Top Cringe Worthy Foreign Policy Moments in GOP Debate

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Well we had the primetime GOP debate, so the 2016 election season has formally begun.

Trump declared himself more or less an independent. When Megyn Kelly pressed him on his history of misogyny and putting down women, he threatened not to be nice to her any more. The pattern with Trump is that if you ask him why he bullies people, he bullies you. Rand Paul accused Chris Christie of hugging President Obama and wanting to abrogate the fourth amendment (both things are true). It wasn’t edifying.

On the foreign policy side, here are the moments that made me cringe.

Ted Cruz said, “We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.” President Field Marshall al-Sisi stands accused of having ordered something like 1250 Muslim Brotherhood protesters killed in 2013-14, of having declared the former civilian ruling party a terrorist organization, and of running a thinly veiled military dictatorship. Does Mr. Cruz admire Ben Mussolini too?

Then there was this gem from Scott Walker:

KELLY: Governor Walker, in February you said that we needed to gain partners in the Arab world. Which Arab country not already in the U.S. led coalition has potential to be our greatest partner?

WALKER: What about then (ph), we need to focus on the ones we have. You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important.

You look at the Saudis — in fact, earlier this year, I met with Saudi leaders, and leaders from the United Arab Emirates, and I asked them what’s the greatest challenge in the world today? Set aside the Iran deal. They said it’s the disengagement of America. We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — America’s a great country. We need to stand up and start leading again, and we need to have allies, not just in Israel, but throughout the Persian Gulf.”

I mean, could the man even find these places on the map? First of all, what in the world does that mean, “You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime.” Does he think Egypt is in Israel? That “Israel” means something like “the Middle East”? If so, no wonder Congress is willing to do whatever Tel Aviv asks. I mean, how can you decline, when the Middle East calls?

As for having allies “throughout the Persian Gulf,” the US already does. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are all US allies. Bahrain hosts the HQ of the Fifth Fleet. We have several thousand troops based in Kuwait. Qatar leases us the al-Udaid Air Force Base. Etc., etc. I’m not sure what the Gulf Cooperation Council states in the Gulf want the US to lead them toward, but their current campaign is in Yemen, which, although I am very critical of the Houthi rebels, I don’t think is a good idea. No doubt they would have wanted us to take the lead there. But, do we need another quagmire? But Walker seems weak-minded enough so maybe all sorts of foreign countries can bamboozle him into doing their adventurism for them.

Then Ben Carson weighed in:

CARSON: We’ve gotten into this — this mindset of fighting politically correct wars. There is no such thing as a politically correct war.


CARSON: The left, of course, will say Carson doesn’t believe in the Geneva Convention, Carson doesn’t believe in fighting stupid wars. And — and what we have to remember is we want to utilize the tremendous intellect that we have in the military to win wars.”

Seriously, the man’s platform is that the United States should have a policy of committing war crimes. Dude, we did that. We polished off like 1-2 million Vietnamese peasants. It doesn’t work. We still lost that war. It turns out that kind of behavior kind of stirs up the locals against you. Ask the other regimes that had a policy like the one you advocate. Oh, wait, they’re not there any more.

Then Scott Walker was asked about Iran:

“To me, you terminate the deal on day one, you reinstate the sanctions authorized by Congress, you go to Congress and put in place even more crippling sanctions in place, and then you convince our allies to do the same.

This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.”

So OK, I know the guy hates universities and isn’t very well educated, but surely he can form complete sentences? What does it mean, “This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together . . .”

Mr. Walker, I advise against using “this” as a pronoun, since it is vague and weak. It is better as a demonstrative adjective. “This house” is clear and strong. In the sentence above, you haven’t made clear what the referent of “this” is. The deal? How is the agreement reached on inspecting Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program “bad with Iran?”

In fact, I don’t think you are using “bad with” in a way recognizable as idiomatic English. Did you mean to say that the nuclear deal is unfortunate with regard to Iran? But how in the world is it also unfortunate with regard to Daesh (what you call ISIS)? Do you understand that Daesh is a hard line Salafi Sunni terrorist organization that kills Shiites on sight? And that Iran is a Shiite country that has been the most effective force in opposing Daesh? You see, it isn’t actually tied together.

