As expected, last night's GOP debate focused mostly on domestic policy and the big headline was the argument over Rick Perry's description of the Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." But there were some notable exchanges on the subjects of foreign policy and national security (as usual, Ron Paul had all the best lines.) Here were a few highlights:
JON HUNTSMAN: Did you know I speak Chinese?
[Romney] doesn't get the part that what will fix the U.S- China relationship, realistically, is fixing our core right here at home, because our core is weak, and it is broken, and we have no leverage at the negotiating table.
And I'd have to say, Mitt, now is not the time in a recession to enter a trade war. Ronald Reagan flew this plane. I was in China during the trip in 1984. He went on TV, he spoke to the Chinese people -- I'd love to do that too, in Chinese itself -- and he talked in optimistic, glowing terms.
[...]We've got to remember, that to beat President Obama, we have to have somebody who's been in the private sector, understands the fragility of the free market system, has been a successful governor as it relates to job creation, and knows something about this world.
I've lived overseas four times, I've been an ambassador to my country three times, I think I understand that.
RON PAUL: Sex, lies, and 9/11
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul, this same line. You want to demolish the TSA. What would exist in its place?
PAUL: With the airlines that are responsible for carrying their cargo and their passengers. I mean, why -- why should we assume that a bureaucracy can do better? And look at the monstrosity we have at the airports. These TSA agents are abusive. Sometimes they're accused of all kinds of sexual activities on the way they maul people at the airport. So the airlines could do that. [...]
Just remember, 9/11 came about because there was too much government. Government was more or less in charge. They told the pilots they couldn't have guns, and they were told never to resist. They set up the stage for all this. So, no, private -- private markets do a good job in protecting -- much better than this bureaucracy called the TSA, let me tell you.
PAUL: Turn down the AC, turn off the war
But I'll tell you how we should do it. We're spending -- believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this -- $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning. Cut that $20 billion out, bring in -- take $10 off the debt, and put $10 into FEMA or whoever else needs it, child health care or whatever. But I'll tell you what, if we did that and took the air conditioning out of the Green Zone, our troops would come home, and that would make me happy.
RICK PERRY: Drone war in El Paso
Well, the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground. We've had a request in to this administration since June -- or January of 2009 for 1,000 border patrol agents or National Guard troops, and working towards 3,000 border patrol. That's just on the Texas border.
There's another 50 percent more for the entire Mexican border. So you can secure the border, but it requires a commitment of the federal government of putting those boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air.
We think predator drones could be flown, that real-time information coming down to the local and the state and the federal law enforcement. And you can secure the border. And at that particular point in time, then you can have an intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform.
For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it's ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people. It is not safe on that border.
MITT ROMNEY: Turn off the magnet
ROMNEY: Well, first, we ought to have a fence. Secondly...
DIAZ-BALART: The whole fence, 2,600 miles?
ROMNEY: Yes. We got to -- we got to have a fence, or the technologically approved system to make sure that we know who's coming into the country, number one. Number two, we ought to have enough agents to secure that fence and to make sure that people are coming over are caught.
But the third thing, and I learned this when I was with border patrol agents in San Diego, and they said, look, they can always get a ladder to go over the fence. And people will always run to the country. The reason they come in such great numbers is because we've left the magnet on.
And I said, what do you mean, the magnet? And they said, when employers are willing to hire people who are here illegally, that's a magnet, and it draws them in. And we went in and talked about sanctuary cities, giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens, employers that, employers that knowingly hire people who are here illegally. Those things also have to be stopped.
NEWT GINGRICH: Outsource immigration to the credit card companies:
I think we have to find a way to get to a country in which everybody who's here is here legally. But you started by referencing President Reagan.
In 1986, I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which in fact did grant some amnesty in return for promises. President Reagan wrote in his diary that year that he signed the act because we were going to control the border and we were going to have an employer program where it was a legal guest worker program. That's in his diary.
I'm with President Reagan. We ought to control the border, we ought to have a legal guest worker program. We ought to outsource it, frankly, to American Express, Visa, and MasterCard, so there's no counterfeiting, which there will be with the federal government. We should be very tough on employers once you have that legal program.
We should make English the official language of government. We should insist -- (APPLAUSE) --We should insist that first-generation immigrants who come here learn American history in order to become citizens. We should also insist that American children learn American history.
