Too often foreign policy is relegated to the land of the wonks and is hidden from the political arena. Despite what the wonks think, foreign policy is a political issue. Period. Full Stop. This is especially the case when the subject is war, which means you are talking about sending sons and daughters into combat. In 2008, exasperation with war in the Middle East was a large part of the political tsunami that washed over Sen. John McCain. The Trump circus, the Clinton scandal machine and her Wall Street dalliances are masking talk of the candidates' Middle East policy this year, but the mask will come off. Neither Democrat nor Republican voters yet seem to be fully aware that Sen. Rubio, Sec. Clinton and Donald Trump all are going to market with a policy to send ground troops into Syria, but I have a hunch it soon will become clear to voters. As it does, it will make for an extraordinary November.
In a recent speech, the Donald dropped an actual policy recommendation which jarred me. It was a bad recommendation, but at least it was an improvement over the usual ad hominem shtick. He called for refugee "safe zones" in Syria. It caught my attention because it is not something that simply rolls off the tongue of someone who does not have a foreign policy and whose campaign website policy section looks like digital finger painting. The Democrat and Republican establishmentarians and Donald Trump have the same wonkish Syria policy. Do voters understand what this means?
The theory behind a safe zone is that it would give refugees a safe place to go and divert them from Europe, where the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU. Critically, it is important to understand what a "safe zone" actually is. It is simply the foreign policy establishment's euphemism for "ground troops." You cannot secure a safe zone without ground troops unless your goal is to make it even easier for Russia to target Syria's civilian population. In other words, it is a limited invasion. Germany's Angela Merkel has danced around the issue. NATO will not do it nor does a European coalition of the willing seem likely, which begs the question: why are Clinton, Rubio and Trump so eager to sacrifice U.S. soldiers for a mission to prop up Europe...when the Europeans, themselves, are not in favor?
From Rubio such a suggestion is expected. His campaign is premised on creating Bush 3.0 so he can get the band back together for another spin through the Middle East. He even teamed up with Clinton to author regime change in Libya. Likewise, it is expected from Clinton. But Donald Trump, whose policy for Syria/ISIS, as far as I can ascertain, is "to bomb the sh-- out of them" and take away their oil and Internet? As he seems incapable of naming foreign policy advisors who do not instantly strike the Heisman Trophy pose to distance themselves it seems unlikely he arrived at this policy through a coherent process. Maybe he really does get his foreign policy knowledge through an osmotic process of "watching the shows" as he claimed. It is best not to ponder.
But this means that Democrat favorite, Clinton, the Republican establishment's darling, Rubio, and Trump all favor invading Syria. That leaves only one viable candidate in the race who does not support another Middle East ground invasion, Ted Cruz. I am not naive about the political makeup of the Huffington Post's readership, so I will let this sink in a bit.
This situation is remarkable because then-Senator Obama's opposition to the Iraq war, especially in juxtaposition to Hillary's infamous vote, is what catapulted him to the nomination. The Republican establishment still does not seem to understand that in 2008 Americans had reached their fill of Middle East adventurism and, as a result, McCain never stood a chance. An instant tell that the establishment Republicans have not learned this lesson is their unwavering support for Rubio. They still prefer his message of regime change instead of Cruz's policy focus on rebuilding America as a shining beacon on the hill and rebuilding our levers of power that allow for a strong and engaged America, leaving military force to a last resort. Luckily, Republican voters still have a chance to deny the nomination to the two - Trump and Rubio - advocating for a Syrian ground invasion.
Democrats do not have that luxury. Between her southern primary wins and the Democrat Party's (rather undemocratic) superdelegate system, Clinton's path to the nomination is assured. The Democrats are lumbering toward the general election with a nominee who has supplemented her resume, that already included a vote for the Iraq War, with Libyan regime change, a softer version of regime change in Egypt, a drastic escalation of President Bush's worldwide drone war, public defense of the PATRIOT Act, a call for a surveillance "intelligence surge" and untold foreign policy disasters. Democrats are left with a very interesting choice: unlimited permawar or Ted Cruz. As the Trump clown show hopefully begins to fade, this distinction will draw into sharper focus. This is one reason (admittedly of many) that Republicans should not allow their justified anger at Republican party leadership to draw them to the siren call of Trumpism. Trump cannot attack her on this point. At the same time, Democrats need to understand what they have done to themselves and what this could mean for November.