How could a nuclear deal with Iran be “bad with ISIS?” The likelihood is that the US will be able now to coordinate more openly with Iran in destroying ISIS.

The last time I saw a performance like this one was in 2000 when a journalist asked George W. Bush something about Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who had made a military coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. Bush couldn’t name the general but thought the coup was an excellent idea, and expressed himself in a generally unintelligible way. Bill Clinton made excuses for him that he would get up to speed. But he never did.

After W., I have a rule that if you flounder around speaking some odd Klingon form of English and don’t seem actually to, like, know anything, you can’t be president.


Related video:

CBS: “Watch: GOP debate key moments”

39 Responses

  1. Dr. Cole, you ask: “Does he ( Gov. Walker) think Egypt is in Israel? That “Israel” means something like “the Middle East”?”
    Probably not: he, like most politicians, does not think, he just follows orders on that issue. Probably he does think, like most politicians do, that his obedience can get him personal benefits. He , like most politicians do, prefer to ignore the obvious: his personal benefits cost misery to our people and may eventually cause the end of our beloved country.
    It’s a shame that, to my knowledge, the national interest is not the main issue for any presidential candidate so far.

  2. Remember Karl Rove made the statement, ‘we create our own reality’, well this is what you get. These candidates don’t have a clue, and that’s the way their donors like them. They don’t need a brain. All these presidential hopefuls need is to answer their phones, and do what their masters say. We should have up on the stage, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, John Hagee, and Netanyahu! Trump may tell us he represents himself, but I’m sure he would serve someone for some dough. Actually, invite who ever is behind the curtain, because these are the entities these candidates represent.

  3. “You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime.” Does he think Egypt is in Israel? That “Israel” means something like “the Middle East”?

    I did not listen to the debate, so I’ve no idea what the rhythm, breaks, stresses of speech were – I think the most probable meaning actually makes perfect sense geographically — That is, he’s naming a list of places – Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, none of which he imagines is any of the others (what else he might imagine I’ve no idea.

    “This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.”

    He was asked about “the Iran deal”. He responded with specificity – “terminate the deal on day one, . . . you reinstate the sanctions authorized by Congress . . .”

    I think that reading the response in the context of the question, the plain meaning of the response is that US policy with Iran, epitomized by “the Iran deal”, its policy toward “ISIS”, all suffer from the same errors of omission and commission – And as a result, matters are “bad with” every area in the region.

    I actually find what he’s saying perfectly intelligible — by which I don’t mean intelligent.

  4. “President Field Marshall al-Sisi stands accused of having ordered something like 1250 Muslim Brotherhood protesters killed in 2013-14, of having declared the former civilian ruling party a terrorist organization, and of running a thinly veiled military dictatorship. Does Mr. Cruz admire Ben Mussolini too?”

    No, Ted Cruz is more of a Batista kind of guy.

  5. A televised version of a bunch of Conservatives in klown suits at some gaudy local pub vying to out-Trump each other.

    Watching this malinformation spill could vacuum your skull.

  6. Professor Cole–

    There were too many cringe worthy moments last night, but I stuck it out ’til the end. I left the channel on FOX and Megan Kelly followed; the whole of her program was dedicated to the debate. One commentator was speaking with a focus group of Ohio Republicans and attempting to gauge their reactions. The focus group, and those watching giving minute-to-minute reactions, all positively reacted to Huckabee’s comment, “…vilifies those who disagree with him”. They further gave high marks to Huckabee’s erroneous characterization of the negotiation’s outcome (e.g., America was to have total 24/7 to any of Iran’s site, America got nothing from the deal…). It was so disheartening watching this focus group, and how not one of the panel questioned his position(s).

    After 14 years of war in the ME, and not having moved the dial one iota, it seems that at some point people–even those that favor war– would reasonably question our ability to have a successful military outcome in that part of the world. We’ll never win the peace, and is that bad? Seeing how the Republicans ate up the war hyperbole, I’m curious how the Democrats are going to temper this segment here in the US that feels an endless war is the means to an end?

    It was a disappointing night, especially if this was the “top ten”.

