The issue of war with Russia has become an increasingly important focus for GOP candidates, and their rhetoric has become markedly tougher of late.
Several candidates are openly claiming that they would shoot down Russian warplanes over Syria, leading to a race to the bottom in which each candidate tries to look tougher than the other, writes Trevor Timm for Gulf News.
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No-fly zone and shooting down Russian planes
Timm claims that several comments from the past week have added to the dangerous rhetoric, with many now supporting the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria and sending U.S. ground troops into the war-torn country. More dangerously there have been a number of suggestions that a no-fly zone could lead to shooting down Russian planes.
The Republican frontrunner Ben Carson is one candidate who supports a no-fly zone, and said of Russian planes: “You shoot them down, absolutely” and later claimed “Whatever happens next, we deal with it.” Carson did not try to predict the consequences of shooting down Russian jets, even though Moscow boasts a nuclear arsenal that runs to thousands of missiles.
With Carly Fiorina as president we could also see Russian planes shot out of the sky. “I think we must be prepared” to shoot them down, she said. Fiorina later said that she wouldn’t speak to Putin before she ordered the strikes.
Aggressive rhetoric makes for increased tensions with Russia
Lindsey Graham, a rank outsider in the race, said that he “would shoot [Putin’s] planes down, I would literally shoot his planes down.” Chris Christie said he would “call Putin, and tell him, ‘Listen, we’re enforcing a no-fly zone against everyone, and that includes you. So: don’t test me.’”
A reporter pressed Christie about what would happen if Russian planes flew into the no-fly zone, and Christie said “You take him down.” He then confirmed that he would shoot down Russian planes because “we spent untold American treasure and blood to eliminate the Soviet Union. We should not let it come back.”
Other candidates are not quite as incendiary, but they still make their opposition to Putin and Russia abundantly clear. Marco Rubio prefers to call the Russian president “a gangster” and lends his support to a no-fly zone. Jeb Bush has also called for a no-fly zone while also claiming that America should not be “the world’s policeman.”
No-fly zones historically lead to direct war
Donald Trump bucks the trend here, expressing his support for Putin’s air strikes. “I am all for it, 100 per cent,” he said. While that view is certainly questionable, it looks relatively sane compared to the idea of all-out war with Syria and Russia.
Rand Paul was the only candidate that seemed to have really thought about his position, claiming that shooting down Russian planes would be a terrible idea, as would continuing to arm Islamist groups. On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton has called for a no-fly zone that would count on support from Russia, but her plan would also involve U.S. ground troops in another tricky conflict that could drag on for years.
The idea of a no-fly zone is far more complicated than many people seem to realize. They have to be enforced and that would mean destroying Syrian air defense systems and ground artillery, an undertaking that would involve tens of thousands of troops, billions of dollars and a full war with the Syrian regime and Daesh.
Most other no-fly zones have led to direct war, including the 2011 military intervention in Libya. As we can see from the vague comments from GOP candidates on the issue, there is no game plan for what comes next.
GOP candidates campaigning on dangerous platform
As crazy as it may seem to push for war with one of the largest military powers in the world without properly considering your strategy, that is what the majority of GOP candidates are doing. Perhaps the only benefit that can be derived from their statements is that people are now finally realizing what a no-fly zone in Syria would really mean.
Even assuming that Russian planes were not shot down and World War 3 did not start, enforcing a no-fly zone would still involve a huge commitment from the U.S. both in terms of ground troops and cold, hard cash. It seems that the GOP candidates have learnt nothing from previous conflicts, or they are simply disregarding historical precedents in favor of pandering to an electorate which is impressed by the promise of aggressive foreign policy.
Hopefully none of these insane-sounding ideas will ever become official U.S. foreign policy and we can file them in the well-stocked cupboard of crazy utterances from the GOP.