Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The National Security Answers Missing from the Democratic Debate

The National Security Answers Missing from the Democratic Debate

There were few surprises in the Democratic debate. Hillary Clinton was by far the most polished speaker, though whether she said much of substance was an entirely different matter. Her major message, oft repeated through the evening, was “vote for me because I am a woman.” Bernie Sanders blamed it all on the plutocrats. Martin O’Malley was fixated on a green clean America. Jim Webb stood apart as the only non-progressive (read: left-wing liberal) on the stage, as Hillary Clinton bobbed and weaved to convey the impression that she too tilted far left. As for Lincoln Chafee, one wondered how he was elected to multiple offices; his responses were weak, his platitudes uninspiring.

What was clear is that other than bashing the Bush administration for the Iraq War, and promising to get out of Afghanistan, the candidates preferred to avoid the hard details of foreign policy unless directly confronted by the moderators. Hillary Clinton did her best to sidestep anything related to emails or to Benghazi. She made a virtue of getting China to reach an agreement on climate change, but had little to say about the South China Sea. That was an issue that only Jim Webb was prepared to raise. She promised “leadership” in standing up to Putin on Syria, without defining what leadership meant. She also promised to bring Arabs and others into a coalition to defeat the Islamic State, as if there were no coalition attempting to do so today, with, however, minimal success. How exactly she would get the Arab states to do more than they are already doing to oppose Assad was a matter she left to the viewers’ imaginations. She had little to say about the Iran deal, other than voicing her support. In general, she was far more eager to discuss her various “plans” on a host of domestic policy issues rather than have her record as secretary of state examined in any great detail.

At least Bernie Sanders was straightforward about his priorities: namely, to soak the rich. His performance amply demonstrated that foreign and national security policy was not his forte. The others, apart from Webb, were no better. They answered the moderators’ questions in a way that they, like Clinton, preferred to move on to other subjects.

No one was ready to discuss the current state of the military. No one was ready to address how to remedy the collapse of American credibility around the world. No one touched detailed budget issues, other than dealing with the cost of social security; Sanders’ solution was, of course, to go after wealthier Americans to cover potential trust fund shortfalls.

While Clinton talked about nuclear proliferation, she did not mention…

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