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A "bomb-the-hell-out-of-them" foreign policy approach

As Donald Trump rolls into South Carolina, on the heels of his stunning victory in New Hampshire, it will be interesting to see how this real estate developer's approach to foreign policy and the war on terror plays in the Palmetto State, home to the highest percentage of retired military personnel in the nation – in other words, the folks who actually pay the price when interventionist politicians get us involved in ill-conceived wars.

Just yesterday, Trump revealed his plan to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. He'll pressure China, he said, to make Kim Jong-Un, that country's dictator, "disappear." There was no elaboration on how he'd get China, his favorite campaign punching bag after Jeb Bush, to cooperate, or on how the assassination of foreign leaders is suddenly an acceptable foreign policy tool.

As to the Middle East crisis, Trump promises he will "bomb the hell out of them," meaning ISIS, and "take their oil." His preparedness to become commander-in-chief came into question during one debate when he stumbled on a question from conservative moderator Hugh Hewitt. He didn't know what America's "nuclear triad" was – namely, our ability to launch a three-pronged nuclear attack, using bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched missiles.

Saber-rattling is the order of the day among presidential candidates. Democrat Hillary Clinton and all the Republicans are competing for the brass ring of bellicosity on this political merry-go-round. Aside from the unleader-like way in which these aspirants for the "leader of the free world" mantle are playing upon legitimate fears of the American public, the greater cause for concern is that the winner might actually feel obligated to implement his or her own campaign rhetoric.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) would solve the terrorism problem with old-fashioned "carpet-bombing," blasting our ISIS enemies "into oblivion." This practice of saturation bombing was tested by Hitler on Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, in a dress rehearsal for World War II and perfected by the United States one night in March 1945, when more than 300 B-29s unloaded their incendiary bombs over Tokyo, killing 100,000 civilians.

To be fair, Sen. Cruz says that he intends to only bomb concentrations of ISIS fighters, but when those fighters are embedded with civilian populations, as is the case all over Syria and Iraq but especially in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, the combatant-only limitation is meaningless.

"I don't know if sand can glow in the dark," Sen. Cruz told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on December 5, "but we're going to find out."

Most of the other presidential hopefuls, including Hillary Clinton and our own Chris Christie, until he suspended his campaign following a sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, have been touting a "no-fly zone" as an essential first step in dealing with the situation in Syria, though all have rejected any large-scale, American "boots-on-the-ground" offensive. The possibility of aircrew losses ("boots-in-the-air") doesn't seem to faze them. It should, given Russia's recent deployment of an advanced ground-to-air missile defense system in support of the Assad regime in Syria.

Christie had vowed to shoot down any Russian plane that ventured into his no-fly zone, a prospect that made all other testosterone-infused candidates seem like pikers. Never mind that Russia is the only country in the world with a nuclear arsenal capable of leveling the United States. After Christie made that comment at a December 15 Republican debate, Sen. Paul gestured toward Christie and told the audience, "If you are in favor of World War III, here's your candidate."
"If you don't show people you are willing to fight back," Christie told a New Hampshire town hall meeting on January 13, "they will steal your lunch money every day." Advice on how to deal with a bully coming from . . . well, Chris Christie.

Secretary Clinton, once the most hawkish member of President Obama's inner circle, championed a no-fly zone over Libya during the early stages of that on-going crisis, a policy Obama adopted despite strong objections from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who called the creation of any no-fly zone "an act of war." Apparently, Clinton learned nothing from that failed policy. Libya is now an ungovernable mess, as well as the newest ISIS breeding ground. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, named Secretary Clinton, among all the presidential candidates, as the one most likely to involve the United States in still another Middle East war. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Florida) was a close second.

Rubio is his generation's neo-con successor to Dick Cheney, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, all leading proponents of the Iraq War. Calling the terrorist threat a "clash of civilizations," Rubio would, if elected, expand the number of combat troops in Iraq and Syria, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters and troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations.

All the candidates, in fact, cling to a misguided hope that a coalition of Sunni-dominated nations will rally around a strong American leader and provide the ground troops necessary to defeat ISIS. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in a January 24 appearance on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, conceded, perhaps inadvertently, the futility of such reliance. "Countries in the region have made the least contributions [in the fight against ISIS]," he said. "Up to now, they haven't done enough."

The Sunni nations consider Shiite Iran to be their principal concern. As long as ISIS is slaughtering Shiite heretics – namely Assad's Alowites, a branch of Shiite Islam, and their Iranian protectors – Saudi Arabia and the others will sit on the sidelines. It's an "enemy of my enemy" thing, something we should have noted before we removed Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator that he was, from his real-politik role as an effective counterweight to Iran.

Ben Franklin once said, ". . . there has never been, nor will there ever be, any such thing as a good war, or a bad peace." Sometimes war is necessary and sometimes it is stupid. Repeatedly inserting ourselves into a thousand-year-old, religious and tribal caldron is stupid, especially when every action we take stirs the pot.

There can be no exclusively military resolution to the Middle East quagmire we re-entered in 2003, no matter how appealing a "bomb-the-hell-out-of-them" approach may seem to the public. The only answer is diplomacy, well-conceived and consistent – always preferable to war, even if that means talking to our country's adversaries of the moment. But, as one listens to this group of presidential contenders, from whose number our next president will likely be chosen, one can't help but shudder at America's short-term prospects.
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