All candidates in yesterday’s TV debate agreed that Beijing poses the greatest threat to the US. A strange accusation was made. But why has Ukraine become infighting?
Foreign policy issues don’t usually bring down houses in presidential debates, but last night’s event broke with that tradition, leaving behind a proverbial bloodbath among Republican primary candidates for the 2024 primary.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos ist Senior Advisor am Quincy Institute.
In this case, it was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy who took the hardest hits from traditional hawks. As in 2002, at the height of the “War on Terror,” they said that Vladimir Putin was an evil killer and that continuing to help Ukraine to continue the struggle was the only moral and right thing to do.
It didn’t matter that the majority of Republican voters does not want any further aid to Ukraine, or a convincing argument can be made for it – and also was cited – that continuing unlimited arms supplies without charting a diplomatic path for a ceasefire would mean more deaths, more destruction and more senseless brutality in Ukraine.
Or that the war won’t be won if Ukraine gets more Himars and tanks. No one made those arguments on stage Wednesday night.
“The American president must act more clearly, he must know the difference between right and wrong. It’s about the difference between good and evil,” demanded former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, referring to the two skeptics DeSantis and Ramaswamy. “This guy (Putin) is a killer and you choose a killer”.
After Ramaswamy accused the other candidates of “making a pilgrimage to their Pope Zelenskyy” without doing the same for the people of Hawaii or Chicago’s Southside, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seized the opportunity. “I went to Ukraine because I wanted to see with my own eyes what Vladimir Putin’s army is doing to the Ukrainian people,” he said.
I want you all to look around this arena tonight. And imagine if every single one of those seats were occupied, and if every single one was occupied, there would still be 2500 other children out there, totaling over 20,000 who were kidnapped, stolen, snatched from their mothers and fathers and taken back to Russia to to be programmed to fight their own families,
… admonished Christie. “(The Russians) gouged out people’s eyes, cut off their ears and shot them in the back of the head…then they go into these houses and rape the daughters and the women who were left widows.”
DeSantis and Ramaswamy, both of whom have opposed unlimited war aid (the latter made it clear he would no longer support it), took two different approaches to support this powerful emotional appeal. DeSantis said he wanted “Europe to throw its weight behind it” and that US support should be contingent on those partners doing so.
Ramaswamy said he wants to divert resources currently flowing into Ukraine to fight the real threat – China.
China and the Mexican drug cartels
“The real threat we face today is communist China, and we continue to push Russia into China’s arms,” Ramaswamy said.
The military alliance between Russia and China is the greatest threat we face.
Furthermore, Ramaswamy said minutes later, “Your first duty is to defend our country and its people,” and by sending billions to Ukraine to fight the invasion at its own border, “You are not doing what we are doing need to secure our own border”.
But such statements only opened up space for Vice President Mike Pence to intervene with his now well-known slogan:
Let me be clear: anyone who thinks that we cannot solve the problems here in the United States and lead the free world has a pretty small idea of the world’s greatest nation.
Ramaswamy probably endured the most attacks, most notably from Haley, who kept interrupting him like an auto-reloading Gatling gun, accusing him of having no foreign policy experience and no support for allies, including Israel.
He countered by calling them and other hawks “the same people who led us to the Iraq war, the same people who led us to the Vietnam war” and stating that he “didn’t want another war, where you don’t win”.
Still, all eight candidates on stage, which also included former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Sen. Tim Scott, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, seemed to agree that a war against the Mexican cartels was, in some ways, in It’s okay (whether you can win it or not). And because they all agree that China is behind the 110,000 drug overdoses stuck in the US last year (the number one killer was fentanyl), that country should also be a prime target.
For DeSantis, the war would start “on day one,” with US special forces tracking down the cartels and drug labs in Mexico. “The thing is, the cartels are killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. You want to talk about a country in decline? The cartels control a large part of the southern border. We must restore the rule of law and defend our people,” he said.
At times, the conversation turned to the influx of undocumented immigrants, the need to complete the wall President Donald Trump has been touting and create more security at the border, including with the deployment of the National Guard. But the debate kept coming back to China. “China sends these chemicals to the drug cartels so they can make the fentanyl that kills hundreds of thousands of our citizens,” Christie said.
The article is published in cooperation with Responsible Statecraft. Here it goes to English original. Translation: David Goessmann.
The Chinese are waging a war against us, they are killing our citizens. We should make that a priority in our talks with China and try to improve this relationship, because if we don’t do that, we will lose more and more of our citizens.
With all the argument about a divided Republican party on foreign policy It should be clear that when it comes to China, the eight candidates agree more on where the country should deploy its firepower than on where not. It would be an interesting exercise to pinpoint each of them on exactly what they propose and how far they would go to counter the threat beyond bloody campaign rhetoric.
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