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GOP Debate Reveals Depraved and Deluded Political Class

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The most recent GOP foreign policy debate revealed the depraved and deluded state of Americas political class. There was a time when U.S. presidents sought plausible deniability for things like torture and assassination; now such sordid practices are openly supported by candidates seeking the country’s highest elected office.

Several candidates were asked their opinion regarding waterboarding. Herman Cain said that he was against torture, but that he believed waterboarding to be an enhanced interrogation technique and therefore permissible. Michele Bachmann indicated she would authorize waterboarding. Rick Perry also supported it, saying, This is war. That’s what happens in war. And I am for using the techniques, not torture, but using those techniques that we know will extract the information to save young American lives. And I will be for it until I die.

Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, to their credit, came out unequivocally against waterboarding, with Paul calling it illegal and immoral. When asked directly what he thought constituted torture, Paul said waterboarding is torture.

Paul is correct. Waterboarding is torture. It is an interrogation technique that causes severe pain in the form of reflexive choking and gagging. Subjects are strapped to a board, and their heads are covered. Water is then poured over their faces. The subjects cannot breathe through the mouth or nose, and death will occur if the procedure is not interrupted.

Now, torture is illegal under U.S. and international law. It is also banned by the Geneva Convention on Torture, a treaty to which the United States is a signatory. President Ronald Reagan signed it in 1988, and the U.S. Senate ratified it in 1994; it therefore has the force of law in the United States. By advocating an interrogation technique which is clearly torture, Cain, Perry, and Bachmann are supporting the violation of the very law they would be sworn to uphold should one of them win the presidency.

When the subject of assassination came up, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich signaled their strong support. Gingrich elaborated, If you engage in war against the United States, you are an enemy combatant. You have none of the civil liberties in the United States, you cannot go to court.”

On this point, Gingrich is simply wrong. When an American citizen is accused of waging war against the United States, he stands accused of treason. Treason is specifically mentioned in the Constitution under article III, section 3, which reads, Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The mere accusation of treason (or terrorism) does not relieve government officials of their obligation to abide by the law, which requires due process.

Romney and Gingrich are essentially supporting the position taken by the Obama administration, which asserts that the executive branch has the authority to kill any person they claim is a really bad person (i.e., enemy combatant or terrorist) without having to go through the inconvenience and expense of following the Constitution.

Paul condemned the policy of assassinating alleged terrorists and pointed out the cognitive dissonance afflicting those who think the government shouldn’t run the health-care system, yet somehow believe it should be entrusted with the power to kill U.S. citizens without due process. As Paul said, You want to live within the law and obey the law. Because otherwise, it’s going to be very bad for all of us.

When the subject of Iran’s suspected nuclear program was brought up, several of the candidates came out in support of more confrontational policies, going so far as to advocate war.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich strongly advocated going to war. Romney said if crippling sanctions fail, military action should be used because a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Gingrich argued for maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable.

Rick Santorum was in full agreement with Gingrich, saying You know there have been scientists turning up dead in Russia and Iran, there have been computer viruses, there have been problems at their facility. He then added: I hope that the U.S. has been involved.

Herman Cain did not advocate attacking Iran directly but said the United States should increase economic sanctions, deploy ballistic missile warships, and provide further support to groups inside the country that seek the overthrow of the government.

The CIA and the Israeli Mossad have reportedly been supporting Jundullah and Mujahedeen-e Kalq as part of a covert assault on Iran. These are militant organizations responsible for acts of terrorism that have killed and maimed scores of Iranians, many of them civilians.

Ron Paul was the lone voice in support of the rule of law, pointing out the presidents obligation to obey the constitutional requirement for a congressional declaration of war. He also counseled a more diplomatic approach to Iran and compared the current situation to the one just before the United States launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003.

So the nation was treated to the spectacle of U.S. presidential candidates (Ron Paul excepted) openly calling for acts of terrorism and subversion against a sovereign nation and for the murder of foreign scientists because they are working for Irans nuclear energy program.

Now, the recent hoopla regarding Iran is in response to an IAEA report that makes some rather dubious accusations regarding her nuclear program. The report offers nothing new and is really just a regurgitation of an old story involving a stolen Iranian laptop allegedly containing nuclear-weapons information.

Tehran has long denied the accusations, and indeed the U.S. intelligence community has supported the Iranian denial, producing in 2007 a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded, We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which expressly acknowledges her right to develop nuclear power.

What really sticks out in this issue is the presumption that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent such a clear and present danger that a military response by the United States and or Israel would be necessary. As Ron Paul has pointed out,

Even our own CIA has no evidence that they’re working on a weapon. Just think of what we went through in the Cold War. All through the ’60s, we were standing up against the Soviets. They had like 30,000 nuclear weapons with intercontinental missiles. Just think of the agitation and the worrying that a country might get a nuclear weapon some day. And just think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran. The Chinese. The Indians. The Pakistanis. The Israelis. All these countries have nuclear weapons. Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? Internationally, they’d be given more respect. Why should we write people off? In the ’50s, we at least talked to them. At least our leaders and Reagan talked to the Soviets. What’s so terribly bad about this?

While Messrs. Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Cain call for war against Iran, they ignore the strategic realities of the region and are seemingly oblivious to the political and economic risks involved.

They claim a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel. But Israel possesses a formidable land- and sea-based nuclear arsenal and is more than capable of deterring Iran. Moreover, Tehran has no conceivable interest in sparking a wider war in the Middle East. The country is heavily dependent on oil exports and is already suffering economically from existing trade sanctions as well as from her governments domestic policies.

It is important to remember that Iran’s paramount leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa banning the production of nuclear weapons. The fact that Iran has not produced or acquired a nuclear weapon in all these many years is an indication his prohibition is sincere.

The best way to contain the spread of nuclear weapons is not to threaten with attack every nation that has the capability to produce them. South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Japan could produce nuclear weapons in a few months if they decided to do so. Why haven’t they?

Well, the answer could be they don’t fear an attack from the United States. Why not put offers of peace, commerce, and honest friendship on the table rather than threats of annihilation?

The U.S. governments approach to Iran has been to make demands while demonizing her government and disregarding the country’s valid security concerns. After all, Iran is surrounded by hostile powers, all coveting her vast energy resources. U.S. saber rattling only increases tensions and anxiety, thus creating the conditions for wider nuclear proliferation.

Could Irans leadership really be blamed if, after observing the fate that befell Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, they concluded that getting a hold of a few nukes might be a good insurance policy against an attack by the United States?

The background to last Saturdays GOP debate is the decline of the American Empire. But these candidates appear deluded and oblivious to the changing international order, clinging to pretensions of global dominance that can no longer be justified by the objective conditions.

America is in the fifth year of an economic meltdown and continues to rely heavily on foreign creditors namely China and monetary inflation to pay for its empire and bloated military. Retrenchment and liquidation are the only way to recovery, but policymakers and powerful special-interest groups insist on implementing various stopgap measures, all of them inflationary and terribly destructive.

The GOP candidates, save for Ron Paul, belong to a political class that is venal, corrupt, and incapable of adapting to new conditions. They fiddle with trivialities, platitudes, and vapid clich’s while Rome burns. I do not intend this to be a partisan criticism, for it applies just as much to the Democrats as it does to the Republicans.

The clever and agile French diplomat Charles Talleyrand is reputed to have said of the restored Bourbons, They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The same can be said of Americas political class, which insists on continuing the U.S. governments bellicose and bankrupting foreign policy, all the while promoting a domestic tyranny.

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    Tim Kelly is a columnist and policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, a correspondent for Radio America’s Special Investigator, and a political cartoonist.