We report the taefa, you decide

Attending a fundraiser for local Republican candidates last night, I did not see Tuesday's GOP presidential primary debate live, and instead watched it online this morning. Overall, Fox News did a much better job than MSNBC in terms of the questions, although the candidates have yet to be challenged with any of my proposed questions.

I could not help but notice, however, one disturbing element to the coverage - the prominence placed upon the religious sect in the biographical data of each candidate presented on screen during their initial introductions by moderator Brit Hume. One of the greatest treasures of the political system of the United States is the focus on ideas and ideology that characterizes its selection of candidates. While it prominently manifests the Christian ethic that underlies American culture, ours is truly a secular political culture which does honor to the First Amendment.

This is particularly true for Republicans, unlike some Democrat masters of divide-and-conquer tactics in America's urban environments, which are dominated by racial and ethnic minorities. But by introducing religion so prominently, Fox News seems to be importing the one-dimensional sectarian taefi dynamics perfected by the likes of Saddam Hussein and unwittingly championed by our neoconservative think-tank heroes.

If Iraqis do not have a political system mature enough to withstand a non-sectarian debate that is not framed in terms of Shiite and Sunni, Americans most certainly do. Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, Muslim - in the United States, only the candidate's ideas should matter. Last night's debate intros, however, seemed reminiscent of politics in the Republic of Lebanon, whose constitution actually mandates the apportionment of Parliament and the presidency by religious sect and whose ballots actually organize candidates by those sects. Thank you Fox News - I suppose my pachyderm madrasa comparison was more accurate than I anticipated. (continued...)

As for our talibs, well, they appeared content to reiterate their remarks on Islam from the first debate. Fair enough, it does take a while to memorize those talking points provided by those "conservative" think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute or the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Too bad though, I was hoping that the candidates were going to explain to me the difference between Salafi and Sufi...

Mitt Romney once again showed he is a Karaoke superstar, doing his latest rendition Richard Perle's Greatest Hits:

"It is critical for us to remember that Iraq has to be considered in the context of what's happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. There is a global jihadist effort. Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us.

And they've come together as Shi'a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda with that intent. We have to recognize that what we're doing in Iraq has enormous impact on what's going to happen in this global struggle, and that's why it's important for us to understand that if we were to just walk out precipitously, we could conceivably see the border with Turkey be destabilized by virtue of the Kurdish effort, we could have the Iranians take over the Shi'a south, and perhaps most frightening, you could have al Qaeda play a dominant role among the Sunnis and then have a setting where you'd have something far worse than Afghanistan on their hands."

Again, I'd like to ask Romney what defines a "moderate" state. What about one in which membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death - would that qualify as "moderate"? Here are my previous remarks on Romney's position:

"I'd like to hear Romney's view on the fact that democratic elections in the Middle East in the past few years have quite legally, and under US-sanctioned balloting, increased the political clout of Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt).

As far as caliphates go, I think the use of this term is rather melodramatic on Romney's part - the average Republican voter is already convinced that "Islamofascists" want to take over the world and thus no display no emotional resistance to that concept. Putting his message in the historical context of the caliphs will therefore add little value to its appeal with the target audience, other than to obscure the impact with alien vocabulary."

Tom "take out their holy sites" Tancredo, the madrasa's star pupil in the first marking period with his explication of the 12th imam, rebuked Ron Paul (more on this in a bit) saying that:
"...whether Israel existed or didn't, whether or not we were in the Iraq war or not, they would be trying to kill us because it's a dictate of their religion, at least a part of it, and we have to defend ourselves."
It's difficult to render an analysis of Tancredo's statement without details on exactly he means by "they" and "us". He is smart enough to know that no authentic Islamic texts mention the United States of America, because they predate the founding of this country by well over a millennium.

Now, as for the infamous Rudy Giuliani/Ron Paul exchange, here is exactly what was said:

REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention (note: I think he meant "intervention") was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.

MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.) And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Congressman?

REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?

Subsequent to the debate, Giuliani further explained to Sean Hannity that Paul's remarks reminded him of Saudi Arabian Prince Walid bin Talal's statements that prompted the Mayor to reject a $10 million charitable contribution. The Saudi Prince said:

"The United States must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack [and] should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.

While the U.N. passed clear resolutions numbered 242 and 338 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip decades ago, our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek."

Now, I do agree with Paul about non-intervention, and that "power projecting" (as Chuck Hagel calls it) leads to resentment of the United States. Judging by the applause that followed Paul's statement, some of the audience also agreed with him. But it is incorrect of Giuliani to equate Paul with bin Talal - the latter is saying, "the US should be as entangled with the Palestinians as it is with the Israelis," while the former is saying, "the US should not be entangled in the Middle East, period." The trouble is that Paul did not communicate this point well at all, and Giuliani very successfully took advantage of that, judging by the applause that followed his statement.

First of all, Paul was unwise to mention, as his primary example, the sanctions and intermittent bombing of Iraq during the 1990s as a contributor to the "chickens coming home to roost" on September 11, 2001. All this does is further confuse people by conflating the Iraq War with a fight against terrorism globally, a position antithetical to Paul's view. True - the two are almost mutually exclusive (with allowance for recognition of the presence of al-Qaeda related elements in Iraq), and part of the reason we are so bogged down in Iraq is that little differentiation was made between the need to protect America by disrupting terrorist networks and the insanity of "bringing democracy to Iraq," which President Bush still describes as the "central front in the War on Terror".

What Paul should have said was:
"A long-term policy of intervention in the affairs of other nations, particularly in regions like the Middle East where land has sacred overtones, has tarnished our image and caused a great deal of resentment of America where there should be none. Our excessive involvement has weakened the United States. I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics, and therefore we should intervene as little as possible and have strong diplomatic and trade relations with all nations of the region."
Since we are on the topic of Osama bin Laden and Iraq: also interesting in the context of Paul's remarks, and Romney's earlier assertion, was the groundbreaking moment in this chain of events when Saudi Arabia's King Fahd snubbed then-hero Osama bin Laden's offer to bring his anti-Soviet mujihadeen from Afghanistan to the Arabian Peninsula to protect his home country against a possible attack from that land-hungry secularist to the north. I suppose it is entirely lost on Romney that the likes of bin Laden probably wanted to replace even Saddam Hussein with a "caliphate". Perhaps that makes him too a "moderate" in Romney's book. Anyway, Fahd invited George H.W. Bush to station American forces to Mohammed's homeland, and the rest is history.

While formulation of sound policy does require us to recognize these historical dynamics, I do agree with Giuliani and Tancredo's point - that appeasement does not work. Only a fool would expect that a mea culpa on some elements of our policy here or there would alleviate the resentment that has been building up for decades throughout the Islamic World. Ron Paul, however, is not advocating appeasement on particular issues in the here-and-now. He is talking about a wide-ranging long-term commitment to a non-interventionist foreign policy that frees America from "entangling alliances". Had such a policy been enacted and followed for these past decades, argues Paul, we would not find ourselves the object of such vitriol. He is absolutely right on that point. Therefore, it is entirely unfair to categorize him alongside the leftists because of one debate answer.