By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
At the Trumpless GOP debate Thursday evening, the candidates once again promised to bankrupt us with military and intelligence spending and to commit vast war crimes with reckless disregard for the lives of women, children and non-combatant men, of the sort not openly plotted since the demise of the Axis powers in 1943-45.
Sen. Marco Rubio seemed to imply that we don’t know where the terrorists are because our intelligence agencies have somehow been insufficiently funded or supported. But the National Intelligence budget rose from $26.6 billion in fiscal year 1997 to $47.5 billion in FY 2008 (Bush’s last year), and then rose again to $53.9 bn in FY 2012.
That’s about a 12% increase in Barack Obama’s first term and a nearly 200% increase since the late Bill Clinton period.
So Rubio’s implication that intelligence spending has been gutted is not only false, it is the opposite of reality. Why would more such spending work since Rubio maintains that the vast increases in the past decade and a half haven’t done the trick?
Moreover, I thought conservatism was about small government and cutting budgets? Why is Rubio saying he wants to be more of a spendthrift than Barack Obama in this sector?
“BAIER: Senator Rubio?
RUBIO: . . .
But I want to be frank about what I stand for. I believe the world is a safer and a better place when America is the strongest power in the world. And I believe only with a strong America will we defeat this radical group, this apocalyptic group called ISIS.
That’s why when I’m president we are going to rebuild our intelligence capabilities. And they’re going to tell us where the terrorists are. And a rebuilt U.S. military is going to destroy these terrorists.
And if we capture any of these ISIS killers alive, they are going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and we’re going to find out everything they know, because when I’m president, unlike Barack Obama, we will keep this country safe.”
Moreover, Rubio’s implication that the US doesn’t know where the terrorists are is odd. Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) is different from other terrorist groups precisely in trying to hold recognized territory, so we know exactly where they are.
Finally, here’s the tally for keeping America safe on American soil:
# Americans killed by terrorism under last GOP administration: over 3,000
# Americans killed by terrorism under Obama: 88
So by the same argument used in the second Bush term, Obama has done a rather good job of keeping the US safe. (The 88 figure, by the way, includes both radical Muslim and white terrorist attacks).
As for global terrorism, it did go up from 2003. Billmon tweeted in response to Rubio,
Look how low it was in 2003. Then it goes up. Something must've happened then. https://t.co/iR8zaMHqsr
— Billmon (@billmon1) January 29, 2016
Terrorism has indeed gone up but note only 3% of global terrorist attacks since 2000 have been in the West: pic.twitter.com/MaEq7NY7eW
— Steven Rattner (@SteveRattner) January 29, 2016
His point was that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq appears to have kicked off the rise in terrorist attacks. Rubio promises more such adventurism and war crimes, so the idea that he would reduce terrorism is to say the least implausible.
Senator Rand Paul also let Rubio have it with regard to NSA warrantless snooping, which is clearly unconstitutional:
“The bulk collection of your phone data, the invasion of your privacy did not stop one terrorist attack. I don’t think you have to give up your liberty for a false sense of security.
When we look at this bulk collection, the court has looked at this. Even the court declared it to be illegal. If we want to collect the records of terrorists, let’s do it the old fashioned way. Let’s use the Fourth Amendment. Let’s put a name on a warrant, let’s ask a judge for it. Let’s respect the history of our country.
John Adams said that we fought a War for Independence because we wanted to fight against generalized warrants. Let’s don’t forget that. ”
Ben Carson said unintelligible things and added, “The American people are terrified. That’s why we have this abnormal situation going on right now.”
There isn’t any reason for the American people to be terrified except that the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to make them terrified so as to herd them into the voting booth on their side. The US has no major geopolitical adversaries that might attack it (we do have a big nuclear arsenal and the best-equipped military in the world). You are much more likely to die from being struck by lighting than to die of terrorism, and if you were to die of terrorism it would more likely be at the hands of radicalized white people than at the hands of a Muslim radical. I remember the Cuban missile crisis. Now that was scary. Nowadays there isn’t any menace like that. Chill, Ben.
Chris Wallace pointed out to Ted Cruz that he keeps voting against the defense budget while demanding bigger defense budgets. Cruz said,
“You know, you claim it is tough talk to discuss carpet bombing. It is not tough talk. It is a different, fundamental military strategy than what we’ve seen from Barack Obama. Barack Obama right now, number one, over seven years, has dramatically degraded our military. You know, just two weeks ago was the 25th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf war. When that war began, we had 8,000 planes. Today, we have about 4,000. When that war began, we had 529 ships. Today, we have 272.
You want to know what carpet bombing is? It’s what we did in the first Persian Gulf war; 1,100 air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy. Right now, Barack Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. He’s not arming the Kurds. We need to define the enemy. We need to rebuild the military to defeat the enemy. And we need to be focused and lift the rules of engagement so we’re not sending our fighting men and women into combat with their arms tied behind their backs.”
