I watched about 30 minutes of the debate. I missed the beginning because I was taking care of business, and I tuned out after 30 minutes because my feed broke down. What little I did watch still left me with a few impressions about the field.
Before I begin, let me recommend to you an article from Breitbart that is really a predicate to deciding which of the Republican candidates you like best: “A Stark Choice: Ted Cruz’s Jacksonian Americanism vs. Marco Rubio’s Wilsonian Internationalism.”
The article boils the foreign policy issue (which the Constitution gives to the president) down to two world views: The Wilson world view is that we have to intervene all over the world to make it a better place, and that it’s shameful to win wars; instead we have to make peace. The Jackson view is that we shouldn’t fight a war that doesn’t directly benefit us, but when we fight, we fight to win. Wilsonians would say a safer world indirectly benefits us, making intervention wars worthwhile. Jacksonians would say that too many of our wars have not only failed to give us any benefit, they’ve been very bad for us, especially because — as Obama exemplifies — we shouldn’t win.
Given ISIS’s role in the world, it’s useful to get a handle on the candidates’ fundamental foreign policy orientation.
(The rest of what I’m going to say is un-researched stream-of-consciousness stuff, based solely on my own often faulty memory. If I’ve made mistakes (and I’m sure I have), feel free to correct me. I only ask that you be kind when you do.)
I tried to use this Jackson/Wilson divide as a filter by which to view 20th century wars and found it a little confusing, to say the least. America automatically sided with England against Germany because America had her roots in England. In fact, though, from the standpoint of America’s interests, there really was little to choose between England and Germany. If it weren’t for German perfidy, as revealed in the Zimmerman telegram, it’s entirely likely that Wilson really would have kept his pledge to keep America out of the continental war.
As it was, once Wilson got a taste of American military power, he began to believe that it was America’s manifest destiny to bring goodness and light to the whole world — without any actual benefit to America, something that would have been just too, too crass and self-interested. Ironically enough, given Wilson’s “world peace” vision, it was because America tilted the war in Britain’s favor that Germany not only lost, it ended up so destabilized that the anarchic 1920s created the perfect power vacuum for the rise of the Nazis.
To give him credit, Wilson had American troops fight WWI to win on the battlefield. Where the real Wilsonian doctrine came in — which is that war should never benefit America, but everyone else, with America receiving vicarious benefits only — was during the peace talks.
Wilson was no match for the canny, cynical, greedy French and the British when it came to imposing reparations on Germany. Had Wilson been more flexible and pragmatic, and less ideologically pure, he might have been a better counterweight to the European leaders’ determination to make Germany pay, and pay again, for an utterly pointless war in which all parties participated with equal, and deadly, zeal.
And then there’s WWII….
Roosevelt tried to abide by Jacksonian principles, by keeping America out of war, although he did enter into Lend-Lease with the British, which kept them afloat during the Battle of Britain. The only reason America even entered WWII was that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and, one day later, Germany declared war on America. Once in the war, though, America fought with Jacksonian fervor. This was no careful battle, with photogenic bomb droppings here and there. This was fighting a war to win the war and, at war’s end, the Allies had scored a decisive victory.
Only after securing the Axis’s total defeat — a Jacksonian process — did America begin to work on the peace. That peace may have looked Wilsonian (we helped out our former enemies) but it was, in fact Jacksonian. Let me explain.
America chose to invest in Europe and Japan for two reasons, both of which America saw as directly benefiting herself: First, America believed that the entire world was at risk of falling to the Communist menace, and Europe and Japan were both bulwarks against the Soviet Union. Second, having seen what bankruptcy and humiliation did to Germany after WWII, America reasoned that the world would be a safer place — increasing American security — if Europe and Japan were spared a painfully recover period and leveraged into democratic prosperity — a prosperity that brings peace.
After WWII, America got involved in Wars that it believed were subsets of a bigger war with substantial ramifications for American well-being — namely, the Cold War (or, as some think of it, WWIII). While we didn’t care deeply about the Koreans or Vietnamese, we did care deeply about limiting the Soviet sphere of influence, because we viewed the Soviets as a direct threat to us. Victory in these war was therefore deemed to benefit America directly. Again — Jacksonian Wars, although with mixed outcomes in terms of actual benefits to the U.S.
