"We'll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it's entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. "But what I'm not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of 'American leadership' or 'America winning,' or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I'm too busy for that."
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz was asked yesterday about his counter-terrorism strategy. It's "simple," the Texas Republican replied. "We win. They lose."
The obvious problem is that Cruz wasn't describing a strategy. His little phrasing may make a fine bumper-sticker, and it may even describe an end result, but at least for adults, there's a difference between saying you intend to win a conflict and having a strategy to achieve your goal.
In other words, sloganeering is not a substitute for a responsible national-security policymaking. It's a point President Obama emphasized at yesterday's press conference at the G-20 Summit in Turkey.
Almost immediately, right-wing pundits expressed outrage -- or at a minimum, faux-outrage -- over the president's dismissal of hollow slogans. TPM's Josh Marsall noted, "Republican politicians and conservative pundits took a truncated version of the quote to say that the President had just declared he was 'not interested' in 'America winning.'"
All of this comes the day after GOP politicians and pundits reached for the fainting couch after hearing Obama say, in reference to ISIS militants, "[F]rom the start our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria, they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.”
All of this, by the way, happens to be entirely true, conservative hysteria notwithstanding.
Folks, national security is a real issue. The nation and our allies face real threats. There's ample room for a real debate about substance, policy, and the most responsible ways to deal with these issues.
But in order to have this discussion, Republicans are going to need to send some grown-ups to the big-kids' table. Four days after the terrorist violence in Paris, the right is still stuck in the phase in which they proclaim with glee, "Hey look! If we take some of the president's words out of context, we can score some cheap points against U.S. foreign policy!"
We need to be smarter about this. Republicans built an entire national convention around a stupid out-of-context "you didn't build that" quote, and the underlying strategy is no better now.