Sunday, November 13, 2011

GOP 'foreign-policy' primary debate in S.C. yields no clear-cut winner, policy differences

The Republican Presidential primary debate last night at Wofford College in South Carolina yielded less bombast than some debates have between the candidates and no clear winner, although clear policy differences did emerge.

The debate, intended to revolve around foreign policy issues, for the most part did so, allowing a rare glimpse of the views of candidates such as frontrunner Herman Cain, whose ranking in the polls had shot up to rival frontrunner Mitt Romney's but has since slumped on news of sexual harassment claims against him in the '90s when he led the American Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. (see new poll here).

Other than some initial confusion over response times in which the moderator attempted to cut off an answer by presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney, (ultimately resulting in an apology to Romney who had insisted, and got to, finish his answer), and a somewhat confusing half-live half- internet broadcast format, the debate was a productive one that provided many clues as to how the various candidates might conduct the foreign-policy of the nation were they to be elected President. A recap of some of the key questions asked, and how the candidates responded to them, is as follows:

On the critical issue of keeping a “military option” on the table in order to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, (see recent report of the IAEA on this issue here), most all of the Republican candidates, with the exception of Huntsmen and Ron Paul, agreed that the U.S. needed to do “whatever was necessary” up to and including a military strike to take out Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Cain's position was nuanced and seemed to want it both ways, stating he favored a missile defense shield and would “strategically use” America's fleet of Aegis Destroyers to sit off the coast of Iran and counteract any nuclear Ballistic Missiles they might launch, (while falling short of any pledge to launch a military strike directly on Iranian nuclear facilities).

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stated flatly it was “unacceptable” to allow Iran to join the nuclear club with its open support of terrorism worldwide and that if American support for “maximum subversive activity” within Iran didn't bring down the radical, totalitarian regime then America must as a last resort retain the option of using military force to end the regime's nuclear ambitions.

Governor Rick Perry, struggling to re-gain the momentum he possessed upon his initial entrance into the race before a series of poor debate performances and gaffes belying a seemingly week position on illegal immigration and other issues of importance to primary GOP voters, stated that unilateral U.S. financial/ regulatory action could “collapse the Iranian federal reserve today” sufficient to bring about the regime's demise if the “American people would stand and demand”/hold President Obama's feet to the fire” on the issue (get exact quote).

Asked about whether waterboarding of terror suspects constituted “torture,” candidate Herman Cain at first agreed, but then, choosing his words carefully, seemed to backpedal into the more mainstream view among Republicans that the so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” of the Bush Administration, which some have credited partly with the capture/killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, is something he supported and would re-institute if elected President.

As far as the others, candidates Romney, Perry, Gingrich and Bachman all supported enhanced interrogation to yield crucial military intelligence in the war on terror, while candidates John Huntsman and Ron Paul remained opposed, (with the Texas Congressmen and veteran bombthrower Paul stating unequivocally that “waterboarding is torture” and expressly citing U.S. and “international law” in defense of his stance on the issue). In line with his long held beliefs Paul also emphasized the need for Congressional approval of any military action and stated “I am afraid that this kind of talk sounds a lot like the war propaganda we heard leading up to the Iraq war,” (Mr. Paul previously stated at the Michigan debate on 11/9/2011 that his favored approach to the radical Iranian regime would be “how about extending friendship instead of all this talk of war?”

When it came to the question of whether it was o.k. to kill American citizens overseas without a trial who are suspected of engaging in terrorist acts against the United States, (such as Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed), the candidates again broke ranks with Perry, Bachman, Romney and Gingrich in favor and Paul and Huntsman opposed.

Former speaker Gingrich again provided perhaps the strongest rationale in support of the bold idea that those who had engaged in terrorism against their own government had “removed themselves” from constitutional protection and received all the process due them. (Of course, whether the debate properly should revolve around the “enemy combatant” status of such individuals, where they are located at the time of such attacks, or around their status as American citizens is a matter of hot dispute legally, and one which we feel the format of one minute answers in a debate context hardly does justice to, nevertheless we remain committed to reporting the news as it unfolds and as we see it).
On the issue of the early pullout of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of 2012 that President Obama has already announced, Romney was pointed in his criticism, stating that to do so irresponsibly “telegraphed our intentions to the enemy” and moreover resulted in “withdrawing in the middle of the 2012 fighting season,” thus endangering the mission and hard-fought American gains, with which Perry, Bachman and Gingrich agreed, while Huntsman and Paul expressed agreement with the President's decision to withdraw from the theater immediately.

On the issue of trade and China, Perry, Bachman, Romney and Gingrich all supported sanctions and/or some form of “get tough” treatment to deal with China's currency manipulation and intellectual and corporate theft of American industry, with Paul and Huntsman opposing such approaches to the problem and Huntsmen in particular stating to do so would start a damaging and unproductive “trade war” on an issue we couldn't-- in his view-- win in the international trade court.

On the issue of foreign aid, all of the candidates with the exception of Huntsman seemed to agree with Perry who outlined the view that the U.S. government should annually start at an assumption of zero support dollars for foreign nations, including for “ally” in the war on terror Pakistan [and staunch Mid-East ally Israel] with the amount of any aid to individual nations being justified and determined each year on a case by case basis, with which Gingrich agreed.  When asked if this included Israel and Pakistan, which intellegence has indicated may have been behind the attacks on U.S. [embassy] facilities in _____________ and __________ that some have said have amounts to an act of war against the U.S., Perry was cajoled into agreeing.

  Gingrich followed by agreeing with Perry's position of "zeroing out" and then justifying annually every dollar of foreign aid to countries like Pakistan on a country by country basis, pointing out that Pakistan  was run by its military and Pakistani secret services who somehow failed to arrest Bin Laden in spite of  living in a compound within walking distance from Pakistan's “West Point” in Abbottobad, Pakistan.  As a result Gingrich emphasized that under the present circumstances he didn't feel Pakistan's recent conduct warranted further "automatic" support by the United States.

   Of all the Republican candidates only Rick Santorum openly objected, saying “Pakistan must remain a friend of the U.S.” and we could thus not afford to cutoff aid no matter their less than consistent support.

The debate, the first part of which was aired live on CBS (and the entirety of which was streamed live over the internet), can be seen in its entirety by clicking HERE or HERE and scrolling down to the Nov. 12, 2011 debate and clicking the appropriate link. jp

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