U.S. presidential candidates offer action-movie solutions to foreign policy problems

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- Some of the people running for the U.S. presidency sound as if they've been watching too many tough-guy Hollywood action and science-fiction movies.

During the New Hampshire Republican primary debate on Saturday, candidates were asked about the satellite that North Korea had launched into orbit just hours earlier. The launch has since been widely dismissed by defense and intelligence experts as a useless public relations stunt. But when you're thrown a pop quiz on foreign policy and national security, you're probably going to resort to your most closely held principles -- or maybe the last thing you watched on Netflix.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who sounded like he'd swallowed a Michael Crichton screenplay, raised the possibility of a nuclear satellite triggering an electromagnetic pulse, taking down the electrical grid on America's Eastern Seaboard and killing millions. His solution?

"We ought to put missile defense interceptors in South Korea," Cruz said.

Why must every security and defense issue involve both a highly implausible scenario and the U.S. running around the globe like it was an on-call repair service?

Cruz also said of the non-nuclear launch that it's an example of why "I've pledged, on the very first day in office, to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal so we're not sitting here in five years, wondering what to do about an Iranian missile launch when they have nuclear weapons."

The newly minted nuclear deal with Iran has already led to a windfall of economic deals for France's Peugeot, Airbus and others, as well as an estimated $18.4 billion in contracts for Italian companies, thereby guaranteeing shiny European "loafers on the ground" in Iran. But that doesn't sound as hardcore as "Rambo" Cruz springing into action to pick a fight.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich suggested getting "very tough" ... by backing the Japanese against North Korea. Right, Japan -- that regional superpower whose impressive recent military and diplomatic achievements are so numerous that I can't name one. Ah, but that's just a minor detail when President "Rocky" Kasich is going to bring the heat.

When asked what he would do to bring home an American college student who was detained in North Korea, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush mentioned "weakness" several times in his response, insisting that America needs to stop signaling it. Bush knows something about signaling strength: He has none other than his mom, the formidable former first lady Barbara Bush, at his side on the campaign trail and in television interviews. No one's going to be bullying America when she's around. Maybe Barbara Bush should be running for the presidency -- if only because, even at 90 years old, she doesn't have to keep telling everyone how tough she is.

Why does the projection of strength always have to involve so much talking? Talking about being strong is actually pretty weak. Real strength is demonstrated by action and results. It's the difference between the quiet guy with the bulging biceps who hits the gym every day and the little guy who's constantly mouthing off and issuing idle threats.

Silence and surprise are the wingmen of true strength. Just ask any special forces operator. Consider the current Russian military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East -- a methodical swamp-draining involving a lot of military hardware and little in the way of talk.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Putin head of Russia's Chechen Republic known for leaking information on social media (including photos of dead Islamic terrorists), has now blabbed to Russian TV that Chechen special forces have infiltrated the Islamic State and are providing intelligence for Russia. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin has declined to comment. But if it's really happening, it's further evidence of the effectiveness of quiet professionalism -- Kadyrov's boasts notwithstanding.

The most sensible response to the foreign-policy pop quiz in Saturday night's debate came from Donald Trump.

"I deal with (China)," Trump said. They tell me they have total, absolute control, practically, of North Korea. They are sucking trillions of dollars out of our country -- they're rebuilding China with the money they take out of our country. I would get on with China, let China solve that problem."

China is a major holder of U.S. Treasury debt, helping to keep the American economy above water, while U.S. legislators have straitjacketed the business climate so badly that companies have outsourced manufacturing to China. In other words, China and the U.S. are in a so-called Mexican standoff: China needs to keep being America's manufacturing base, and America needs China to hold its debt bonds. Still, no one seems to be willing to test the leverage that America has. They're all too lost in their James Bond fantasies.

Some of the presidential candidates have great potential as Hollywood action heroes or science-fiction script advisors. Hopefully the one who gets elected is firmly grounded in reality.