I didn’t watch or live-blog the foreign policy debate – because it was a Saturday evening and I had a rare chance to hang with some of my best friends in LA. And frankly, reading it up since and watching Youtube clips, I am relieved. The sheer ignorance, callowness, narrowness of mind and shallowness of thought was greater than any debate I recall on this subject ever.
The days when the GOP could be credibly seen as having more concrete and solid judgment on foreign affairs than the Democrats have long since disappeared into the memory hole. The last Republican president did more damage to American soft and hard power in eight years than any president in history, and, on top of that, besmirched this country permanently with the scar of torture as an instrument of state, something the West had decisively put behind it centuries ago, something that once helped define the United States as a civilized country. But now we have a motivational speaker who knows nothing about foreign affairs, Herman Cain, telling us that he is against torture but also in favor of torture, and then saying he would defer to the military leaders. Well, torture is barred from the military services, period, so consultation with them would be redundant. And this ignorant creep is at the head of the pack. Michele Bachmann apparently thinks that Obama has allowed the ACLU to run the CIA, which would come as some surprise to both. Her statement is so insane, so utterly removed from reality, that it would disqualify someone from a high school debating tournament. But again, this preposterous woman is a serious candidate for this farce of a party. Then we have Rick Perry saying this:
“For us not to have the ability to try to extract information from them to save our young people’s lives is a travesty. This is war. I am for using those techniques.”
And so you see that Perry is ignorant of the most basic facts of war, i.e. that there are laws of war, and that torture has been anathema to the American government from George Washington until George W. Bush. The idea that war instantly justifies torture is about as anti-American and anti-Western a statement as anyone can make. Ronald Reagan signed the 1984 Convention Against Torture with the following words:
“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
Notice that Reagan was not quibbling about the precise meaning of “torture”. He signed a Convention against anything that could even faintly be considered torture – any “inhuman treatment” of prisoners. This current incarnation of Republicanism is so crude, so un-American, so fascistic in its disdain for the rule of law and its relish for violence that it should have no place in a Western polity. To have leading Republican candidates embrace torture in this way renders it the only political party in the entire Western world to embrace the abuse and torture of prisoners. It is unique in the West in embracing the tactics of totalitarian states throughout the world.
The other man to stand up for America was Jon Huntsman. He was as eloquent as Paul:
“We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries. And we lose that ability to project values that a lot of people in corners of this world are still relying on the United States to stand up for them.”
At some point, before the primaries, the Dish will endorse a candidate for the GOP – just because it is important and clarifying to take a stand. The debate on Saturday made our choice relatively simple: between Paul and Huntsman. For they are the only men worthy to represent this country without simultaneously betraying it.