"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," wrote Desiderius Erasmus nearly 500 years ago. His proverb has been widely accepted, at least until the campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Today, in the GOP land of the blind, the one-eyed man is clearly "out of touch with real American values"; he's quickly criticized and often booed.
In Tuesday's Republican presidential debate on foreign policy and national security issues, two candidates had the gall to deviate from ultraconservative orthodoxy and talk about the world and America's changing role in it based on actual observation rather than received wisdom and ideology. They may pay dearly for their heresy.
Jon Huntsman had the nerve to suggest that the U.S. drawdown of troops in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 10,000-15,000 is prudent because the billions of dollars being spent on 'rebuilding' that country would be much better spent rebuilding our own. He also pointed out that the continuing mission in Afghanistan is opaque, as in "What exactly are we supposed to be doing here?"
Mitt Romney was quick to pounce, suggesting that the U.S. presence in that country should remain at current levels until the "generals on the ground" say it's okay to bring them home.
Huntsman replied that, as president, he'd listen to the generals -- and to a lot of other people -- and then act as Commander in Chief and make the decision. He reminded Romney and the audience how well relying on the generals on the ground worked for us in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson heeded Gen. William Westmoreland's pleas for more troops and more troops in a no-win war until it ultimately cost LBJ his presidency and America 58,000 lives.
That kind of radically realistic thinking explains why Huntsman cannot seem to get past low single digits in polling among Republican voters. Romney put the entire discussion into proper context and displayed his profound grasp of U.S. military strategy, saying, "This is not a time to cut and run."
Nearly 1,500 Americans have been killed in ten years of combat in Afghanistan. Cut and run?
Rick Perry had another rough night trying to run with the big dogs. His announcement that he'd refuse a penny of foreign assistance to Pakistan until it demonstrates that it intends to cooperate with America's interests was called "highly naïve" by Michele Bachmann, who noted that Pakistan is a nuclear power, which requires the U.S. to maintain relations. Being called naïve by Michele Bachmann is akin to being called ugly by a toad.
But, the major heresies of the evening were invoked by putative front-runner Gingrich on two other issues: defense spending and immigration. Speaking about possible defense budget cuts, especially since the country is looking down the barrel of $600 million in mandatory defense cuts now that the Congressional super committee process has hit the wall, he offered the view that savings could be found in the Pentagon budget without endangering national security. "It's clear, if it takes 15 to 20 years to build a weapons system at a time when Apple changes technology every nine months, there's something profoundly wrong with this system."
However, Gingrich's sin of sins concerned the single most urgent threat to our national well-being -- people who don't look like us; people who came here for a better life, but entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed their visas; who might have lived here for years, raised families and paid taxes, but are living outside the law. Rather than loading all 11 million of them on a really big bus and dumping them at the U.S.-Mexico border, the usual Republican prescription, he suggested a permanent residency status. "If you've been here for 25 years and you have three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."
OMG! "Amnesty!" shrieked Michele Bachmann. She couldn't get press releases out fast enough to blast the total insanity of such a thought.
We will see if Newt is sufficiently chastised by true believers for his blasphemy. Because in this year's presidential election, the Republican vision is not about to be blinded by reality.