When Everyone’s a Trump-et, It May Be Hard to Think through the Noise

This week’s “Sunday Show Wrap-Up” from The Hill (see below) seems particularly instructive.

The one thing on which the GOP presidential candidates uniformly agree is that President Obama is an ineffectual leader (or, worse–because Donald Trump is now suggesting, something much more sinister).

Moreover, other than Trump himself, of course, all of them agree that Trump is too much of a loose cannon to be the eventual nominee.

Yet, for the most part, in attempting to position themselves as alternatives to Trump, the other GOP candidates seem to be searching for any talking points that will attract the same sort of media attention that just about all of Trump’s remarks have been commanding. That strategy amounts to their trying to sound more Trumpian than Trump as a way of emphasizing why his candidacy is ultimately an impossible option for the party. It seems a much more desperate than coherent political strategy. But given what Trump has been getting away with—in a historically unprecedented manner–on the campaign trail, it may now be the only viable strategy now that the early primaries are looming.

Likewise, the criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy have been characterized by very strong rhetoric all out of proportion to the actual substantive differences between what he is doing and what the GOP candidates are suggesting that they would do if elected to the presidency. The only exception, thus far, has been Ted Cruz’s attempt to one-up Trump’s assertion that he will simply “bomb the shit out of them” by suggesting that he, Cruz, will subject ISIS-controlled territories to “carpet-bombing.”

Indeed, quite apart from the candidates themselves, the media, across the political spectrum, has been suggesting that the war against ISIS and other Islamic extremists may be World War III. This suggestion ignores the very obvious differences in scale between the current conflicts and the World Wars. In both World Wars, the opposing sides included not just the strongest military powers in the world, but alignments among those powers that were, at least for a time, relatively equally balanced in terms of their military power. In both cases, economic power ultimately gave the winning side a considerable military advantage over the losing side. In contrast to those scenarios, ISIS controls devastated portions of two relatively small, war-torn nations, and it is fielding a military force of perhaps 25,000, with no navy or air force and just a few tanks, which relies on Toyota pick-up trucks or captured Humvees for transport.

The major reason that ISIS has remained in control of any territory is that, on the heels of the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. and its allies have recognized that defeating ISIS militarily will create a political vacuum that they have not been prepared to fill. In effect, the escalating risk of terrorism is resulting not from military timidity per se but from the absence of any viable political strategy. The air strikes against ISIS have been a “holding action,” not until sufficient military force can be brought to bear against ISIS, but, instead, until someone can figure out a way to bring some sort of political stability to Syria and Iraq that does not involve the open-ended expense and the compounding hazards of occupying those nations militarily.

The terrorist attacks in Paris and now in San Bernardino (though the murderers’ motives there seem to have been much murkier)—in combination with the already hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing rhetoric of this presidential campaign cycle–have now made it politically less viable not to attempt to defeat ISIS militarily. Indeed, doing so will now almost certainly be promoted as the only credible way to forestall further terrorist attacks.

Ironically, the very people who are taking this political position are the same people who claim that none of the remedies for reducing broader gun-related violence are credible—that is, if a single solution is not a “magic bullet” (bad pun intended), it is not worth pursuing.

Given the terrible regularity with which mass murders have been occurring domestically and terrorist attacks have been occurring internationally, I suspect that, regardless of what we do militarily against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, there will soon be manifold and tragic evidence that these inconsistent positions on terrorism and on guns are equally unjustifiable and ineffectual.


December 6, 2015



Christie: ‘Every place in America is a target’   “In a free and open society, we not going to be able to stop every attack.”

Attorney general mum on motive for San Bernardino   “This investigation is ongoing,” Loretta Lynch says.

Homeland Security chair: ‘Almost impossible’ to stop all terror threats   “We didn’t see this one coming,” Rep. Michael McCaul says.

Carson: I have ‘most experience’ with life and death decisions   The former neurosurgeon dismissed his sliding poll numbers.

Trump accuses media of ‘glamorizing’ terrorists   “They’re making them into Robin Hood.”

Rubio: Obama ‘weakened’ US intelligence   Rubio cited a report that said the phone records of the alleged San Bernardino assailants only extend two years.

Bush: Clinton a ‘focus group’ politician on ISIS   The former Florida governor said the U.S. needs to show a firmer stance.

Former intel official says ‘ISIS is on a roll’   “In the last five weeks, to put it in baseball terms, they’ve hit for the cycle,” he said.



Kasich: Keep guns from those on no-fly list   The Republican presidential hopeful said it is “common sense” to prevent people on terror watchlists from obtaining weapons.

Rubio: No-fly list full of “everyday Americans”   The GOP presidential hopeful said the lists are far from perfect.

Sanders says gun control not a “magic formula”   He said he would, however, support a ban on assault weapons.



Clinton: Trump pushing GOP field in “deeply distressing” direction   “A lot of the others are kind of Trump 2,” Hillary Clinton says.

Bush insists Trump won’t get nomination   “I have enough confidence in early GOP primary voters,” says Jeb Bush.

Kasich: ‘Trump will not be the nominee’   The Republican presidential hopeful suggested that Trump’s supporters won’t show up to vote for the primaries.



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