After the soft “First in the South” sham last week, in which the three Democratic presidential candidates sat down for a televised back massage from Rachel Maddow, Hillary Clinton and her challengers were forced back into reality on Saturday with an actual debate with actual questions. And unlike the first debate, where the Democrats seemed most interested in presenting a picture of party unity, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley apparently decided that it was now or never if they really wanted the job.
It’s impossible to say what this debate would have looked like if it had happened on Thursday instead of Saturday, but the Paris attacks had an inevitable impact on how the night unfolded. And as one of the most important figures in our national security policy over the last twenty years, Hillary Clinton found herself trying to explain how she was the right person to carry it forward.
“This election is not only about electing a president. It’s also about choosing our next commander-in-chief,” she said.
But that’s a strange flag to fly when so many of your own decisions regarding foreign policy have been wrought with failure. Her challengers capitalized on her mistake. They questioned her support for removing Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. They brought up her Iraq War vote, which Clinton characterized as a “mistake.” They made certain that viewers understood that Clinton’s policies were largely responsible for the shape of the Middle East right now – a shape that grows more twisted by the day.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they were any more on target than she was. Bernie Sanders rolled out the old standard: “Those Muslim countries are going to have to lead the effort.”
Let’s make this perfectly clear. When your national security/foreign policy/terrorism strategy relies on what other countries are “going to have” to do, you have no strategy at all. What you’re basically saying is that we’re going to withdraw, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. If this was a crisis guaranteed to remain constrained to the Middle East, that might be one thing. But it’s been a very long time since we could rationally make that leap.
Sadly, none of the candidates were willing to name the enemy. Clinton actually went as far as to say, “I don’t think we’re at war with Islam,” a sentiment the other candidates did not dispute.
And that, more than any specific policy, is really the problem with the Democratic Party and the liberals who vote for their candidates. No one on either the right or the left is wise enough to know exactly what we should be doing to defeat ISIS, Al Qaeda, and radical Islamic terrorism. There’s plenty of room for debate. But the debate should not even begin until we are all on the same page about the nature of our enemy. You can’t win a war – you can’t even fight a war – until you know who you’re fighting, why you’re fighting, and what the ultimate goal should be.