The final theme learned from the second Republican primary debate is an obvious anti-Obama tone, especially in foreign policy.
Foreign policy was the supposed theme of this second debate, and it showed in both rounds. The two main attacks against the president’s foreign-policy team comprise his lack of skill and capability in geopolitics, and his lack of a competent response to terrorism, especially regarding ISIS.
In both categories, it appears that the main complaint – not spoken in such terms but implied – is that the president is naïve when it comes to handling foreign policy. Under his watch, Iran has become more aggressive, Russia is now a born-again international player, invading and taking Crimea from Ukraine, and actively engaging in combat activities in eastern Ukraine. Recently, Russia has sent military equipment and troops to bolster the al-Assad regime in Syria – a regime the Obama Doctrine is opposed to having in power, but has done little to prevent.
North Korea is continuing its typical swaggering against South Korea and the United States, so no progress has been made in calming tensions under Obama. The Republicans, rightfully so, have lambasted the president’s résumé concerning the lessening of U.S. military might worldwide; the weakening of its military – including an unfortunate decision to downsize; a questionable Iran negotiation outcome; and, of course, a disastrous anti-terror policy at home and abroad.
Concerning terror, the Republicans, again from a security standpoint, criticized the president in foreign and domestic arenas. The overarching theme was the president’s somewhat odd failure to call America’s enemies “Islamic jihadists,” “fundamentalists” or “extremists.” He has not called several domestic terror attacks “terror attacks,” but rather “workplace violence,” or – reminiscent of President Clinton – criminal activities.
This is strange considering that this, factually, is the enemy facing the United States. More importantly, how can one defeat an enemy if one doesn’t properly conceptualize it? ISIS bases its success on the ground theologically – a systematic and, to its followers, logically crisp theology that is more puritanical than even al-Qaida envisions. That spurred the latter’s war recently declared against the former. It sees itself as an apocalyptic caliphate, whose sole existence is to bring about the end times through war against Rome, which they conceptualize as the West, generally. They believe that final battle will occur in the Levant, and that it is approaching.
One must know an enemy to defeat it, and trying to be politically correct about it will not win friends. The P.C. approach also greatly lessens the United States’ level of respect and fear from its enemies. The Republicans have it correct here as long as they don’t emphasize, as U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham so often does, more U.S. boots on the ground. That gives theological credence to ISIS. The United States must not make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are other policies between another war and a do-nothing approach.
Concerning ISIS, the main theme focused on who allowed it to rise. There were several candidates who seemed to blame President George W. Bush. They argue that by going into Iraq originally, the United States created the conditions that would eventually allow ISIS to rise. This argument seems to be upheld by Rand Paul and Donald Trump. The remaining candidates blame Obama for its rise, by pulling out of Iraq too soon, against every single commanding general’s advice; and by not intervening within Syria soon enough or strongly enough.
If the Republicans are to win, this must be their focus. The Obama Doctrine’s emphasis on peace through leading from behind has not worked. There must be American projection of power from the front, though it also can’t be through war.
So what is to be done? This is what the voters must insist that candidates provide in their next debates – whether Bush allowed it, or whether Obama has let ISIS fester, growing from an al-Qaida offshoot of roughly a few hundred individuals in Iraq to a government controlling physical territory stretching from northern Africa to the Caucasus and even Afghanistan. This does not include the individuals and lone “packs” of sympathizers in almost every developed country, including the United States.
As far as attacking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it is easy to link her to the Obama Doctrine’s failures through one tragic word: Benghazi.
(The writer is an assistant political science professor at Augusta University. You can follow him on Twitter – @polscountrydoc.)