While last night’s debate was focused on the domestic economy, there was a bit more discussion of foreign policy than in the previous debate (i.e. none). So let’s see what the candidates had to see! Once again, I’ll be working off of the Washington Post‘s transcript.
I’ll ignore the snarky back-and-forth about defense spending because there was no substantive content there, which means that the first real discussion of foreign policy concerned trade policy and the recently completed TPP:
BAKER: …Mr. Trump, can I ask you about…
BAKER: …the U.S. just concluded an international trade agreement with 11 countries in the Pacific. You’ve said that you’d rather have no deal…
BAKER: …than sign the one that’s on the table…
TRUMP: …It’s a horrible deal…
BAKER: …Most economists — most economists say that trade is boosted growth, and every single post war president has supported the expansion of international trade, including the last three republican presidents. Why would you reverse more than 50 years of U.S. trade policy?
TRUMP: The TPP is horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone. It’s 5,600 pages long, so complex that nobody’s read it. It’s like Obamacare; nobody ever read it. They passed it; nobody read it. And look at mess we have right now. And it will be repealed.
But this is one of the worst trade deals. And I would, yes, rather not have it. With all of these countries, and all of the bad ones getting advantage and taking advantage of what the good ones would normally get, I’d rather make individual deals with individual countries. We will do much better.
We lose a fortune on trade. The United States loses with everybody. We’re losing now over $500 billion in terms of imbalance with China, $75 billion a year imbalance with Japan. By the way, Mexico, $50 billion a year imbalance.
So I must say, Gerard, I just think it’s a terrible deal. I love trade. I’m a free trader, 100 percent. But we need smart people making the deals, and we don’t have smart people making the deals.
BAKER: The — the deal, as you say, the terms of the deal were published — were published just last week, the details, 5,000 pages of it, and 80 percent of U.S. trade with countries in the Pacific, these countries, these 11 countries, is actually tariff-free, and these — the trade deal only affects the other 20 percent. Which — are there particular parts of the deal that you think were badly negotiated?
TRUMP: Yes. Well, the currency manipulation they don’t discuss in the agreement, which is a disaster. If you look at the way China and India and almost everybody takes advantage of the United States — China in particular, because they’re so good. It’s the number-one abuser of this country. And if you look at the way they take advantage, it’s through currency manipulation. It’s not even discussed in the almost 6,000-page agreement. It’s not even discussed.
BAKER: There was a separate — separate…
TRUMP: And as you understand, I mean, you understand very well from the Wall Street Journal, currency manipulation is the single great weapon people have. They don’t even discuss it in this agreement.
So I say, it’s a very bad deal, should not be approved. If it is approved, it will just be more bad trade deals, more loss of jobs for our country. We are losing jobs like nobody’s ever lost jobs before. I want to bring jobs back into this country.
PAUL: Hey, Gerard, you know, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal.
(UNKNOWN): True. It’s true.
BARTIROMO: That’s right. That’s right.
PAUL: Before we get a little bit off-kilter here…
BAKER: But isn’t that — isn’t that part of the problem? When I say, Senator, that if — if this deal is not ratified by — by the U.S. — by the Senate, then it would actually give China an opportunity to grow its economic leadership, which it’s been seeking to do? And if the U.S. is unable to take part in this trade deal with these countries in Asia, China will take the lead?
PAUL: There is an argument that China doesn’t like the deal, because in us doing the deal, we’ll be trading with their competitors. You’re exactly right. But I think we’ve sort of missed the point a little bit here.
There is an important point, though, about how we discuss these trade treaties that I do agree with Mr. Trump on. We should negotiate from a position of strength. And we also should negotiate using the full force and the constitutional power that was given to us. I think it’s a mistake that we give up power to the presidency on these trade deals. We give up the power to filibuster, and I’m kind of fond of that power.
We give up the power to amend. And I think, really, one of the big problems we have in our country is, over the last century, really, so much power has gravitated to the executive branch. Really, Congress is kind of a bystander. We don’t write the rules. We don’t make the laws. The executive branch does. So even in trade — and I am for trade — I think we should be careful about giving so much power to the presidency.
BAKER: Thank you. Thanks, Senator.
A perfectly Trump-ish answer. He hates the deal but can’t or won’t explain why other than that it lets China win. Yes, the US has trade imbalances with many countries, partly because the US, as the dominant economic power in the system, serves as a market of last resort which helps drive the global economy. But as Trump reveals, the real reason he doesn’t like the deal is because it doesn’t deal with the problem of China’s undervalued currency. Leaving aside the problem that China isn’t in the TPP, China’s monetary policy is a major bugaboo for Trump, so much that he claimed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal that he will start a trade war with China (behind paywall) on the first day of a Trump Administration. As with most of Trump’s suggestions, this one seems to reinforce his desire to “win” without regard for any political realities. Doing what he suggests would be absolutely devastating for the global and domestic economies. Even a quasi-isolationist like Rand Paul seems to recognize the idiocy of Trump’s position, pointing out the massive strategic advantages of the deal which includes nearly all of China’s geopolitical rivals. However, his obsession with presidential power shines through as he attacks the decision to grant Obama fast-track authority. While it’s not clear how fast track diminished congressional power as the body still has to vote on the deal, it’s clear to most observers that in the absence of fast track, it is almost impossible to conclude any kind of trade deals as the politics of the two-level game make US negotiating partners leery to make concessions knowing that Congress will alter any agreement before it’s ratified.
