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Sunday, August 05, 2007

The August 5 Republican Debate

Republican Presidential candidates met on the campus of Drake University on August 5, 2007 for a debate televised on ABC's This Week. Given the hour allotted and the number of candidates, the format didn't allow for terribly detailed discussion. However, two key items of interest to all voters emerged from the discussion.


Huckabee Gets It (sort of), Brownback Doesn't

During the August 5 debate for Republican candidates in Iowa, a question was asked about the current state of the war in Iraq and its future. Texas Congressman Ron Paul answered by stating America needs to withdraw given the complete absence of any political compromise to better unify the Iraqi people and government. Surprisingly, his comments drew significant applause, along with the only boos of the debate. California Congressman Duncan Hunter stated a position on the other extreme, calling for continued support of the current strategy with little change.

George Stephanopolis then summarized those states as the poles of the issue and asked if there was any middle position. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee almost got it right. His reply stated that every time we Americans fill our tank, our money is making the Saudi royal family a little bit more wealthy. At the same time, "money" (generic money) is going to fundamentalist groups who are causing the problems we are fighting. Huckabee called for a serious effort by America to stop the loop that transforms our petro dollars into bombs and bullets aimed at our soldiers and interests by materially reducing our dependence on foreign energy. Oohhh, so close!

Whether out of politeness or not quite grasping the whole picture, Huckabee failed to outline the DIRECT connection between our gas tanks, Saudi revenue, and funding of terrorists. The link between Saudi Arabia and the terrorism we are fighting should not be a secret to Americans and should not be unmentionable in any public debate of our future strategy. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on September 11 came from Saudi Arabia. Between 45 and 55 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq attacking our soldiers are from Saudi Arabia. (#1) Saudi oil revenue has produced consecutive generations of young fundamentalist malcontents whose family wealth affords them the luxury of playing "global jihadist", making trouble across the mideast.

In contrast to Huckabee's overall appropriate policy summary, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback earned a BZZZZZZZZT. His analysis calls for the Iraqi political solution to revert to a three-state solution mirroring the political boundaries that existed in the region prior to World War I. Brownback was clearly trying to win the support of those who view our failure as being caused by an attempt to "impose" a country and a government on factions that never did and never will naturally get along. It barely makes sense if you only look at the land and people within present day Iraq. It makes no sense when you look at the larger neighborhood.

The Kurdish region has oil reserves that can support a Kurdish state but a standalone Kurdish state is viewed as a threat to neighboring Turkey. The Shi'ite dominated area of Iraq also has oil reserves that could help sustain a "Shia" state but such a state would quickly fall into the political orbit of Iran, which the Saudis would immediately view as a threat, leading them to broaden support for Iraqi Sunnis and unravel any chance of reducing sectarian violence in the region. The Southern Sunni portion of Iraq has relatively little oil wealth and would have trouble financially surviving alone. A three-state solution would also isolate the Kurdish and Shia regions from the engineering and operational talents held primarily by the Sunnis who held most of the government and infrastructure positions in the Baath'ist regime.

While America cannot impose sense and geopolitical wisdom on the Iraqis, we shouldn't be actively encouraging a strategy that would clearly harm the interests of the Iraqis themselves and neighbors in the region in both the short term and long term. Given the animosities between its neighbors in Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, one would hope it will become increasingly clear to the Iraqi people that their best strategy for survival in the short term and long term peace is remaining as a unified, moderate country that is viewed by its neighbors as sufficiently benign and not requiring more meddling.


Giuliani on Taxes

The I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis prompted a question on taxes that produced a talking point response from former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani. The question was simple -- do the problems with our infrastructure as illustrated by the collapse of a bridge warrant additional gas taxes to help fix those problems? Guiliani responded by citing a liberal bias in the question that assumed you have to raise taxes to raise revenues. He basically claimed that tax revenues in New York City actually rose during his tenure because he lowered taxes instead of raising them. These two events certainly occurred at the same time in the 90s. However, Guliani is confusing correlation with causation. I suspect the vast majority of the increase in tax revenue enjoyed by New York City was due to bloated Wall Street incomes during the Internet bubble which itself was fueled in part by Alan Greenspan over-stoking the economy leading up to 2000 in anticipation of a Y2K economic hiccup that never materialized.

Giuliani's take on tax strategy needs to be carefully reviewed by all voters of all affiliations. America has added $3.2 TRILLION dollars to the national debt during the current Administration. (#2) Yearly interest payments on that debt are roughly $465 billion --- that's an Iraq war EVERY YEAR. Politicians who claim we can tax-cut our way out of these massive structural deficits while enacting even MORE unfunded entitlement programs are the SINGLE BIGGEST THREAT to American's long term survival.


Overall

Whether you agree or disagree with their particular policies, only Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Guiliani seemed to articulate a consistent thread of philosophy and strategy across all the questions raised in the debate with Romney coming in a close fourth. The rest, either by their demeanor or answers to their questions, basically came across as irrelevant. As someone vehemently opposed to the current non-policy in Iraq, all but Ron Paul seemed too tied to the "speak no evil of a fellow Republican" philosophy when it came to both Iraq policy and the role of a Vice President and the role of Dick Cheney in particular. As someone who doesn't want any of these candidates to win, it is still important that the Republicans have serious, meaningful debates that get through all of the foreign and domestic issues facing the country and get Americans thinking about ALL of the possibilities. I think the August 5 debate indicates the Republicans can do that. For that, they get kudos.

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#1) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-saudi15jul15,0,3132262.story

#2) http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/NPGateway