During Tuesday’s debate, radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Dr. Ben Carson if he was ruthless enough to wage war. “Could you order airstrikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands,” Hewitt asked. Carson, a neurosurgeon, responded in part, “You have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by a thousand pricks.” We speak to Zaid Jilani of The Intercept and Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow with Demos.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, well, during Tuesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked if he would be willing to wage war as the commander-in-chief. This clip begins with CNN moderator Hugh Hewitt.
HUGH HEWITT: Dr. Carson, you mentioned in your opening remarks that you’re a pediatric neurologist surgeon—
DR. BEN CARSON: Neurosurgeon.
HUGH HEWITT: And—neurosurgeon. And people admire and respect and are inspired by your life story, your kindness, your evangelical core support. We’re talking about ruthless things tonight—carpet bombing, toughness, war. And people wonder, could you do that? Could you order airstrikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander-in-chief?
DR. BEN CARSON: Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them, “We’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor.” They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me. Sometimes you—I sound like him. Later—you know, later on, you know, they really realize what’s going on. And by the same token, you have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by a thousand pricks.
HUGH HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian. It’s like—
DR. BEN CARSON: You got it. You got it.
HUGH HEWITT: That is what war—can you be as ruthless as Churchill was in prosecuting the war against the Nazis?
DR. BEN CARSON: “Ruthless” is not necessarily the word I would use, but tough, resolute, understanding what the problems are and understanding that the job of the president of the United States is to protect the people of this country and to do what is necessary in order to get it done.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Ben Carson speaking last night in the debate. Zaid Jilani of The Intercept, you reaction?
ZAID JILANI: You know, I think that there is a sort of perverse, sort of almost bloodsport mentality in these debates, in that they’re talking about terrorism as if you approach it as if you’re trying to tackle an enemy, where you’re going to defeat an army and you’re going to raise a flag, and then it’s going to be over and it’s going to be done. You know, that’s not what terrorism is about. What terrorism is about is the mentality of people, for example, on this Republican stage, who are antagonizing Muslims, who are saying, “Hey, we’ve had—you know, we’ve had 12, 13 years of war in the Middle East. Let’s have some more years of war in the Middle East. Maybe it will work this time.” Right? You know, the Obama administration has launched at least 6,000 airstrikes as part of this war. You know, more than a dozen countries are involved in Syria and Iraq. Obviously, military force is not the only solution to this conflict. And yet these folks on this stage are appealing to voters, 60 percent of whom want to actually ban Muslims from the United States, as Donald Trump was, where they’re trying to appeal by just basically saying that the more we kill, the more we harm, the more strength we use, the stronger we are. I mean, let’s be honest about this. ISIS doesn’t have—doesn’t really have an army. They don’t have a navy. Where’s their artillery? Where’s their air force? They have very little actual military force, and they can do very little actual damage to the United States.
I think one of the most remarkable things about this debate was also what was not said. You know, 45,000 people in this country are dying every year because they can’t get healthcare. We have about a quarter of our children—you know, between a third and a quarter of our children in poverty, depending on what part of the country you’re looking at. We have deindustrialization throughout the country. I mean, I went to graduate school in Syracuse, New York. There’s homes there that look like they’re bombed out, but ISIS didn’t do that, right? You know, NAFTA did that, and deindustrialization did that.
And yet all of these questions are being left out of the debate altogether, so we can talk about this really fringe organization in the Middle East that poses almost no threat to the United States. They do pose some threat, but we have more than enough capability to handle them. And instead, they’re talking about building a bigger army, building a bigger military. We actually had a great piece up at The Intercept where we found audio from various defense executives, where they’re actually saying this war is great for their bottom line, where they actually expect rising profits, where they did very well on the budget. And why is that? Why do we need, you know, the most powerful military in the world focusing on a group of a few thousand people with almost no military technology, who are mostly a threat to people in Iraq and Syria—they are a real threat there—but are barely a threat to the United States? We should be handling this with special operations, with intelligence, and primarily with police. And obviously we should not be antagonizing more Muslims and doing things that would kill tremendous numbers of people, because that’s the number one reason Muslims do get drawn to extremist and thuggish groups like ISIS, is that they see their brothers and sisters being killed in these wars, they see their brothers and sisters being killed by allied regime and client regimes of the United States. And we are not going to be winning the hearts and minds by talking about, you know, decapitating children and blowing people’s arms off and legs off and destroying their homes.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Bob Herbert, this question of Hugh Hewitt, the right-wing talk show radio host, saying, “Would you be willing to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent children?” Now, interesting he said—interestingly, he said, “because that’s what war is.”
BOB HERBERT: Right. Well, it should have been an embarrassment to CNN to have one of the moderators asking a question like that, to start with. So he should have been disqualified, just as most of these candidates up there should be disqualified from running for president.
But you make a very good point. People do not understand what war is. War is a horrifying set of circumstances. And most Americans do not know what war is. They think it’s like television or a video game or something like that. And it’s rah-rah. You root for the home team, you know, and let’s go in and kick their butts and come home and wave the flag and declare victory. And it’s not like that at all. I cover all these folks, these American GIs who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan paralyzed and without limbs and horribly burned, with mental problems, post-traumatic stress, and then what happened to their families. And that doesn’t even begin to touch what happened to the folks in the countries, the folks who lived in Iraq and who lived in Afghanistan. And now we just want to go and just, you know, reprise it, let’s do it all over again. It is so preposterous. It’s a shame.