    • I saw the results of a recent poll that found that majorities of Americans (around 37% to 31% for one and similar for another) believe that the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party for the economy and for foreign policy. This country seems to have mass Alzheimers. Considering that the current crop of GOP contenders have practically the same policies as Bush that produced one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in US history and one of the greatest economic downturns in US history, it’s hard to be hopeful about the electorate. I mean, how many disasters does a party have to be responsible for before people lose faith in it?

  7. My brother-in-law, a conservative who thinks he knows everything, was telling us about a recent trip he took to London. “And there’s this one section in London, it’s like Little Tehran. All you hear is Arabic!” I didn’t bother to point out that Iranians generally don’t speak Arabic, but asked him if the people there were Shiite or Sunni? He gave me this what kind of stupid question is that look and said , “I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.” This is the audience that the GOP hopefuls are appealing to. They will think that those answers cited by Professor Cole are spot on. It’s the ignorant leading the uninformed. Or maybe vice versa.

  8. The key problem is that the public is willing to lie to itself that destroying the Iran deal will not lead to war, but to sanctions that will cause Iran to come crawling to us without any shots getting fired. If you ask often enough what we will do if that doesn’t work, then maybe the hawks will screw up the script and say the fatal words, “regime change”. See, the public doesn’t recall all the lies from 2002, but it does recall the words “regime change”. It senses that this is the point where it might get dragged into making real sacrifices.

    At the very least, we need to demand Chuck Schumer’s position on regime change, because Democrats definitely are afraid of those words, and he doesn’t want to mention them. The more they’re mentioned, the more Democrats who won’t override Obama’s veto.

    • As the Iranians are Shia Muslims and ISIS is Sunni and believes that Shia Muslims are apostates to the true Muslim religion, the policies of Iran are basically irrelevant to ISIS hatred of Iran.

  9. {We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — }

    Not only dumb but…. Is he a gay?

  10. Over at the happy hour debate Lindsey Graham said he would not only tear up the agreement he would send US troops back into Iraq. If you liked Iraq the first and second time you’ll love it the third time around. We’re heading towards 20 trillion dollars in debt and this warmonger wants to extend our already $6 trillion war.

  11. I have never visited the US but I follow international politics quite closely. For what it’s worth, I find the level of debate and the ignorance displayed by these presidential hopefuls truly frightening. Would forcing them to attend a crash ‘History for Dummies’ course help, or are they past learning? Perhaps they are just there to line their pockets by doing the bidding of the 1 per cent. Whatever is going on, I can’t see any good coming from any of them.

    • Good. Tell your neighbors and relatives. It’s time for America to be stripped of its status and influence. American brand names should gather dust on your store shelves. Entire types of product and retail enslavement like Walmart should be driven out of the civilized world. Just as the 1% must not be able to brainwash Americans with infinite commercials into buying their pet politicians, but Wall Street corporations must not be able to brainwash the rest of humanity into buying American cultural imperialism. It’s the only way for my fellow Americans to learn reality.

  12. You mean, like, you won’t vote for an ignorant, debauched, anti-intellectual candidate for President. But, clearly, an ignorant, debauched, anti-intellectual can be President–to our shame and sorrow.

  13. Fret not boys, by time the crazies pick a candidate he will be so crippled by then,,.trying to placate them,,,,my labrador could beat them in the general election…..this from a right winger Israel supporter….

  14. I am, oh, so glad that I was not able to watch the Republican Presidential debate last night. Just looking at the comments on the responses tells me that viewers were getting dumber and dumber the more they listened to this gibberish, even if they didn’t agree with it. Are they going to be issuing the equivalent of radiation dosimeters – only calibrated to the “stupid” – so that viewers will know they reached their annual maximum exposure?

    • This reminds me of the Reagan years when they actually talked about “winning” a nuclear war. One Administration official advised people to seek a culvert or build a slit trench if caught outside when the big one hit, as if that would help.If anything, they are more delusional now than even that.

  15. Am I the only one who caught it? Didn’t Walker say Persian Gulfs? Is he bringing back Bushisms or does he think there are multiple Persian Gulfs?

    • yes, i just heard it. this is the only place where i found it mentioned – your comment!

      Well, Mark, maybe we’re wrong, maybe there are a whole slew of gulfs we didn’t know about!!! (I mean, Persian ones!)