BARTIROMO: Dr. Carson, you were against putting troops on the ground in Iraq and against a large military force in Afghanistan. Do you support the president’s decision to now put 50 special ops forces in Syria and leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
CARSON: Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they — that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.
And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.
We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.
What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.
And I think in order to make them look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. And if — outside of Anbar in Iraq, there’s a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.
But you have to continue to face them, because our goal is not to contain them, but to destroy them before they destroy us.
There’s no other way to put it: Ben Carson is bat-shit crazy. The Chinese are in Syria? It’s better to have special ops in Syria than to not because they’re special? What is he talking about? Presumably he’s suggesting that the special ops should be assisting with targeting operations but it’s not at all clear. His argument that the US should focus on defeating ISIS in Iraq isn’t on it’s face insane, but it does conflict with his earlier point that we have to opposed Putin (and the Chinese?) and that we “can’t give up ground (what ground is he referring to?) right there.” It makes me sad that this is actually the state of our political discourse today.
BARTIROMO: We asked Facebook to take a look at some of the major issues we’re talking about, and tackling in this debate tonight. This word cloud shows what people are focusing on the most. The bigger the word, the more the talk. One of the most discussed issues in the last month, homeland security. Governor Bush, what is the biggest threat facing America today?
BUSH: It is — I’d say it is Islamic terrorism, and, back to the question of what we are dealing with in Iraq, when we pull back voids are filled. That’s the lesson of history, and, sadly, this president does not believe in American leadership. He does not believe it, and the net result is that we have a caliphate the size of Indiana that gains energy each and everyday to recruit Americans in our own country, and the threat to the homeland relates to the fact that we have not dealt with this threat of terror in the Middle East.
We should have a no fly zone in Syria. We should have a support for the remnants of the Syrian Free Army, and create safe zones. If you want to deal with the four million refugees that are leaving Syria because of the devastation there, then we ‘ought to create safe zones for them to stay in the region rather than go to Europe. And, that requires American leadership.
Without American leadership every other country in the neighborhood beings to change their priorities. It is tragic that you see Iraq, and other countries now talking to Russia. It wasn’t that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all. And, so, the United States needs to lead across the board.
This president, and Hillary Clinton both do not believe the United States has a leadership role to play, and we’re now paying a price, and it will have a huge impact on the economy of this country if we don’t deal with this.
Its not at clear how or why Islamic terrorism should be seen as the biggest threat to the US homeland. To the international system? Perhaps. To the Middle East? Perhaps. But to the homeland? But even if you accept Bush’s claim, how does creating no fly zones and safe areas in Syria address that threat? A no fly zone does nothing against ISIS, as ISIS doesn’t have air power. If he wants to address the catastrophic humanitarian disaster there, fine, but that’s not what he’s saying.
BARTIROMO: Thank you, sir.
Mr. Trump, in 2012 debate, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s assertion that Russia was the top geopolitical challenge facing the United States, saying he was a Cold War dinosaur. Now, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and has put troops in Syria. You have said you will have a good relationship with Mr. Putin. So, what does President Trump do in response to Russia’s aggression?
TRUMP: Well, first of all, it’s not only Russia. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it’s a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don’t talk about that. That’s a problem.
China is a problem, both economically in what they’re doing in the South China Sea, I mean, they are becoming a very, very major force. So, we have more than just Russia. But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria — as far as Syria, I like — if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night.
But, you know that.
But, if Putin wants to go and knocked the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it…
BUSH: …They’re not doing that…
TRUMP: …They blew up — hold it….
TRUMP: …They blew up, wait a minute…
TRUMP: …They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people, and a group of countries, including Germany — tremendous economic behemoth — why are we always doing the work?
We are — I’m all for protecting Ukraine and working — but, we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren’t doing anything. They say, “Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us…”
TRUMP: …And we have to get smart. We can’t continue to be the policeman of the world. We are $19 trillion dollars, we have a country that’s going to hell, we have an infrastructure that’s falling apart. Our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports, and we have to start investing money in our country.
BARTIROMO: Thank you, sir.