The Korean War was certainly a benefit to the South Koreans who, but for America, would all be living under the maddened Kim regimes. The Vietnam War could have conferred the same benefit on at least part of the Vietnamese and Cambodian populations, but Leftist pressure on the American streets, in the media (when you’ve lost old Leftie Walter Cronkite, you’ve lost the war), and eventually in the Democrat Congress made victory impossible. So we entered a Jacksonian War and left a Wilsonian War — with a lot of civilian blood on our ends in the aftermath.
Reagan was the last of the Cold Warriors. Both Clinton and Bush were Wilsonians. They believed that America’s obligation was to fight wars for other people’s benefit, not for her own. Bush had least at a hazy dream that if we could just drag the Middle East into a democratic 21st century, we’d all be safer, but the reality is that regime change has never been a winner for the U.S.
What Bush didn’t understand is that you can’t have a Wilsonian peace until you’ve first fought a Jacksonian War. You go in to win against an enemy you hate; then you dictate a civilized peace. You don’t go in to change the world, because you cannot fight a wholehearted war if you’re already planning on working cooperatively with your enemy.
And then there’s Obama who has made it clear repeatedly that America victory is anathema to him. Wars are to be fought or avoided on a few rubrics: What will give Iran power; what will hurt Israel; what will humiliate America; what will play well in the press; what will the Americans tolerate in terms of domestic terrorism in order to avoid full-fledged war; etc.
The above stream-of-consciousness about Wilsonian Wars and Jacksonian Wars (i.e., America doesn’t win she brings peace versus America fights to win and deals with peace only after victory) is the filter through which I watched 30 minutes of the debate. That filter made it clear that Cruz is indeed a Jacksonian and Rubio, his main rival, a Wilsonian. Cruz thinks we should fight wars that will benefit us in a clear way and, when we fight them, we have to win them. Rubio is much more nuanced and seems to believe we have to go into the wars already figuring out our obligation to the future (which is surprisingly close to Obama’s constant insistence that all of his current acts are pre-approved by future history).
After all the nuanced wars in my lifetime (from Vietnam forward), only one of which (the first Gulf War) was fought to win, I’m very leery of nuanced wars. I remember my Dad saying that, when you fight a war, you fight to win. He was an old warrior who would have appreciated Cruz’s theory about actually winning wars before beginning the work of making peace.
A few other points: I’d forgotten what a nice voice Jeb Bush has, but nice voices are not enough to deserve the presidency. Using the Jacksonian/Wilsonian divide, Bush is a Wilsonian, so it’s just hard for me to support him. And talk about squidgy on immigration…. He did make excellent points against Trump, though.
I cannot pretend to like the Donald. I appreciate his ability to cut through the stifling PC censorship the Left has imposed on us, but I don’t think he has any practical ideas to back up his rhetoric. He’s a series of sound bytes, more than a promising chief executive.
Trump would certainly be better than either Hillary or Bernie, but one can easily say that about all of the Republican candidates. Any one of them is more intelligent, more focused, more patriotic, and more honest than Hillary; and all of them highlight that Bernie is a profligate, bullying Left-wing dictator masquerading under the guise of a plain-spoken crazy old Jewish uncle. As I’ve said in other contexts, Bernie has correctly diagnosed problems such as crony capitalism, but his cures are even worse than what we face now.
Carly’s good: focused, intelligent, articulate. I only saw her answer one question, though, before my feed spazzed out, so I have stronger feel for her today than I did yesterday.
I still like Ted Cruz. I saw him answer a couple of questions, and retain a sense that he’s deeply intelligent, deeply patriotic, and deeply Jacksonian: we fight wars that benefit us and, when we fight them, we fight to win.
Ben Carson would be a wonderful Calmer-in-Chief. I can see why he was/is a fabulous pediatric neurosurgeon. I know he got slighted by the moderators, though, and that was a shame because, during the half hour I watched, I didn’t get any more of a sense of him than I had before.
I read that Christie got in a good line about leadership. He’s a dynamic guy, but I think his New Jersey leadership shows that he can be both bully and sycophant, neither of which are qualities I like.
And that’s all I have to say.
What say you?