Our opinion: GOP talking points fertilize ISIS' garden


The Republican debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night left no doubt to anyone paying attention: Not one of the nine on stage is qualified to be president.

The already discounted claims restated during the debate (according to AlterNet) include: The U.S. has no way to properly vet refugees; Syria's murderous president Bashar al-Assad created ISIS; citation of a poll that claimed 25 percent of Muslims condone acts of violence; that former President George W. Bush deported 10 million people; and that the Iran nuclear deal "gives" $150 billion to Iran. A quick Google search reveals these claims are either false or exaggerated.

In addition, each of the candidates stated they don't believe President Barack Obama is doing enough to combat terrorism and ISIS.

But, as Slate's Fred Kaplan wrote, "None of these nine candidates had any remotely plausible ideas on how to defeat ISIS, or prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, beyond what Obama is already doing — except doing it louder, or with a scarier scowl, or maybe doing more of it."

And, as NBC News noted, "Cut through the rhetoric and it is hard to find a big strategic difference, beyond Lindsey Graham who is calling for more substantial ground forces. Many of the other Republican candidates are calling for more attacks from the air. Well, Americans have been launching more attacks from the air. Republicans say there need to be U.S. special forces directing Arab/Kurdish ground forces against ISIS. Well, that's what Obama has already proposed. Republicans believe there needs to be a Muslim face to any ground troops, so does this administration."

Max Fisher, writing for Vox, noted that every one of the candidates on stage made some version of this argument: Obama's ISIS strategy is failing because Obama is personally weak or dishonest; my ISIS strategy is better because I am stronger and tougher; my strategy differs from Obama's because I will do the exact same things but with more strength and toughness.

"This led the candidates to focus overwhelmingly on differences of personality and temperament, which they argued, implausibly, make all the difference. ... (T)he candidates focused on these personality differences because it's all they have. There are few real policy differences to talk about, so all they can do is argue that they are personally tougher and stronger in ways that will somehow prove decisive."

While Fisher disagrees with our opinion that the GOP field is a bunch of incompetents, we do agree that "American foreign policy, with some meaningful exceptions, tends to be pretty consistent across administrations. That's especially true when it comes to big and difficult problems like ISIS, and when it comes to complicated inter-agency strategies like America's ISIS strategy. ... Even if a new president comes in planning to change everything, he or she typically ends up largely maintaining the status quo."

And, as Fisher noted, most Americans realize that the rise of ISIS was a result of both America's ill-advised war in Iraq and missteps by the current administration.

"(T)he ISIS problem is a very difficult one with only bad options. In policy terms, there just isn't really a magical better policy that candidates can offer — or at least no such alternative that anyone has yet discovered — so they have to find a way to criticize Obama's strategy while also adopting it. They can't find a way to do that in policy terms, so they either misrepresent Obama's policy, attacking a straw man, or they avoid policy altogether and simply talk about how their personality is more suited to fighting ISIS."

All of this "schall und rauch," or sound and smoke, emanating from the Republican candidates, especially Donald Trump, is doing little except to inflame the majority of Muslims in the world who do not support terrorism.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (Remember her? The young Pakistani who was shot in the head because she had the audacity to want girls to attend school) says all the rhetoric is doing is creating more terrorists: "The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism."

But when it comes to the primaries, logic and rational thought matter little, because the main job of the candidates is to fire up the most loathsome members of the GOP's base. As demonstrated at recent Trump rallies, they have been successful in doing so. While such bombast is effective in getting some folks to wave your banner, it is also effective at driving more and more people into the arms of radicals.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions