NSN 2016 Update: Week of 11/8/2015

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NSN 2016 Update: Week of 11/8/2015

NSN 2016 Update: Week of 11/8/2015

November 13, 2015

Today, NSN debuts a new offering—a roundup of conservative candidate statements on foreign policy and quick rebuttals to them. This week’s theme: conservative candidates don’t understand the Middle East, past or present, but still think they can chart its future. 

“It wasn’t that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all.” – Jeb Bush on the Middle East

Jeb Bush’s comments show that he doesn’t understand Russia’s history in Syria, so how can he get the policy right?

  • Actually, Russia’s influence in Syria dates back to Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who invited Brezhnev’s USSR to lease the Tartus naval facility back in the 1970s.

  • In fact, Jeb Bush gets it precisely backwards: Russia is not fighting to expand its influence, it’s fighting to preserve what little influence it still has.

  • That’s why Russia has intervened in Syria: a last-ditch effort to protect its only warm water port and client state in the Middle East.

“You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.” – Ben Carson on Syria

Ben Carson doesn’t understand the most basic aspects of the Syrian Civil War: who’s fighting there and why. 

  • In reality, there are no Chinese forces in Syria. China has sold arms to Assad from time to time, but it hasn’t put boots on the ground and shows no signs of doing do.

  • Carson’s recklessness is striking. In his mind, the Syrian conflict involves both China and Russia, yet he shows no concern about the risks of coming into direct conflict with either of those countries in Syria.

“Back to the question of what we are dealing with in Iraq, when we pull back voids are filled… and the net result is that we have a caliphate the size of Indiana that gains energy each and every day.” – Jeb Bush on ISIS

If Jeb Bush doesn’t understand how ISIS was built, how can he take them apart?

  • Jeb Bush has his Iraq history wrong. As Der Spiegel discovered, ISIS has its roots in his brother’s decision to disband the Iraqi army, which left ISIS architect Col. Samir al-Khlifawi, alias “Hajj Bakr,” free to draft the organizational outlines of ISIS.

  • Moreover, Will McCants of the Brookings Institution has shownthat ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spread his radical theology and built the network of contacts that would become ISIS while incarcerated in U.S. prison facilities in Iraq after the 2003 war.

  • The lesson of ISIS is that imprudent wars create more enemies than they remove, but Jeb still believes it was the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq , not his brother’s decision to invade in 2003, that is to blame for the emergence of ISIS.

“Our military forces are smaller and weaker than ever… defense policy is foreign policy.” – Marco Rubio on National Security

Marco Rubio doesn’t understand the difference between spending and strategy.

  • Obama Administration defense spending next year will be higher than it was on average under President George W. Bush and the U.S. has by far the strongest military in the world

  • Moreover, Marco Rubio doesn’t offer any account of how his increased spending aligns with the threats the United States faces today.  He is right that the U.S. needs to combat ISIS, but increased spending on weapons is not the answer to that complex challenge.

  • Finally, foreign policy is more than defense policy. Bush-era neoconservative belligerence toward Iran led the regime to massively increase its nuclear program. It was negotiation by the Obama Administration that blocked Iran’s pathways to a bomb.

Photo Credit: Jeb Bush speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2015 [Gage Skidmore, accessed 11/13/2015]

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