The first Democratic primary debate has come and gone. This spectacle, meant to help voters decide who to back, was actually more of a lengthy televised version of a personality quiz you might find in a tabloid magazine. The debate, held at the Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas (oh the irony) had little real substance, and candidates were encouraged not to stray from the set topics and questions being asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who directed most of his questions to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley.
Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, the latter of whom was told he was “wasting time” for pointing out the lack of equal time given to candidates, were both politically and physically relegated to the sides of the debate. CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, is a huge campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton, if you didn’t know already.
Far too much time was spent discussing personal matters and encouraging candidates to attack each other, but there was at least room for some meagre debate on foreign policy, arguably America’s largest issue so long as it tries to police the entire world. Of the five candidates, who ranged from moderately aggressive to outright war-hawks, only Lincoln Chafee, who is polling less than 1% in the primary, came out looking at least partially doveish.
Like in the Republican debates, the Democratic candidates were eager to flex their muscles and paint themselves as uncompromising world leaders with a taste for blood. Their rhetoric was thankfully less inflammatory, although compared to the Republicans that isn’t hard to do, and their solutions were slightly more diplomatic, but the underlying philosophy was essentially the same:
Nations are posing a threat to us and our allies, they must be contained by all costs, and, to quote Martin O’Malley, “no Commander in Chief should ever take the military option off the table”. America’s unbridled right to aggression remains unchallenged – the only real point of contention the Democrats have is that aggression should be undertaken with a coalition of other states, not just alone.
This unbridled right to intervene in the affairs of other nations and secure regime changes is apparently even acceptable when it results in the total destruction of civil society in the host country. Take the former state of Libya, a lawless and highly dangerous place that Hillary Clinton amazingly considers a success story in American nation building exercises.
The first democratic elections in Libya since 1952, which she proudly referenced at the debate, are apparently a worthy price to pay for eviscerating the country’s ability to provide basic security and services to its citizens thanks to carpet bombing campaigns. Gaddafi had to go, it was our right to make him go, and the lawless wasteland that has ensued is now being touted by a supposedly progressive Presidential candidate as a successful hallmark of foreign policy.
Clinton also made quite a dangerous and juvenile crowd-pleasing quip when asked which enemy she is most proud of having, listing “the Iranians” among her top contenders. The Iranian theocracy? Or the Iranian people that your sanctions have starved to death? She didn’t clarify, but if her past statements on uncooperative Middle Eastern nations are anything to go by, my money is on the latter.
For all her moronicisms, at least Clinton is willing to present a foreign policy outlook and defend it. Bernie Sanders, who now occupies cult-like leader status among American progressives, had barely anything to say about his take on international affairs, and in fact seems to be deliberately ignoring the topic like Obama did in 2008 with other meaningful policy areas. The goal there, like it was in ’08, is to avoid taking a stand and giving details about the policy area to avoid wading into a debate.
When asked about Russian military intervention in Syria, Sanders had little to comment, merely stating that he thinks Putin is going to regret getting bogged down in a Middle Eastern conflict and that the Russian people are going to get fed up of international sanctions and turn on him. No comment on the ethicality of the sanctions against Russia, no comment on the solution to the Syrian Civil War, just an uncontroversial quip about Vladimir Putin that, in fact, totally misunderstands the political climate in Russia. Hardly inspiring.
In fact, when Sanders did bother to stand up and be counted, he insisted that he is “not a pacifist” and proudly declared that he has supported wars in the past, such as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (which he falsely claims was a humanitarian intervention) as well as the illegal War in Afghanistan and extrajudicial airstrike killings in Syria. The debate aside, Sanders may have voted against the Iraq War, but he also voted to approve funds for it soon afterwards. Even whistleblower Edward Snowden didn’t escape Sanders’ crosshairs, with the potential frontrunner accusing him of breaking the law and demanding that a penalty should be paid for it.
The remaining hawks, O’Malley and Webb, are barely worth a mention. The former thinks that a nuclear Iran is still the greatest national security threat to the United States, despite there being absolutely no remote possibility of an Iranian nuclear strike on the U.S. nor any other country for that matter (the Iranian theocrats might be extremists, but they’re not suicidal extremists), while the latter has an almost weird obsession with combating what he calls Chinese aggression. Jim Webb has since stood down from the Democratic primary.
In all, Lincoln Chafee was the only one who came remotely close to a sane foreign policy outlook, despite having next to no time to espouse it. He referenced the recent bombing of the Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan, and criticized what he called “perpetual wars”, in direct contravention to Obama’s endless cycle of violence with no end goals in sight. By contrast, the other candidates only had nice things to say about his imperialist and aggressive policies across the world. Unfortunately, since writing this Chafee has dropped out of the race.