In response to Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate, I wrote a Facebook post that essentially said Republicans were lying to the American public about the actual danger of terrorism. (Full disclosure: I’m a libertarian, but forced to pick between a random Republican and Democrat, I’d take the Republican.) My sister texted me later that day asking me to clarify; do I not think that terrorism is a serious threat to our country, one that we should vigilantly combat?
Given the lack of context in my post, her point was completely fair. And while I doubt many folks actually saw it, I think this topic warrants a brief follow-up to my previous blog entry.
The Republican debate truly irked me because every single participant made one, if not more, references to this incarnation of terrorism being an existential threat. (Most used this phrase; those who did not got to the same meaning with different adjectives.) Such a claim is objectively false. And it carries serious, life-shattering implications for the men and women in our armed forces.
Consider: the worst terrorist attack in this nation’s history killed a bit under 3,000 people. Of course there are some vicious, violent individuals who want to kill more Americans. Some will be successful. Perhaps there will even be another 9/11 scale attack on US soil. This is all, of course, quite tragic. But it is not existential, or even close to it.
An intelligent Republican debate would have considered a few questions, again, none of which I claim to have a perfect answer for. But these questions were barely considered, and when they were, candidates spouted off complete nonsense:
1-What is the actual threat to American lives and economic progress that terrorism presents? (Pardon me for being morbid, but casualties on 9/11 represented roughly .01% of US population. If you don’t think that policymakers quantify loss of life in such ways, you’re mistaken.)
2-Given that threat, what type of military actions are you willing to take? (Carpet bombing the enemy into oblivion makes for a nice sound bite, but it is not a realistic strategy.)
3-Given your answer to “2”, how many troops’ lives would this risk, and is that an acceptable cost in blood?
4-Given your answer to “2”, how much money are you willing to divert from other efforts? Assume a flat/inflation and population-adjusted tax base, and that every dollar you spend on military campaigns has to come from somewhere else. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch.)
In my mind, terrorism is tragic and should be confronted to some degree. But the phrase “courage” was hilariously-and sadly-brought up to describe various 50+ year olds’ willingness to tell other people to go get shot at. The Federalist’s Sean Davis put it quite well:
War breaks bodies and rips souls apart. How does each candidate weigh war’s real horrors and real costs against its hoped-for benefits?
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) December 17, 2015
Foreign wars against terrorists combat questionable threats with very real costs.
For many voters, these debates represent a huge percentage of their exposure to policy. Given the executive branch’s increasing autonomy in foreign policy, Tuesday’s event did a great disservice to the American public.