Top Cringe Worthy Foreign Policy Moments in GOP Debate

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Top Cringe Worthy Foreign Policy Moments in GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during the first Republican presidential debate Thursday in Cleveland. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

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.

"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."

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?

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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.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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