    • Mark, Walker thinks the Koch Brothers like him. He didn’t catch on yet that they only want him to do their dirty work. Good you paid attention…poor you.

  16. As usual Juan, you immediately caught nuances that were above my level of International knowledge. Kudos. Sharing this to my Wall because several of my friends learn by more informed outlooks. ;)
    That said, the one thing that immediately stuck out to me, and that I immediately had to post on, was when Chris Wallace said, before throwing to commercial:
    “Coming up … questions about President Obama’s foreign policy and (gesturing at Republican field) *these* guys and their better ideas.”
    — Really? They’ve just *completely* given up on any illusion of Fair And Balanced?

    — So who out there still wants to debate with me that Fox News is not a propaganda arm of the Republican Party?

  17. You hear this kind of Palinspeak from many in political life. It arises because they don’t think before they speak. Because it’s not a habit, thinking prior to responding doesn’t happen automatically, particularly under pressure. It is possible the widespread study of Latin once insensibly introduced a habit of thinking before speaking which has faded with the decline of that particular study and attendant peer example.

    You get it all over, here’s Mark Toner on Thursday responding to a question about US air strikes hitting Syrian Kurds:

    QUESTION: — they were considering this as a betrayal to the Kurds in Syria, especially the YPG.

    MR TONER: In terms of what you’re thinking about, a betrayal, I mean, we’ve been very clear to the Turks about – the Turkish Government about these forces – not the Kurdish forces, not the – now, I’m being very clear here – not – I’m not talking about PKK, which is a designated foreign terrorist organization. But these forces shouldn’t be harassed or fired upon

    The words are simply leaking from his mouth. Had he paused with the question, thought through an answer and then replied it would have taken no longer and been simple and straightforward. As it is he obliges his audience to put the words into their own heads and do his thinking for him.

    • oh wow. just… wow.

      So of course Trump spent many years running such beauty pageants. Miss USA was one of his. Does this give him an advantage?

  18. My top cringe moment was when Jeb was asked whether or not he would’ve started the Iraq war. In response, he accused Obama of creating the IS/Daesh mess by withdrawing from Iraq.

    Which brought on multiple dimensions of cringe.

    First of all, what Jeb said is false, since GW Bush negotiated the withdrawal as well as starting the war

    Second, he evaded the question, although that’s to be expected.

    Third, in blaming Obama, he is actually partly right, since the Obama administration stirred up enough trouble in Syria to give IS/Daesh a big hand up.

    And fourth, although of course GW Bush holds the majority of the blame in this situation, we have to also remember GHW (papa) Bush was involved, as head of CIA, and Reagan’s VP, in US support of Saddam when he was at his worst — only to go to war with Saddam when he became President.

    Makes your head spin.

  19. Coherent thought and clear communication would both be fatal flaws for GOP candidates. Clarity of communication might, possibly, lead Republican voters to grasp the realities of foreign and domestic policy decisions. Clarity of communication a la Elizabeth Warren would make it nearly impossible for voters to elect anyone following the GOP playbook. Only so long as word salad reigns is it possible for their campaigns to continue.

    Also, depending on how far along a candidate is, and how sincerely he wishes to serve the nation, coherent thought could easily lead to self-harm or even suicide. I wonder how many retired GOP officials are sitting by the fire now, staring at the flames and asking themselves “Dear God, what have I done?”

  20. When I was learning to speak English my teachers emphasized that the most important thing was to be understood. I think if you read Gov. Walkers comment’s with an intent to understand them, not criticize their delivery, you can. But then there’s the fact that even if he used a Shakespearean mastery of the language he’d still be saying very silly things.

  21. How can a sitting, educated, grown man like Gov Walker, think ISIS and Iran are similar or connected? Good grief, this country is fffed up with some really ignorant people. There’s probably elementary kids out there who would know the difference between Iran and ISIS (and that one is a better ally than the other…) but not this group?

  22. Walker: “You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important.”

    My guess is that Walker actually said “than Israel” or “dan Israel” with imperfect enunciation, without moving his tongue from the previous “had”.

    Walker: “This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS.”

    My guess is that he meant, “with regard to Iran” and “with regard to ISIS”.

    Anyway, Walker is not a careful speaker, is he?

    • I don’t think so. I think he meant peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is ‘incredibly important.’

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