23 November 2011

Highlights from the National Security Debate

This was a great debate, only exceeded by the Bloomberg debate.  The latter excelled thanks to the superlative moderation, while the factor that made this CNN/think-tank debate interesting was the subject material.  The candidates actually had substantive disagreements, and the questions were only ridiculous in the well-calculated manner of conservative think tanks.  Moderator Wolf Blitzer was only mildly annoying, although he still has the amazing quality of always sounding like he is shouting.

Ron Paul, remarkably, shone as a beacon of sanity.  This is probably just my ideology at work, but his views were well-reasoned and rational when set against the pugnacious hostility of his reactionary rivals.  He also managed to avoid going to far into his "whiny old man" mode, and was a force to be taken seriously.  Take, for example, his answer on Israel.  It was so well-put that the candidate to follow, Herman Cain, just changed the subject.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, would you support Israel and help Israel in such an attack? 

PAUL: No, I wouldn't do that. ... And if it did -- you're supposing that if it did, why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way. I mean, we interfere with them. We interfere with them when they deal with their borders. When they want to have peace treaties, we tell them what they can do because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. And then they decide they want to bomb something, that's their business, but they should, you know, suffer the consequences. ... Why should we commit -- we don't even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we're going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they're quite capable of taking care of themselves. 

I think we do detriment -- just think of all the money we gave to Egypt over 30 or 40 years. Now, look, we were buying friendship. Now there's a civil war, they're less friendly to Israel.  The whole thing is going to backfire once we go bankrupt and we remove our troops, so I think we should be very cautious in our willingness to go to war and send troops without a proper declaration by the U.S. Congress. 
So for once, Ron Paul gets to be the completed reasonable guy on stage and not the crazy uncle.  It's a shame that his domestic policies are so insane, or else he'd be a better choice than Obama.

Also on show was the astonishing sophistry of Newt Gingrich, who is the same cunning kind of villain as Karl Rove: you know he's smart enough not to believe his own deception.  The exchange about Iran is a good example.  Rick Perry was asked about what sanctions he would impose to pressure Iran into giving up their nuclear program.  He predictably replied that he would sanction their central bank, as he has said before.  Wolf Blitzer turned instantly to Newt with a follow-up question, cleverly but transparently designed to elicit disagreement and discussion.

BLITZER: The argument, Speaker Gingrich -- and I know you've studied this, and I want you to weigh in -- on the sanctioning of the Iranian Central Bank, because if you do that, for all practical purposes, it cuts off Iranian oil exports, 4 million barrels a day. 

The Europeans get a lot of that oil. They think their economy, if the price of gasoline skyrocketed, which it would, would be disastrous. That's why the pressure is on the U.S. to not impose those sanctions. What say you? 

GINGRICH: Well, I say you -- the question you just asked is perfect, because the fact is we ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.
Newt has to know this is an insane plan, but he doesn't care.  It sounds plausible: cut off Iran's primary source of wealth and start a booming new business replacing them.  But developing new oil resources takes years, and that's assuming that our record-breaking level of drilling could be safely increased.  Meanwhile, Iran's nuclear program is on track to finish in only a few years according to last report.  Newt's proposing a long-term solution to a short-term problem.  So either (a) he is suggesting that Europe is just going to have to crash and burn for a few years until America can nearly triple its oil production and achieve a surplus to export, or (b) he isn't making a useful suggestion but just something that sounds plausible and intelligent.

His later reiteration of this point makes me think the latter, as he said "If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse."  America consumes 18.7 million barrels of oil a day, and produces 7.8 million barrels per day.  To reach parity, and then to add a surplus equal to that of Iran's 4 million barrels, would require increasing our production by 290%.  Gingrich isn't stupid enough to think that the only problem is that we're not "serious" about it, which somehow makes him so much worse than his fellows.

Herman Cain was a sad figure, of course.  No one needed to hear his answers, which were uniformly some variant of, "I don't know, I'll ask someone who does."

BLITZER: All right, here's the question. Can the United States afford to continue that kind of foreign assistance to Africa for AIDS, malaria -- could run into the billions of dollars?

CAIN: It depends upon priorities. Secondly, it depends upon looking at the program and asking the question, has that aid been successful.  
In other words, let's look at the whole problem. It may be worthwhile to continue. It may not. I would like to see the results.  Just like every program we have here domestically, what have the results been. Then we make a decision about how we prioritize.
There were other interesting tidbits in the debate, again from Gingrich and Paul, such as Gingrich's accidental endorsement of the DREAM Act and Paul's coherent and intelligent attacks on the "war on terror" and "war on drugs."  Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Huntsman, and Romney all gave rote variants of the standard conservative canon in standard debatespeke.  Of this crew, Romney delivered pablum the best, in keeping with his role as the Unstoppable Robotic Frontrunner.

All in all, very entertaining, certainly more so than last week's Thanksgiving Family Forum, a Christian-themed round-table where no fewer than four of the candidates broke down in tears.  I look forward to the next clown show.

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