Sigh. Trump is just as ridiculous as Carson. Leaving aside the fact that Russia hasn’t been targeting ISIS and that we still don’t know for sure what brought down the Russian cargo plane (but the smart bet is on the Sinai branch of ISIS operating outside of the authority of the core) this answer is nearly incoherent. Is China’s activity in the South China Sea a threat to the US and if so how does that square with his claim that the US “can’t continue to be the policeman of the world”?
BUSH: Donald — Donald’s wrong on this. He is absolutely wrong on this. We’re not going to be the world’s policeman, but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader. That’s — there’s a huge difference where, without us leading…
BUSH: …voids are filled, and the idea that it’s a good idea for Putin to be in Syria, let ISIS take out Assad, and then Putin will take out ISIS? I mean, that’s like a board game, that’s like playing Monopoly or something. That’s not how the real world works.
We have to lead, we have to be involved. We should have a no fly zone in Syria. There are — they are barrel bombing the innocents in that country. If you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Syria, you’re going to be beheaded. And, if you’re a moderate Islamist, you’re not going to be able to survive either.
We have to play a role in this be able to bring the rest of the world to this issue before it’s too late.
TRUMP: Assad is a bad guy, but we have no idea who the so-called rebels — I read about the rebels, nobody even knows who they are. I spoke to a general two weeks ago, he said — he was very up on exactly what we’re talking about. He said, “You know, Mr. Trump? We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment to these people, we have no idea who they are.”
So, I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people, and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place — who I love, OK? All over.
We have nothing. And, I said, keep the oil. And we should have kept the oil, believe me. We should have kept the oil. And, you know what? We should have given the oil…
…We should’ve given big chunks to the people that lost their arms, their legs, and their families, and their sons, and daughters, because right now, you know who has a lot of that oil? Iran, and ISIS.
Bush does a decent job of rebutting Trump’s assertion of the need for retrenchment, but returns to discussing the need for humanitarian intervention. If that’s really what he sees as a priority, fine, but for someone reason he seems unwilling to say that.
And back to Trump…what oil? What the hell is he talking about?
FIORINA: You know, Mr. Trump fancies himself a very good negotiator. And, I accept that he’s done a lot of good deals, so, Mr. Trump ‘ought to know that we should not speak to people from a position of weakness. Senator Paul should know that as well.
One of the reasons I’ve said that I would not be talking to Vladimir Putin right now, although I have met him as well, not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting.
(LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
FIORINA: One of the reasons I’ve said I wouldn’t be talking to Vladimir Putin right now is because we are speaking to him from a position of weakness brought on by this administration, so, I wouldn’t talk to him for awhile, but, I would do this. I would start rebuilding the Sixth Fleet right under his nose, rebuilding the military — the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose. I would conduct very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States so that he understood we would protect our NATO allies…
…and I might also put in a few more thousand troops into Germany, not to start a war, but to make sure that Putin understand that the United States of America will stand with our allies. That is why Governor Bush is correct. We must have a no fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes. We also have a set of allies…
FIORINA: …We also have a set of allies in the Arab Middle East that know that ISIS is their fight. They have asked us specifically over, and over again to support them. King Abdullah of Jordan, a man I’ve known for a very long time, has asked us for bombs and material, we have not provided it.
The Egyptians are asking us to share intelligence, we are not, I will. The Kurds have asked us to arm them for three years, we are not, I would. The Egyptians, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Bahrain’s, the Emirati, the Kurds…
…all of these, I know, by the way, understand ISIS is their fight, but they must see leadership support and resolve from the United States of America…
MALE: …let me follow up that…
FIORINA: …we have the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it.
Can Fiorina please explain why the nearly 38,000 US troops currently stationed in Germany are insufficient to “make sure that Putin understand that the United States of America will stand with our allies” and how a few thousand more will do just that? And if the Arab countries are so committed to the fight against ISIS, why are they using the increase in US air strikes as an opportunity to divert their own military assets to the war in Yemen?
CAVUTO: Senator Paul, you have already said, sir, that that would be a mistake in not talking to Vladimir Putin, or to rule it out. You’ve argued that it’s never a good idea to close down communication. With that in mind, do you think the same applies to administration efforts right now to include the Iranians in talks on Syria?
PAUL: I’d like first to respond to the acquisition, we should — I think it’s particularly naive, particularly foolish to think that we’re not going to talk to Russia. The idea of a no fly zone, realize that this is also something that Hillary Clinton agrees with several on our side with, you’re asking for a no fly zone in an area in which Russia already flies.
Russia flies in that zone at the invitation of Iraq. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but you better know at least what we’re getting into. So, when you think it’s going to be a good idea to have a no fly zone over Iraq, realize that means you are saying we are going to shoot down Russian planes. If you’re ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq.
I don’t want to see that happen. I think the first war in Iraq was a mistake…
A perfectly reasonable and sane answer. Any no fly zone will have to deal with the problem of Russia.
