Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate focused exclusively on foreign policy. City Limits knows nothing about foreign policy—meaning we’d have been very much at home on stage in Las Vegas. Here are the 10 lines that delighted and disturbed us the most:
1. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, claiming that President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “betrayed” our country, citing the hoax email that shut down Los Angeles schools as an indictment of the current administration.
2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush vowing to “destroy ISIS before it destroys us.” No serious person could argue that the terrorist group is or ever will be actually capable of destroying the United States.
3. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson on the use of ground forces: “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 and recognize that there will be boots on the ground and they’ll be over here, and they’ll be their boots if we don’t get out of there now.” This statement appears to have something to do with boots, but beyond that things get fuzzy. Carson appears to be suggesting that if the U.S. doesn’t commit ground troops to the fight against ISIS, ISIS will orchestrate military action on U.S. soil. That’s a dubious proposition on its face, and its inverse is even more questionable.
4. “Right now under President Obama we’ve created this standard that is so high that it’s impossible to defeat ISIS,” said Bush, apparently referring to the administration’s criteria for the use of force. While precise numbers are hard to come by, by one estimate drone strikes under Obama have killed as many as 2,400 people, and some have criticized the administration’s approach to targeted killings for violating international law—not for showing undue deference to it.
5. Another from Bush: “The FBI has the tools to monitor un-American activity in this country.” Did he not see “Good Night and Good Luck”? “Un-American activity” is a phrase that has, um, lost a little luster since the McCarthy era.
6. Christie sizes up the complexity of the Middle East: “We need to focus our attention on Iran, because if you miss Iran, you are not going to get ISIS. The two are inextricably connected because one causes the other.” This attempt to link two very separate strategic problems—Iran, an actual country that is primarily Shia and ISIS, a stateless terrorist group that is exclusively Sunni—has an appealing simplicity. Other than that, it’s worthless.
7. Donald Trump on … something: “Our country is out of control.” No, it’s not. Crime is low, unemployment has fallen, undocumented immigration is down and almost none of our cities are controlled by flesh-eating rats. Is it possible to talk about the country’s problems without accepting that the apocalypse is nigh?
8. This cat Christie is a bad mother … (Shut your mouth!) : “And yes, we 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.” Let’s leave aside for the moment the vow to, as Rand Paul quipped, start World War III. Is Christie really the guy who wants to start a name-calling contest? Time for a little traffic trouble on Pennsylvania Avenue!
9. Mike Huckabee, who appeared in the early-evening debate for minor candidates, reiterated a line in which he manages to braid xenophobia, liberal baiting and the canard that the U.S. houses refugees in “camps”, saying of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the president has said he plans to welcome: “Let’s send the first wave of them to Martha’s Vineyard and the upper east side of Manhattan and to the south lawn of the White House where we’ll set up a camp.”
10. Trump: “We should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds to figure a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet.” Yes. Please summon the brilliant minds, and very, very quickly.