The fourth round of GOP presidential debate took place on November 10 in Milwaukee. It was the same old pattern – all against one.
Donald Trump, who had been a frontrunner until recently, had to repel a consolidated attack of other candidates, perhaps, excluding only Senator Rand Paul, who is on the verge on leaving the race with 1-2% support. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is catching up with Trump. Both are leading among GOP primary voters with about 29%. It does not make life better for the party leadership. Carson is not a man of the establishment. He has a tiny chance of winning the nomination and becoming the second African American President in a row. Jeb Bush, the main establishment candidate, got stuck at 3-5%. Marco Rubio supported by right wing Republicans for sticking to tough line cannot get close to the leaders with his support at 10-12%.
This time the attitude towards Russia was one of the main issues against the background of the events in Syria. Former governor of Florida Jeb Bush set the tone advocating a no-fly zone in Syria and increased support for pro-Western rebels. Perhaps, he meant the Syrian Free Army, which is fleeing the frontline. The Pentagon stubbornly refuses to share the information on the location of its formations with the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces. Jeb Bush called for creating «safe zones» for them on the ground without making precise where exactly these zones should be located. On Russia, Bush said that it was «tragic» that the Iraqi government had held talks with Russia and that «it wasn't that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all». He called for restoring US leadership everywhere. Bush obviously meant to say that during the tenures of the two presidents of the Bush family nobody in the Middle East dared to utter a word without the consent of Washington. Bush wanted to send the message that he would remain faithful to the family traditions. For many years the administrations of the both parties have been implementing the Middle East policies that have led to a dead end. The Islamic State, the main evil threatening the region, has been nurtured by the United States. Somehow, this fact escaped the attention of Jeb Bush. What are the goals of Russia’s activities in Syria, who is responsible for blunders and failures it is trying to rectify? Bush does not care. According to him, the main thing is to prevent Russia from gaining ground in the Middle East.
Carly Fiorina, the former executive officer of Hewlett Packard, said ditto. She supported the idea of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria. «We must have a no-fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes», Fiorina noted. The Russian Aerospace Forces, unlike the US Air Force, came to Syria upon the invitation of Syrian legal government. Was the Fiorina statement intended to make this fact irrelevant? Fiorina also called for increased military presence in Europe to deter Russia. She wants the United States to suspend the contacts with President Putin. «I wouldn't talk to him for a while», Fiorina said during the debate. «But I would do this, I would start rebuilding the six fleet right under his nose, rebuild the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose, I would conduct very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states, so he understood we would protect our NATO allies and would-be allies and I might also put in a few thousand troops into Germany, not to start a war, but make sure Putin understands the United States will stand with our allies».
Senator Rand Paul called the idea naive and potentially dangerous, before Fiorina cut him off. He said such approach would hardly make Russia willing to hold a dialogue with America, but the United States will still have to talk to Moscow. «When you think it's going to be a good idea to have a no-fly zone over Iraq, realize that means you are saying we are going to shoot down Russian planes. If you're ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq», Paul warned.
Ben Carson spoke plainly without emotions. He sided with the majority saying in general terms that he agreed with the idea that the United States should take a tougher stand on Russia.
Marco Rubio, the leading Republican hawk, did not mince words. He said the Russia’s regime is criminal. According to him, it is headed by gangsters. Perhaps, these comparisons come from the memories of his youth – the years he spent on the streets of Miami, his native town. He ardently advocated more aggressive foreign policy accusing Russia of exploiting American weakness in the Middle East. Rubio said Russia wanted to take the US place as the most influential force in the Middle East.
Summing it up, all candidates called for maintaining US leadership. They did not say anything substantial. What does the United States and the rest of the world need this leadership for if it only leads to excessive expenditure of national energy and chaos throughout the whole world? It looks like a collective blindness.
Donald Trump is far from being profound savvy in international affairs. He is often rebuked for not knowing some facts and his refusal to be advised by people with a high level of knowledge in the field. His team includes no foreign policy gurus – the well-known people transitioning from one campaign team to another. For this reason, he is not in favor with expert community. They readily needle him for mistakes and slips of the tongue. They never miss a chance to ask him tricky questions.
Looks like Trump ignores experts on international affairs purposefully. Perhaps, he realizes that they are useless. The only thing they do is harp on the same string stubbornly repeating the mantra of the need to maintain the so called leadership everywhere in the world and in every field. But he demonstrates something else – exceptional common sense and openness for a dialogue.
Trump commented on the attacks his opponents launched against Russia with disarming plainness and clarity. «If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it», he said adding that the possible bombing of a Russian plane by militants meant «he cannot be in love with these people. He's going in and we can go in».
Trump said he wanted the European Union to play a bigger role in managing the conflict in Ukraine. «As far as Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of countries, including Germany, a tremendous economic behemoth, why are we always doing the work?»
In other words, he does not see the situation in Ukraine as a reason for strained relations with Russia. He is a pragmatic businessman. According to his vision, the United States is gradually ceding its positions while competing with China and that’s what constitutes the major problem in international politics.
True, Trump stands for US leadership in the world, but he believes that this leadership should be maintained as a result of competitiveness, not ultimate fighting and adherence to dogmas about «shining city upon a hill», «a beacon for the world», etc.
It makes Trump the only sensible person among all GOP presidential hopefuls.
Right after the debate the Republican propaganda machine started to spread around the view that finally the tide has changed as Jeb Bush won the debate staging an extraordinary comeback to make the GOP nomination race enter the main phase. It’s hard to understand who this message is destined for. There is nothing to corroborate this affirmation. Actually, it’s nothing but self-deceit. No wonder, the Republican leadership overlooked the «anti-establishment» revolution in its ranks.
The Wall Street Journal was a sponsor of the event. It reported that among GOP voters Mr Trump was declared the winner by 28%, with 23% naming Mr Rubio. Mr Cruz followed with 16%, while Mr Carson had 14%. Rand Paul was named the winner by 7% of viewers, not a bad result for him. Jeb Bush had only 3%. A very dubious comeback!
Common sense still prevails over great power mantra among Republican voters. But how long will it last?