At last week’s Republican presidential primary debate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley repeated a line she routinely tells audiences: “The world is on fire.” The point was to argue that there are plenty of international crises around the globe, and the White House bears responsibility for the unrest.
As The Washington Post reported, Haley has plenty of company.
As warfare and violence have engulfed several parts of the world, the Republican presidential candidates are seizing on a message that on President Biden’s watch the globe has devolved into chaos and is spiraling out of control, seeking to bolster their broader contention that Biden is not up to the job of the presidency.
Haley’s line is a staple of her stump speech, but her GOP competitors have pushed the same message. Donald Trump recently declared at a rally, “The whole world is blowing up.” Similarly, Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a speech last month on foreign policy in which the Floridian added, in reference to international affairs, “Chaos abounds.”
From the White House’s perspective, this isn’t exactly a dynamic to shy away from: In the face of foreign tumult, the argument goes, the public should trust a steady and experienced hand, not the judgment of a scandal-plagued suspected criminal who’s never demonstrated even the most basic familiarity with foreign policy.
But there’s a larger point of concern that shouldn’t be overlooked when examining day-to-day political fights: When was the last time the world wasn’t on fire?
Nearly a decade ago, after a State of the Union address from Barack Obama, Sen. Lindsey Graham condemned the foreign policy portion of the president’s remarks. “The world is literally about to blow up,” the South Carolina Republican said in January 2014.
Of course, in reality, the world was not literally poised to explode. It’s difficult to even recall what it was that led the GOP senator to peddle such a hysterical line.
A year later, Sen. Ted Cruz was on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, where he tried to blame the Democratic administration for international unrest. “The whole world’s on fire!” the Texas Republican declared.
A three-year-old girl was apparently in the audience and took the rhetoric rather literally. “The world’s on fire?” she asked, apparently afraid.
“The world is on fire, yes,” Cruz told the child, adding, “Your world is on fire.”
The moral of the story is not that the senator isn’t great around kids. Rather, the point is that there’s a degree of familiarity surrounding the latest Republican rhetoric.
And that’s because crises on the international stage just aren’t that uncommon. Those looking for an extended period of time in which the world was perfectly stable, tranquil, and free of conflict will be searching in vain.
The Post’s report added that Trump, in particular, has tried to “recast his own presidency as a time of safety, security and stability.” But that’s ridiculous. During the Republican’s tenure there was a crisis in Syria. And Yemen. And Burma. Domestically, Americans also saw a pandemic, social unrest, an economic crisis, and an election crisis during this “time of safety, security and stability.”
Obviously, there’s no denying the seriousness of crises such as the ongoing developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. But the idea that the White House bears responsibility for tumult abroad overlooks the fact that there’s always tumult abroad.