GOP debate: Lots of bluster, few solutions

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  • Tuesday night's GOP presidential candidate debate focused on national security issues

(CNN)Republican candidates for president took part in their party's last debate of the year Tuesday night on CNN. Following is a range of views from international commentators. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.

Constanze Stelzenmueller: Not a reassuring night for Europeans

Constanze Stelzenmüller
So, what did this European learn from tonight's Republican presidential candidate debate?
    1. The debates seem to be a cunning device for winnowing out candidates lacking in stamina. In the "no chance of winning and living on another planet" category are Ben Carson and Rand Paul. In the "no chance and looking like a moderate Republican that a European would recognize as a throwback to say, 1990" category there's John Kasich. In the "no chance, but still fighting hard" category are Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. And then there's the "no chance of winning but actually seemed to be trying to restrain himself (probably the strangest sight tonight)": Donald Trump.
    So that leaves us with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The latter is more reasonable (and also stands out for not suggesting violating the Geneva Conventions and deliberately killing innocent bystanders). The former is simply more dangerous.
    2. The best grasp of foreign policy in Tuesday night's debate (which is of deep interest for European allies) was demonstrated by Bush and Rubio. Meanwhile, I only noticed Kasich mention Europe (I know this election isn't about us, but it's reassuring for an ally when we do get a mention).
    3. Cruz and Rubio appear to have accurately assessed themselves as the other's greatest danger. I look forward to future duels and already enjoyed the line from Cruz about the difference between a fireman and an arsonist.
    4. Meanwhile, as this debate is going on, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a crucial transatlantic free trade treaty, is tanking. Europe and the U.S. seem determined to slap visa restrictions on each other. And in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, there is every reason to fear an unraveling of regional orders and an escalation of violence. Who profits? Not America. And not Europe.
    5. Oh, and I saw a commercial informing me that the fourth season of "House of Cards" is coming. Many Europeans sort of assume that the show is a reflection of U.S. politics. Like they used to think the West Wing was. Think about it...
    On the whole, not a reassuring night for this particular European.
    Constanze Stelzenmueller is the Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at Brookings' Center for the United States and Europe. She is also the former director of the German Marshall Fund's Berlin office and was an editor at the German weekly DIE ZEIT.

    Koya Ozeki: Tough talk understandable

    Koya Ozeki
    Each of the Republican presidential candidates tried hard in Tuesday's debate to present themselves as a strong leader, one able to defend America against future extremist attacks. This is completely understandable given the widespread fear and sense of vulnerability Americans feel in the wake of the apparent terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
    As a Japanese, I can understand this idea of public insecurity -- against the backdrop of China's growing military power, the Japanese public has grown gradually more supportive of a tougher defense posture and closer security cooperation with the United States. Many of us, too, want to see a U.S. president who is tough on security.
    That said, the type of extremist threat that many Americans seem particularly worried about right now is that of homegrown terrorism. Yet the truth is that this threat will not disappear even if ISIS is defeated militarily, just as it did not disappear after the United States defeated the extremists in Afghanistan.
    Unfortunately for those focused on the toughest response possible from a presidential candidate, it seems extremely difficult to detect a self-radicalized, potential terrorist before he or she acts, and it is equally difficult to prevent that kind of terror attack by solely military means.
    It has long been pointed out that the biggest factor that drives an ordinary citizen to radicalize is a sense of alienation. An individual isolated by society is an easy target for these extremist groups. So it was disappointing that no one in Tuesday's debate talked about how they would try to create a society where Muslim American youth would not be subjected to discrimination and could play a constructive role in society. (Of course, my own country has not always been successful in dealing with disillusioned young people -- in 1995, a group of young men and women who belonged to a cult attacked the Tokyo subway system with sarin nerve gas, killing 13 and injuring many more).
    One final thing I can say with confidence, though, is that it seems very clearly to be a bad idea to allow dangerous people such easy access to deadly weapons. Unfortunately, we didn't hear anything about how to prevent that in Tuesday's debate, something that continues to puzzle those of us watching American politics.
    Koya Ozeki is the Washington correspondent for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper.

    Philippe Le Corre: Lots of bluster, but not solutions

    Philippe Le Corre
    Tonight's Republican debate attempted to get the audience interested in international affairs. It is probably not the easiest topic on a Tuesday night, even after the attacks of Paris. Americans care about their daily life, health, education -- what happens in the Middle East was not really a primary concern -- at least until San Bernardino, which of course was a direct attack on the American way of life.
    In this context, the nine Republican candidates seem to agree on only about two things: the Obama administration's foreign policy in the Middle East is wrong, and a GOP administration should be tougher on terrorism and ISIS. Their solutions are less than convincing.
    No one actually proposed a solution in Syria -- there was only talk of "destroying ISIS" or "getting rid of Assad" or even punching Putin. This isn't leadership. Meanwhile, from a European point of view, it is surprising to hear so little about America's allies, those who are currently conducting strikes in Syria (mainly France and Britain, with support from Germany).
    Overall, the national security issues kept coming down to domestic politics: immigration (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz argued about who is the toughest on illegal immigrants) and ensuring the security of the American people.
    Fair enough, but besides preventing Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, I heard few ideas for a long-term solution.
    Some candidates were certainly more convincing than others, and at least seemed to have the stature of a potential president (Cruz, Rubio, Jeb Bush). Donald Trump for his part toned down some of his rhetoric and seems to be trying to be more presidential, but it's not working as far as foreign affairs goes. Meanwhile, several candidates tried to play the macho politician (and Carly Fiorina referred to "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher), but only a handful of those on stage appeared credible when talking about foreign policy.
    Most interesting? Despite so many extreme comments over the past few weeks, everyone seems to become more moderate during these debates. So I get the feeling that the name of the game tonight was mainly about "appearing presidential" on foreign policy.
    That said, the 2016 election will not be won on foreign policy, no matter what happens in the Middle East.
    Philippe Le Corre is a visiting fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. He was previously an adjunct lecturer at Sciences Po Paris and a research fellow at the Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques.

    Camelia Entekhabifard: Candidates don't get Iran

    Camelia Entekhabifard
    Iran and its nuclear program dominated much of the discussion in presidential candidate debates in 2012. Should the U.S. grapple with Iran, bomb Iran or make a deal? That discussion was one of the hottest topics of foreign policy discussion four years ago. Now, in this year's Republican presidential debates, Iran is once again a key issue as the nuclear deal is questioned by the candidates.
    On Tuesday night, during a discussion on radical Islamic terrorism, Iran was frequently mentioned. Former New York Governor George Pataki, in the first debate, called the Iran deal "a disaster," while in the main debate, Donald Trump called the nuclear deal "disgusting" and labeled Iran "a terrorist nation." This despite the fact that no Iranian citizen has been identified as a member of ISIS or al Qaeda.
    Remarks like these have disappointed and even dismayed many Iranians in the U.S and around the world. They simply don't understand why the Republican candidates talk about Iran when discussing radical Islamic terrorism.
    Most of the Republican presidential hopefuls reject the nuclear agreement and question the Iranian support given to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the candidates should remember that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election was in large part the result of desire among Iranians for their next president to negotiate a deal, make peace with the West and improve relations.
    So rejecting the nuclear deal is not a rejection of the regime and the power structure in Tehran, but instead a rejection of millions of moderate Iranians who are looking for peaceful reform and whom don't view the United States as an enemy. That's something the candidates don't seem to understand.
    Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian American journalist and author of 'Save Yourself By Telling the Truth.'