Cruz is a smart man with Ivy League degrees but he becomes remarkably stupid whenever he talks about military affairs. Carpet bombing failed in the Vietnam War. Intensive bombing could be deployed in the Gulf War because the tanks of the Iraqi Occupation of Kuwait were spread along the Kuwaiti border with Saudi Arabia out in the desert. We couldn’t have carpet bombed the forces in Kuwait City itself without destroying the country we were trying to save.
Daesh doesn’t have many tanks and it is ensconced in cities with civilian populations like Mosul. Carpet bombing Mosul (pre-Daesh pop. 2 mn., i.e. Houston) would not harm Daesh but it would kill a lot of Mosulis. I doubt Cruz could find Mosul on a map or tell you who lives there, so why is he speaking in public about carpet bombing it?
By the way, Daesh is what is called Salafi, or hyper-Sunni Muslim. It is the opposite of Shiite Islam. Somehow the candidates seemed to be confused about this:
From Santorum calling Shi'ism "death cult" to Rubio's insults on Shias on national television on debates you wonder who their advisors are.
— Arash Karami (@thekarami) January 29, 2016
As for the weapons reductions, the fact is that our planes are twice as good now. And, in 1990 we were still in a cold war with the Soviet Union. We don’t have any significant geopolitical rivals at the moment, so why should we maintain an enormous conventional arsenal? The Founding Fathers thought a standing army incompatible with democracy. Can’t we at least scale back when we are at peace? (The GWOT is not a conventional war.)
Putting captives at Guantanamo is just a way to try to avoid operating within the US Constitution and the framework of international law. No one would want to do that who isn’t a lawless sadist.
Then Rubio said,
“ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind. ISIS is now found in affiliates in over a dozen countries. ISIS is a group that burns people alive in cages; that sells off little girls as brides. ISIS is a group that wants to trigger an apocalyptic showdown in the city of Dabiq — not the city of Dubuque; I mis-said — mis-said that wrong once (inaudible) time — the city of Dabiq in Syria. They want to trigger an apocalyptic Armageddon showdown.
RUBIO: This group needs to be confronted and defeated. They are not going to go away on their own. They’re not going to turn into stockbrokers overnight or open up a chain of car washes. They need to be defeated militarily, and that will take overwhelming U.S. force. ”
It just floors me that US politicians fearmonger in such a strident and extreme manner off of Daesh. It is like 30,000 scruffy fighters with light and medium weaponry and no air capability. While it is brutal and creates horror spectacles, it hasn’t yet scaled the heights of brutality of the Khmer Rouge, who polished off a million out of 6 million Cambodians.
I think if Rubio would actually, like, read a book about Middle Eastern history, he’d find that there were past radical movements rather more impressive than Daesh (just as there were in Christian Europe).
The overwhelming deployment of US military force in Iraq in 2003-2011 created Daesh in the first place, so why Rubio thinks doing it again will work differently this time is mysterious. But then Rubio is a chickenhawk who has no idea about even recent military history and is just preening in his high heels.
JEB! gave his own prescription:
“The caliphate of ISIS has to be destroyed, which means we need to arm directly to Kurds, imbed our troops with the Iraqi military, re engage with the Sunni tribal leaders.”
That sounds to me like exactly what Obama is doing. The US helped the Kurds take back Sinjar in Iraq. It helped them defend Kobane. It is embedding US troops with the Kurds in eastern Syria and has a command in Iraq. The US military and intelligence is reaching out to Syrian Sunnis in the northeast and getting them to fight alongside the Kurds. Sunni tribal levies helped retake Ramadi.
JEB! is just advocating the current policy and pretending that he is saying something different. It is weird.
Then he said we should get the lawyers off the back of the US military. I take it he means by that we should toss overboard the Geneva Conventions, which were crafted to prohibit the kind of behavior that made the Nazis notorious during WW II.
We’ve been trying to outlaw war crimes since then, but the US Republican Party seems to admire the tactics of the Axis and to regret their having fallen into disrepute.
JEB! also went on about San Bernardino, which was the work of a couple of unbalanced people who shot up their workplace and murdered co-workers, a place of no security significance whatsoever, and they began plotting violence before Daesh even existed. JEB! and the others had nothing to say about Dylann Roof or killigs at Planned Parenthood, which exemplify the kind of terrorism that is much more common in the US than a vague Daesh menace.
Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump used the poor veterans as camouflage for his inability to share a stage with other egos and was slammed by veterans for this ploy:
“The chairman of VoteVets.org was more pointed, saying Trump was “a loser, … a third-rate politician, who clearly doesn’t understand issues, and is so scared of Megyn Kelly exposing it, that you’re looking to use veterans to protect you from facing her questions.”
Trump has had a rocky relationship with veterans after he made comments about Sen. John McCain, saying he wasn’t a hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War.”
It was an evening of third-rate politicians who don’t understand the issues.