Monday, September 21, 2015


So on September 16th, CNN moderated its first GOP presidential debate for the 2016 elections. I didn’t get to watch the debate on that day because of a bad headache, but I got to see a full replay the next day. 11 candidates all stood on one stage in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, with the prestigious Reagan-era Air Force One looming largely behind them as a very conspicuous sign of his presence. Moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper who was joined by Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt, the contenders for the US presidency on the republican ticket were drilled for 3 long hours on various topics and issues confronting the United States.
People usually ask me why I am interested in US politics. Well, I usually start by replying that I am interested in ALL international politics. I am not an American. I am Proudly Nigerian, and most honored to be a citizen of the largest truly independent democracy in Africa. But as a student of International Affairs, I also recognize that the United States towers above all other nations in the world today. Their economic, military, scientific, technological capabilities have made them world leaders since the disintegration of the British Empire and as such, their decisions and activities have a rippling effect all around the world. This is a fact and it is the reason why in addition to following national politics and all others, I have made it my duty overtime to also watch America politics very closely.
A number of things stood out to me during the debate, and I was clearly impressed by a few people whom I had not paid attention to, previously. On a personal level, I did also learn something about myself. And that was that I may have previously held an extremely harsh opinion of all Republicans which may not have been grounded in reality, but an internalization of certain myths propagated about the GOP, which I had picked up over the course of my life. This is not to say that I became a converted Republican- nor am I a Democrat- but that I finally got to admit that I may have over-reached in my judgment.
Now to the crux of the matter. Let me start by saying that Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina were in my opinion, the best orators of the night. They also seemed to have specific knowledge and grasp of the realm of foreign policy, which is a very important requirement for any President of the United States. It was refreshing to see people re-echoing what I have been stating for a while now, which is that America must lead from a position of strength. Carly Fiorina outlined certain points which I found note-worthy i.e., strengthening America’s missile defense system, strengthening the NATO alliance and bolstering troop levels in the Baltic states, increasing the naval fleet, providing intelligence to Egypt and Jordan, and providing funds and weapons to the Kurds in the battle against ISIS. She outlined all these as ways to project US strength and curb the growing influence of Russia. Marco Rubio also rightly identified that Russia was taking advantage of the vacuum created by the absence of US leadership in the Mid-East, and that this was sending out a very wrong signal to America’s allies. While I have never really been a fan of Jeb Bush- I still am not- I certainly did see a little fire in him than I had seen before. To me Jeb Bush does not really have a personality that stands out, but it was a nice break from the norm to see him defending his positions and holding his own. Even though Donald Trump did not tender an apology to his wife Columba, for some harsh comments he had made, Jeb nevertheless asked for one. He was also quick to remind Trump that his brother’s actions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 had kept America safe! Now, speaking of “the Donald”, Trump has certainly been a very captivating and electrifying- albeit eccentric as far as politics goes- personality on the campaign trail. His rise in Republican polls has given credence to the fact that most Americans have gotten frustrated with the Washington establishment and those they see as “professional politicians”. And Trump with his fiery controversial speeches has taken advantage of this. But during the debate, I got to see a side of Trump that one rarely ever sees- a subdued side. Maybe it was because of limited time, a more confined space, or the fact that he seemed to suddenly realize that he was first and foremost a businessman, and didn’t have a grasp of most of the important issues (especially foreign policy) as his opponents who were sharing the stage with him. We saw him giving playful hand slaps to Carson and Bush who were on both sides of him…hmmm, I have no words! He rehashed the familiar talking points i.e., his position on illegal immigrants (which is where I think he finds his greatest strength) even though he was short on specifics as to how exactly he intended to financially execute the whole plan of erecting a wall between the US and Mexico and also deport thousands of illegal’s back on a daily basis! He danced around the issue of foreign policy, trying to make himself look a little better by stating not-so-convincingly that he would know all that was required to be known, if he was elected; and to this, Marco Rubio did remind everyone later, that the next President of the United States had to be ready on the very first day on the job! But amidst all his antics- new and old- if there was one “Trump line” that stood out to me, it was when he said, speaking about Barack Obama, “somehow he just doesn’t have courage. That’s something missing from our president”. I found that extremely profound. Governor Mike Huckabee showed that he was not afraid to champion the cause of religious liberty especially in defense of Kim Davies, and Rand Paul kept emphasizing that any solution(s) should not involve interference with individual or states freedom especially by the federal government. Another firebrand was Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey who was clearly irritated by what he termed the “childish back and forth” between Trump and Fiorina especially as regarding their track records. And through all this, Ben Carson remained his soft-spoken amiable self! There certainly were a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle insults inflicted upon their opponents in the Democratic Party, and also America’s perceived enemies in the world. Rubio called Putin a “gangster in Moscow” and called Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei a “radical cleric with apocalyptic views of the future”. Trump referred to the North Korean dictator as “a lunatic” and Fiorina inferred that Hillary Clinton was a liar! Ted Cruz as a constitutional legislator showed his depth of knowledge as regards judicial matters. Governors Kasich, Walker and Jindal didn’t leave me with any profound impressions and neither did Lindsey Graham. In the end though, the candidates came, they saw, but whether they conquered, would be an issue for the US electorate to decide. Another thing struck me during the debate, and that was the individual recognition of America’s greatness by all the candidates. This is not unusual with Americans, but I guess amidst all that was cause for divisions amongst the candidates all vying for one position, it was the one sure unifying factor- the sure knowledge of their country’s greatness. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have been the enemy; Putin may have been the enemy, same as Assad, Khamenei, or even China! But to them, and especially on that hallowed stage, the USA was, and should always be the number one nation on God’s created earth!
And so the debate has come and gone. At this point, I cannot give any prediction as to any specific individual on both sides that I think would eventually become the next US president, especially as I haven’t gotten to see the Democratic Presidential Debate. That happens in October. But I can say that Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio are contenders I have started watching a little more closely. I don’t know if any of them has a really good chance of beating the other Republican aspirants in the long run. And even if any of them does clinch the Republican ticket, I don’t know how good that person’s chances will be against the eventual Democratic nominee. But I think they both have quite an amount of the stuff leaders are made of!
It is important to keep our eyes on the USA and on who becomes the next American President, even if we ourselves are not Americans. As I have said earlier, America occupies a central position in the world; and in an era of increased international political volatility, a strong and reliable American presence is required to maintain a semblance of balance and order! It is my hope and prayer that my beloved nation Nigeria would one day reach such a position of prominence in the larger international community, and not just within the African continent. I certainly believe that we are capable of reaching that height, and I hope to be a part of the process. But I would keep watching the US closely, as I watch all other important global actors. So I have heard the Republicans…now I await Hillary’s party!

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