A Few Thoughts: The Fifth Republican Debate and the Republican Primary

The latest Republican Primary debate focused on issues of foreign policy and national security. During the marathon debate, clocking in at a total of nearly three hours, all manner of issues were discussed, including ISIS, Assad and Putin on the foreign policy side of the debate. Domestically, national security issues included domestic terrorism threats, immigration, border control and intelligence gathering, including issues related to the NSA.

One of the main points to take away from the debate was the sharp divide among candidates on foreign policy issues pertaining to the Middle East. In this regard, two clear positions arose – an interventionist one, arguing the need to remove Assad and defending America’s role in regime change in Libya. In the debate, this line of argument was pursued most vigorously by Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. From their perspective, the removal of Bashar Al-Assad from power in Syria is an essential component of any strategy to contain and ultimately defeat ISIS. Despite much reluctance from Americans to intervene extensively in the Middle East, Rubio and Bush strongly pressed the case that the only way for the current Syrian crisis to be solved would be through America taking a direct leading role.

On the other side of the issue, there were candidates who opposed such an action, arguing that it would further destabilize the Middle East and ultimately not be in America’s interest. Ted Cruz was particularly vigorous in making this argument, clashing with Rubio on multiple occasions about America’s record in the past few years in the Middle East. Cruz argued for an ‘America First’ approach to Middle East policy, arguing that if dictators such as Assad needed to stay to ensure stability in the region, despite the atrocities committed by such leaders, than that is the policy which America should follow. Other candidates, most notably Donald Trump, took this line and went further, arguing that further intervention in Syria was a waste of trillions of dollars better spent on domestic priorities.

Another noticeable difference in this debate was the relative lack of speaking time for Donald Trump in comparison to previous debates. Unlike previous debates, Trump did not garner the most speaking time. Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spoke for a longer period of time than Trump in this debate. Overall, the candidates received a surprisingly balanced amount of time to speak. Another takeaway from this debate was the relatively low-key performance of Trump in comparison to previous debates. As well as speaking less than in previous debates, Trump did not appear to have the same level of control over the debate as he has previously enjoyed. Despite this, Trump appears to be enjoying as high a level of popularity among prospective Republican voters as before. According to polling as of the 17th December, Trump still enjoys a substantial lead over his nearest rivals.

With the first Republican Caucus set for February 1 in Iowa, it appears that Donald Trump will likely take a commanding lead in the polls with him into the caucuses. More and more commentators are suggesting that Donald Trump will become the eventual nominee for the Republican Party as a result, almost certainly resulting in a general election face-off against Hillary Clinton. However, polls have shown that Trump would be at a decided disadvantage against Clinton in a general election, especially compared to several other GOP candidates, most notably Marco Rubio. According to RealClearPolitics, as of December 17, Trump would lose to Clinton by a margin of 42%-48%, whilst Rubio would narrowly beat Clinton, 47%-45%. More importantly, over the last month, the overall trend has favoured Clinton more and more strongly against Trump in this scenario, while Rubio is gaining more ground over Clinton. This, therefore, leaves the GOP establishment with a potential problem. A Trump candidacy would likely lose a general election, despite his popularity in the primary. One solution, though controversial and quite unlikely, would be that of a brokered convention. Most likely, however, the field of candidates will narrow down quickly once the state caucuses begin. In any case, it will be fascinating to see how the GOP establishment deals with the increasing possibility of an outsider candidate such as Trump over the coming months.

Some thoughts on the Paris Terror Attacks

One week ago, a series of terrorist attacks by ISIS-linked jihadist took place in Paris, with more than 130 casualties and scores more being injured. In the wake of these attacks, media commentators and pundits have debated, analysed and discussed the event at great length. Unsurprisingly, much of the commentary relating to the Paris attacks has been partisan and lacking in nuance.

For instance, many commentators on the Right, as well as conservative politicians, have used the attacks to denounce Islam as a whole, as well as to voice opposition to accommodating Syrian refugees. This is despite the fact that all of the jihadists in last weeks’ attacks were born in Europe as opposed to having immigrated there from Syria or another Middle Eastern country. The opposition to Syrian refugees has been particularly pronounced among Republican presidential candidates. The most pronounced voice of opposition has been Donald Trump, who has gone so far as to float the idea of creating a database specifically for American Muslims. Such rhetoric, apart from being at odds with the American Constitution and its principles of religious freedom, is incendiary and ultimately not a realistic option in terms of ensuring security.

Many Progressive and left-leaning commentators, from the opposite angle, have also lacked nuance when discussing the attacks. Many commentators, under the goal of trying not to demonise all Muslims when addressing the terror attacks, have been unwilling to mention at all the link between Islam and the Islamist ideology being the attacks. Instead, these commentators, and even some world leaders such as Barack Obama, insist that the attacks have ‘Nothing to do with Islam’. The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it distorts the uncomfortable truth of the matter, which is that Islam does ultimately have some link with the ideology behind the Paris terror attacks. Islam, of course, is the religion; Islamism on the other hand, is the desire to impose a version of Islam over society, contrary to the secular, liberal values that are the bedrock of Western civilization.

Progressive, left-leaning commentators and politicians, in their desire to appear compassionate and accommodating toward Muslims, have often neglected to acknowledge the realistic and appropriate questions and concerns in terms of security. The Paris attacks, after all, were one of the most deadly terror attacks against a Western nation since 9/11. In order to be able to deal with the threat of Islamist terror, these politicians will need to implement the necessary policy decisions, even if this means the occasional compromise of freedom. A secure state, after all, is a traditional liberal principle, even if this often goes forgotten or is under-valued by liberal-minded politicians in modern political discourse.

In the ongoing war against Islamist extremism, it is imperative that free discussion and debate of this ideology can occur in order to intellectually combat it. By creating an environment of free speech and debate around these issues, alternative visions and interpretations can be heard and can counter an extremist, Islamist interpretation of the Muslim religion. It is equally important that the distinction between Islamism and the religion of Islam is clear and distinct, in order to ensure that Muslims are not uniformly blamed for Islamist terror attacks. A balanced response, which does not shy away from the necessary, uncomfortable debate around Islamism’s influence in Western societies but also does not over-react and inadvertently divide Western society between Muslim and non-Muslim lines is necessary.