Who are the enemies?

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Exposing the Republican Foreign-Policy Fiasco

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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What a devastating set of reviews after Tuesday night's Republican foreign-policy debate.

Here's my View colleague Josh Rogin:

[As] the candidates got into the specifics of their plans, they revealed a range of misunderstandings about the way the Middle East works, the realities of the fight against terrorist groups there and the current state of U.S. policy … The Republican candidates are not talking about foreign policy in a way that supports their claims they are ready to be commander in chief.

And Slate’s Fred Kaplan:

[T]wo hours devoted to national security and terrorism, about which most of the nine major candidates proved they knew nothing, a fact that some tried to conceal by making stuff up.

Also see political scientist Dan Drezner, in the Washington Post:

the overwhelming bulk of what the GOP candidates had to say last night was pure, unadulterated horses*** …

When I came of political age, the Republican Party had a surfeit of smart, tough-minded foreign policy folk: Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates, James Baker, Bob Zoellick, Richard Haass, and Lawrence Eagleburger. I pity these people having to listen to what was said on the GOP main stage last night.

They're not saying the Republican candidates are promoting foolish policies; they're saying the entire debate, with only a handful of exceptions, was an exercise in fantasy. None of the experts quoted above is an Obama apologist. What they share is that they care about policy in these areas, and they’re upset when they are fed a mythical version of the world.

This isn't about gaffes such as Chris Christie's mistaking the current Jordanian king for his long-deceased father, or Carly Fiorina's accusation that Barack Obama forced out a general who actually left the military in 2003, or even Donald Trump’s ignorance about U.S. nuclear doctrine. Those might indicate a lack of knowledge, but it’s possible they were slips of the tongue or the result of faulty memories during the pressure of a debate.

More alarming were the prepared soundbites that just didn’t seem connected to reality, such as Ted Cruz’s insistence that “carpet bombing” wouldn’t involve killing civilians because the U.S. would only do it where Islamic State militants were.

So what’s going on? The same thing that’s happened in domestic policy for the last several years: Republicans -- at least many of their politicians -- have just given up on policy. Instead, they sell affect: Fear of Muslims, contempt for Obama, resentment of the news media.

They proclaim Islamic State terrorism an existential threat (Ben Carson: “Our very existence is dependent upon” defeating it), but don't bother coming up with much of a plan beyond saying a few magic words.

Among other things, it makes for fertile ground for know-nothing and pretend-to-know-nothing candidates to exploit. This explains, among other things, the lack of Republican resistance to what Trump, Carson and Cruz are selling.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net