PAUL: The first thing I would do is I wouldn’t arm our enemies. I wouldn’t arm ISIS.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Most of the people who want to the no-fly zone also favored arming the allies of al Qaeda, which became ISIS. That was the dumbest, most foolhardy notion. And most of the people up here supported it. They wanted to arm the allies of al Qaeda. Some of them still do.
That’s how ISIS grew. We pushed back Assad, and ISIS was allowed to grow in the vacuum. So the first thing you do is don’t arm your enemies.
Paul seems to be confused here…yes, US arms delivered to rebel groups as well as the Iraqi military have ended up in the hands of ISIS. But ISIS didn’t emerge from an ally of al Qaeda that was armed by the US, it grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq. It’s not all clear who Paul thinks the US armed.
RUBIO: I need to add a couple of points to this. The first is, I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster. He is basically an organized crime figure that runs a country, controls a $2 trillion economy. And is using to build up his military in a rapid way despite the fact his economy is a disaster.
He understands only geopolitical strength. And every time he has acted anywhere in the world, whether it’s in Ukraine or Georgia before that, or now in the Middle East, it’s because he is trusting in weakness.
His calculation in the Middle East is that he has seen what this president has done, which is nothing, the president has no strategy, our allies in the region do not trust us. For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East, it is the state of Israel.
And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Vladimir Putin is exploiting that weakness, for purposes of edging the Americans out as the most important geopolitical power broker in the region. And we do have a vested interest. And here’s why.
Because all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.
Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States.
Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.
A totally empty answer. There’s not anything necessarily wrong here, but it’s just a collection of talking points.
BAKER: Thank you, Senator. Governor Kasich, I want to ask you about China, in particular hundreds of American companies have been subjected to cyber attacks from the Chinese military, yet state-backed Chinese companies, growing their presence in the United States, Chinese investments in U.S., which were nearly nonexistent a few years ago, are now over $50 billion. And as my newspaper recently reported, Chinese companies are planning to bid for one of the largest hotel chains in the United States, what would be the largest ever Chinese takeover of a U.S. company. Would you stop them?
KASICH: Let me tell you this, Mr. Baker, in terms of the cyber attacks, we have the capability to not only have a defensive posture, but it also to make it clear to people that if you attack us with cyber attacks, we will destroy the mechanisms that you are using to attack us.
I want to give you a little trip around the world. I served on the Defense Committee for 18 years. In the Ukraine, arm the people there so they can fight for themselves. In the eastern part of Europe, make sure that Finland and the Baltics know that if the Russians move, we move.
In Syria, yes, a no-fly zone in the north on the Turkish border, a no-fly zone on the south on the Jordanian border. Anybody flies in the first time, maybe they can fly out. They fly in there a second time, they will not fly out.
And it also becomes a sanctuary for the people to be. And it also sends many messages in the Middle East that we’re still involved.
Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.
In the groups — in the countries of the Gulf states of Bahrain, the Cleveland Clinic is opening an operation. Clearly we see the same with them. And in Israel, we have no better ally in the world, and no more criticizing them in public, we should support them.
And finally China, China doesn’t own the South China Sea, and I give the president some credit for being able to move a naval force in there to let the Chinese know that we’re not going to put up with it any more.
And in the trade agreement, the TPP, it’s critical to us, not only for economic reasons and for jobs, because there are so many people who are connected to getting jobs because of trade, but it allows us to create not only economy alliances, but also potentially strategic alliances against the Chinese. They are not our enemy, but they are certainly not our friend.
And finally, I will say to everyone in this room, we have been talking about taxes and economics. When the fall comes, and we run against Hillary, which will be a disaster if she got elected. I have two 16-year-old girls, and I want this country to be strong.
We make promises we can’t keep under the bright light of the fall, we will have trouble. We must make sure that economic programs and our military programs are solid. I served in Washington as the chairman of the Budget Committee, and we got the budget balanced.
And in Ohio, as the CEO, and guess what, we have got to have a CEO mentality and a way to beat Hillary Clinton and the Democracies in the fall. And our ideas have to add up. They have to be solid. And people have to know we have the confidence to lead America.
And as president, I will lead this country, as I have before in Washington and in Ohio, and will return both on domestic and international affairs. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak this time, Gerry.
A very weird answer from Kasich, who was, I thought, the most thoughtful in the first two debates. According to this, Kasich wants to: engage in offensive cyberwar, arm Ukraine, institute a no fly zone, pressure Saudi Arabia to cut off support for radical clerics, keep King Abdullah II alive for 1000 years, and keep the US strong for his two teenage daughters. A bizarre answer with almost no content.
This was the worst foreign policy discussion of the Republican debates so far. No one provided any serious analysis or thoughtful consideration of anything. Carson and Trump continue to come off as clueless, but the others fare little better.
Anyone see anything different here?