You can duck a question, not a war
Last night I had the pleasure, I suppose, of watching the CNN-AEI-Heritage Republican National Security debate live. There are a lot of things I could complain about in depth here. There is Michelle Bachmann’s continued insistence that the ACLU is running the CIA, only now she had the nerve to claim we had no way of interrogating terrorists, which would be news to, well, the large number of interrogators we have. There was Herman Cain’s genius ploy of answering every question by saying he’d ask the generals or Israel for an answer, because he’s the President, he’s not supposed to actually know stuff or make decisions. One could also ridicule Rick Perry’s ridiculous idea of a Syrian no-fly zone or his continued insistence that commanding the Texas National Guard during natural disasters qualifies him to critique the military performance of the President of the United States. Rick Santorum, for his part, said he would profile all Muslims as an effective means of airport screening, and continued to insist on a bizarre threat from Latin America’s dilapidated socialist states. Newt Gingrich came into the debate explaining how America’s national survival was at stake and advocated a plan for defeating Iran that, as best as I can tell, involves going back in time to get all the oil we used to have before WWII back. Then there were a litany of other ridiculous claims, such as Hezbollah and Hamas operating in Mexico, because people can’t tell the difference between Caracas and Chihuaha (the cartels would eviscerate Hezbollah and Hamas if they ever tried to expand their drug trafficking into Mexico. Literally, probably with chainsaws), and Rick Santorum calling Africa a country. Even internet critics favorite candidates, Ron Paul and Huntsman, had some pretty silly moments. Paul holding up successful mass murderer Timothy McVeigh as an example of civilian law enforcement powers working against terrorism was pretty ridiculous. Huntsman continued to repeat lamentable lines about “nation building at home” and a mythical “Persian Spring” opportunity that the US never could have exploited.
Then there was Michelle Bachmann potentially leaking classified information she learned while on HIPC. But that’s not even what makes me really mad (and the worst part of all of this is how much it lowers the bar for what’s acceptable).
No, what makes me really mad is that Katherine Zimmerman, of AEI’s Critical Threats, asked a very legitimate question about the candidates’ policies in Somalia against al Shabab. Al Shabab, an actual al Qaeda affiliate which has threatened the US and which is an actual target in the global war on terror is an actual national security threat. US aerial, naval, and special operations assets are at war in the Horn of Africa, along with US-sponsored proxy groups, US partner states such as Ethiopia and Kenya, and there is a massive international naval task force off of Somalia’s coast. There is no way a US president could avoid dealing with the Horn when they come into office.
Yet the question was ducked, virtually entirely, except for Michelle Bachmann who shoehorned in a remark about al Shabab operating in the US, which she probably only knows because she’s from a state with a large Somali-American population. Nothing on Somalia, from the “country” of Africa. Nobody took time out of any of their responses to discuss the war in the Horn of Africa. For all the talk about the need to lead, I’m not exactly inspired by a bunch of candidates who felt more time ought be spent discussing whether or not to deport churchoing Mexican grampas than an actual al Qaeda affiliate in a freaking national security debate. Nobody even bothered fumbling through a response with vague generalities. It was totally ignored. By would-be future presidents. I’m sorry, but this is not a gotcha question, it is a question about an ongoing front covered by a Congressional AUMF in the global war on terror. If you cannot even fake having a clue about what al Shabab or the Horn of Africa is, you are not a serious candidate in America circa 2012. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Did the aides just decide not to brief them on this one? Or do the aides actually not have a clue? The first answer is depressingly cynical, the second is alarming. And I gotta say, “Blitz” (as Cain so memorably dubbed him), you just let everybody off the hook with that one? Come on, people.