Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had so many things to say about the virtue of bombs at Tuesday's CNN Republican debate that he started alternating terms: carpet-bombing became saturation-bombing.
And then there was a suggestion from Republican front-runner Donald Trump that the country set a policy of eliminating Islamic State fighters by threatening to kill their families, too.
Tuesday night's debate — in both the questions from the journalists and the answers from the candidates — framed all of the country's most significant foreign policy questions in terms of threats and strong, mostly military responses. It was also a debate in which the merits and costs of forcing other countries to bend to the United States' will was simply absent from the discussion.
This was a debate in which the nine candidates on that main stage pushed and pulled at one another to assert the most aggressive tactics and outward displays and claims of strength. There was no discussion about the strategic use of aid, trade, medicine, opportunity and certainly not democracy to build relationships or to foster cooperation, much less solve problems. And there was no vision offered at all by any one of the candidates of the world that they would intend to build or attempt to shape as president outside the deadly business of war, threats of war and attempts to prevent terrorist attacks.
Also notably missing was any mention at all of climate change or even resource-management and energy policy, and the destabilizing effects that any of that trio can have on any country or any region if left unattended until a time of crisis. American work abroad to eradicate diseases that can today easily cross multiple national borders — even those with "great" walls to the south — was basically unmentioned.
There was no mention at all of how trade might be leveraged or why it should remain on hold with nearby Cuba, as relations between the island nation and the United States inch closer to normalization next year — or the surge in Cuban migrants trying to make it to the United States in recent years because of fear that the singular refugee status that they can access may soon disappear.
And there was only scant talk about the steady flow of guns and drugs into the United States from countries to the south, where low prices help to flood U.S. cities with deadly weapons and highly addictive drugs such as heroin. That drug is, by the way, ravaging communities in some of the early-primary states, where every person on that stage needs to make a strong showing, if not a win. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did mention the drug twice. Guns did not even get that much attention.
But the word "war" or some variation thereof did come up
67 54 times.
Also notable: Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) turned part of his response to a question about admitting Syrian refugees to the country into a short-lived diatribe against the rather paltry and time-limited public assistance that refugees receive for the first few months after they arrive in the United States.
Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who spent much of the night trying to convince Republican primary voters that running a country is exactly the same as running a Fortune 500 company, told viewers that any number of national security challenges could be resolved simply by asking private-sector Silicon Valley companies for their help. Later, Fiorina said the best method for neutralizing the threat posed by North Korea and its leader would be to strong-arm China or let them now that "we're serious" on other matters.
It was, perhaps, the debate that the panel of moderators and the candidates all thought that Americans wanted or needed to hear in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. And, if that was the intent, that was perhaps accomplished.
But it was a worldview where war and talk of war is not just inevitable but probably will be constant. Anything short of that was to be — it seemed by unanimous decree ratified before the candidates took the debate stage — a wimpy, low-energy cop-out. It is the path of President Obama, or worse.
Correction: This piece has been updated to include the two references Gov. Jeb Bush made to heroin during the debate. The post initially listed drug-smuggling activity among the topics that went unmentioned in the debate.