sending American troops back into the quagmire of the Middle East.
Note the anarchy caused by “regime change” that had been at the core of America’s intervention. Note how, as “nature abhors a vacuum,” the vacuum this created led to the rise of Daesh (i.e. ISIS). Sen. Cruz, for one example, observed:
We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys. And one of the problems with Marco’s foreign policy is he has far too often supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama undermining governments in the Middle East that have helped radical Islamic terrorists.
We need to focus on killing the bad guys, not getting stuck in Middle Eastern civil wars that don’t keep America safe.
Bush, Rubio, Christie, Kasich, and Fiorina, lagging in the polls, all called for a much more militant return of American forces to the region. Bush and Rubio are the more modulated of the five. Gov. Bush said, “We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military.” Sen. Rubio said, “We will have to embed additional American special operators.”
Amping up the bellicosity by an order of magnitude, Gov. Kasich remarked, “it’s time that we punched the Russians in the nose.” Mrs. Fiorina promised to rebuild “the 6th Fleet a little bit right under [Putin’s] nose; rebuil[d] the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose; and conduct a few military exercises in the Baltic states.”
Gov. Christie, apparently channeling General Curtis (“bomb them back into the Stone Ages”) LeMay, actually endorsed shooting down Russian warplanes (there by invitation), thereby courting a nuclear World War: “[W]e would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
To which Sen Paul crisply and aptly observed, “Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.”
I score these five as hawks. It is of interest that the GOP voters don’t seem to be buying hawks.
Dr. Carson, a kind man and a great humanitarian, seemed to signal dovish sentiments with his statement:
No one is ever better off with dictators but there comes a time you know, when you’re on an airplane, they always say, ‘in case of an emergency oxygen masks will drop down. Put yours on first and then administer help to your neighbor.’ We need oxygen right now.
And we need to start thinking about the needs of the American people before we go and solve everybody else’s problems. The fact of the matter is, is that the Middle East has been in turmoil for thousands of years. For us to think that we’re going to in there and fix that with a couple of little bombs and a few little decorations is relatively foolish.
Then Dr. Carson mixed his message:
But also, you know, this whole concept of boots on the ground, you know, we’ve got a phobia about boots on the ground. If our military experts say, we need boots on the ground, we should put boots on the ground …
Therefore, I score Dr. Carson neither hawk nor dove, but as the partridge in the pear tree.
The most important aspect of the CNN debate was in highlighting the divide between the hawks and the doves among presidential aspirants. It is of compelling interest that the tough doves, not the hawks, dominate the campaign. (And Rand Paul arguably remains, as he was called by Time Magazine, “the most interesting man in politics.”)
As I earlier this year wrote in a column for Pravda.ru, “Peace Has Tusks“:
There is an elephant in the room of American politics. She is almost invisible, rarely reported in the media. She represents an existential political threat to Hillary Clinton, the premier Democratic presidential candidate. …
What is this invisible elephant? It is the fact that the most dovish of the candidates, for the past two election cycles, won the American presidency. In 2008, the improbable Barack Obama, who had served merely two undistinguished years in the United States Senate, ran on a platform that was vague but for a clear commitment to nudge America back to a peacetime footing.
Obama, famously, won. He beat the far-better known, far-more-lavishly-funded, far-more-experienced – yet hawkish – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Then, the dovish Obama went on to beat the very hawkish Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. It was likely that it was McCain’s martial disposition that sank the McCain campaign.
The Peace Factor, the invisible elephant in the room, mostly is ignored in the press. (This oversight is due to insular, not sinister, reasons. Most reporters are busy listening to one other rather than keeping their eyes open and ear to the ground. Human nature.) Still, even though almost invisible, peace is powerful.
Hawk vs. Dove recurrently is, as it should be, a very big deal in American presidential politics. “So let there be no doubt: The tide of war is receding.” Expect America’s voters to lean toward peace in preference to war, toward butter in preference to guns, and for peace to play a major, if almost invisible, role in Election 2016.
The political elephant of peace may be nearly invisible. Yet she is not without tusks. Welcome to American politics.
CNN did a great thing by highlighting the distinctions between the candidates: tough doves, hawks, and one partridge. Polling strongly indicates that the GOP voters are embracing the Reaganite tough doves in preference to W-ite belligerent hawks … or mixed up partridge.
On the Tenth Day Before Christmas The CNN Debate Gave To Me: 5 Fighting Hawks, 3 Tough Doves, and a Partridge In A Pear Tree.
Ralph Benko, internationally published weekly columnist, co-author of The 21st Century Gold Standard, lead co-editor of the Gerald Malsbary translation from Latin to English of Copernicus’s Essay on Money, is American Principles Project’s Senior Advisor, Economics.