The Republican debate may have been taking place in South Carolina, but over it hung the shadow of Iran. And so, despite its FOX Business hosts, the topic quickly turned to the American sailors who had been captured and humiliated by Iran’s terrorist regime on television.
“We were horrified to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees, with their hands on their heads,” Ted Cruz began the debate.
“I give you my word, if I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.”
That was also the way that Trump closed the debate describing the “terrible sight” of American hostages. “I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They're tough, they're strong, they're great people. Half of them had tears pouring down their face. They were watching the humiliation of our young ten sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up. And Iranian wise guys having guns to their heads.”
There were personal clashes in between, some petty, some personal and some political, but above all else, was the conviction that there were larger stakes in this struggle.
In the undercard debate, Rick Santorum asked Citadel candidates to stand up and accusing Iran of forcing our sailors to record a hostage video, told them, “If you choose to serve this country, I will have your back. I will not let America be trampled upon anymore by these radical jihadists.”
Carly Fiorina pointed out that Iran had violated the Geneva convention with the hostage photos and video. “The President wouldn't even mention the fact that Iran had taken two Navy boats and our sailors -- hostage. He didn't mention the fact that they violated the Geneva convention.”
The State Department likewise refused to acknowledge that the Geneva convention violation had taken place. And at the Republican debate, the candidates grappled with what it would take to rebuild America as a respected nation once again.
“Here's the real issue, is this America anymore? Do we still have standards? Do we still have values and principles?” Ben Carson asked.
The debate over Muslim immigration divided the stage into those politicians that believed its continuation was the price of maintaining the coalition to beat ISIS and those leaders who believed that protecting our own people had to come first.
Trump rejected a suggestion that he rethink his position, saying, “Look, we have to stop with political correctness. We have to get down to creating a country that's not going to have the kind of problems that we've had with people flying planes into the World Trade Centers, with the -- with the shootings in California, with all the problems all over the world.”
Christie argued, “You can't just ban all Muslims. You have to ban radical Islamic jihadists.”
Ted Cruz urged going a step further and denaturalizing Muslim citizens who join ISIS so that they don’t use their passports to enter the United States again.
In the undercard debate, Rick Santorum suggested that deportations would actually help the world. “I'm going to export America, the education they were able to see. They learned English language. They learned about capitalism. They learned about democracy. You want to stop flow of immigrants? Let's send six million Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, El Savadorans... back into their country, so they can start a renaissance in their country so they won't be coming over here anymore.”
In the undercard debate, Huckabee laid out the stakes in the global clash of civilizations in stark, but understandable human terms. “When I went to Afghanistan, I saw a land that looked like the land of the Flintstones. It was desolate. It was barren. It was primitive. And it's been that way for thousands of years. They want to take the world back to be just like that. We don't.”
He argued that Islamic terrorism was not just a strategic threat, but a civilizational threat.
“We need to make a clear goal as to why we want to be anywhere in the Middle East, and I'll tell you why we want to be and need to be, is to destroy radical Islam and everything that threatens civilization. It's not just a threat... to Israel or to America, it's a threat to every civilized person on this Earth.”
There were also expressions of support for America’s beleaguered law enforcement community under assault from Obama and the racist hate group #BlackLivesMatter.
“The police are the most mistreated people in this country,” Donald Trump said.
“The president of the United States and both his attorney generals, they give the benefit of the doubt to the criminal, not to the police officers,” Chris Christie pointed out.
“To every soldier and sailor and airman and marine, and to every police officer and firefighter and first responder who risk their lives to keep us safe, I will have your back,” Ted Cruz vowed.
There were several mentions of the new Benghazi movie and the issues about the abandonment of Americans raised by it, which appeared to echo the recent Iranian Naval hostage crisis.
“Someone who lies to the families of those four victims in Benghazi can never be president of the United States. Ever,” Marco Rubio said to loud applause.
“We have a President who seems to be more interested in protecting the reputation and image of Islam than he is protecting us,” Huckabee argued.
After the Iranian Naval hostage crisis, there were calls to rebuild the military, and in particular, the Navy.
“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships,” Christie urged.
“In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can't even project force,” Jeb Bush said.
In the undercard debate, Huckabee argued against more democracy building exercises in Afghanistan and beyond. “The role of the United States military is not to build schools, it is not to build bridges, it is not to go around and pass out food packets. It is to kill and destroy our enemy and make America safe.”
Despite the personality clashes, there was a general agreement among the remaining candidates that the military, not ISIS, had been degraded under Obama, that political correctness threatened our ability to fight terrorism and that the latest attack by Iran made the election of a Republican more vital than ever.
“The good news is the next commander-in-chief is standing on this stage,” Ted Cruz said early on.
We don’t know who that individual is yet, but the one thing that everyone can agree on is that when it comes to facing Islamic terrorism, anyone and everyone on that stage would be better than Obama.
Because it’s time that America was allowed to rise from its knees to confront its enemies with the full measure of its strength.