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Some Pre-Debate Thoughts on Foreign Policy

Before, during and after tonight’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy / national security there will likely be lots of color commentary and the usual horse race analysis of the contest. Unfortunately, that is the nature of media coverage and has been for almost as long as I can remember. Part of this owes to the debate format that is made for television and seems suited for our short attention spans – made shorter with the advent of the 140 character commentary (Tweet) featured on Twitter. However, in light of the current worldwider economic crisis, increased dissatisfaction of the people with their governments, widespread distrust, and the potential for these trends to lead to war, the thoughts and ideas that the Republican field have on foreign policy could provide an important roadmap to what not only our future will look like, but possibly the future of much of the rest of the world.

It shouldn’t be lost on students of history that two great presidents – Washington and Eisenhower were both generals. Washington in his farewell address encouraged the nation to avoid foreign entanglements. Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned about the threat posed to our liberty by the Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower in his first campaign for president vowed to go to Korea and end the war, then followed through with his promise. Regarding spending money on arms and war Eisenhower said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” (Source: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/9556.html).

This quotation from Eisenhower highlights one of the important aspects that has been lost not only presidential debates, but much of our public discourse – that politics is about choices. Much of our current economic woes owe to the simple fact that we are unwilling to confront choices. Rather than present voters with the choices and consequences that each choice offers, candidates pick and choose their choices and consequences to suit the biases of their audience. The United States, at present, probably has the power to confront and – at a minimum – hold any and all of its enemies at bay. Total, ever-present war, comes with a price. We can’t have every weapon system and every social program. We can’t continue to spend money we don’t have (borrow), accumulating mountains of debt, and expect that there won’t someday be a sever price to pay.

Eisenhower and Washington were willing to confront in an honest and forthright manner the choices we faced as a nation and to state bluntly the consequences if we chose to go down a chosen path. We need our candidates for president to have the courage, knowledge and understanding of history to present the hard, cold truth to the American people. Sound bites and cute slogans aren’t enough. Scoring debate points, gaining in the polls, securing the nomination and winning the White House will all be for naught if they don’t prepare the people for the choices that confront them, the consequences of those choices and the sacrifices they might be called upon to ensure the continuation of our nation, liberty and way of life.

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