And then find a way to deal with folks who are already here, some of whom, frankly, have been here 25 years, are married with kids, live in our local neighborhood, go to our church. It's got to be done in a much more humane way than thinking that to automatically deport millions of people.
RICK SANTORUM: Immigration ain't what it used to be
Look, I'm the son of an Italian immigrant. I think immigration is one of the great things that has made this country the dynamic country that it continues to be, people who are drawn because of the ideals of this country. And so we should not have a debate talking about how we don't want people to come to this country, but we want them to come here like my grandfather and my father came here. They made sacrifices. They came in the 1920s. There were no promises. There were no government benefits.
They came because they wanted to be free and they wanted to be good law-abiding citizens. So we have to have a program in place that sets that parameter that says, you're going to come to this country, come here according to the rules. It's a very good first step that the first thing you do here is a legal act, not an illegal act.
MICHELE BACHMANN: The real problem with childern of immigrants is narcoterrorists. (Also, old Cuban Bay of Pigs vets in Miami speak for all Hispanic Americans.)
HARRIS: Congresswoman, you said the fence -- that you believe the fence is fundamental as an integral part of controlling the border. Let's say that in 2012 or 2013, there's a fence, the border is secure, gasoline is $2 a gallon. What do you do then with 11 million people, as the Speaker says, many of whom have U.S.-born children here? What do you do?
BACHMANN: Well, again, understand the context and the problem that we're dealing with.
In Mexico right now, we're dealing with narco terrorists. This is a very serious problem. To not build a border or a fence on every part of that border would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do.
One thing that the American people have said to me over and over again -- and I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it's very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.
HERMAN CAIN: I am also in this debate
Let's make sure -- let's solve all of the problems. It's not one problem.
I do believe we can secure the border with a combination of boots on the ground, technology, and a fence, but we've got three other problems. And to get to it, we've got to secure the border.
Secondly, let's promote the path to citizenship that's already there. We don't need a new one, we just need to clean up the bureaucracy that's slowing the process down and discouraging people.
The third thing we need to do, enforce the laws that are there, and the way we do it, empower the states. I believe that the people closest to the problem are the best ones to be able to solve that problem. Empower the states to do what the federal government hasn't done, can't do, and won't do. This is how we solve the entire problem.
HUNTSMAN: Watch what you say about immigrants
I would just have to say that I disagree with so much of what has been said here today. President Reagan, when he made his decision back in 1987, he saw this as a human issue. And I hope that all of us, as we deal with this immigration issue, will always see it as an issue that resolves around real human beings.
Yes, they came here in an illegal fashion. And yes, they should be punished in some form or fashion. I have two daughters that came to this country, one from China, one from India, legally. I see this issue through their eyes.
We can find a solution. If President Reagan were here, he would speak to the American people and he would lay out in hopeful, optimistic terms how we can get there, remembering full well that we're dealing with human beings here. We have to agree.
But let me just say one thing about legal immigration. Let's not lose sight of the fact that our legal immigration system is broken. And if we want to do something about attracting brain power to this country, if we want to lift real estate values.
For example, why is it that Vancouver is the fastest-growing real estate market in the world today? They allow immigrants in legally, and it lifts all votes (ph). And we need to focus as much on legal immigration.
PAUL: Dude...what if WE'RE the ones behind the fence?
But there is a mess down there, and it's a big mess. And it's the drug war that's going on there. And our drug laws are driving this. So now we're killing thousands and thousands of people. That makes it much more complicated. But the people who want big fences and guns, sure, we can secure the borders -- a barbed-wire fence with machine guns, that would do the trick.
I don't believe that's what America is all about. I just really don't.
We can enforce our law. If we had a healthy economy, this wouldn't be such a bad deal. People are worrying about jobs. But every time you think about this toughness on the border and I.D. cards and real IDs, think that it's a penalty against the American people, too.
I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to lead (ph) with their capital. And there's capital controls and there's people control. So, every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.
HUNTSMAN channels John Kerry
I think we've lost our confidence as a country. I think we have had our innocence shattered. I think, 10 years later, we look at the situation and we say, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. This is not about nation-building in Afghanistan. This is about nation-building at home.
Our core is broken. We are weak. We have got to strengthen ourselves. I say we've got to bring those troops home. (APPLAUSE) In Afghanistan -- in Afghanistan, the reality is it is an asymmetrical counterterror effort. We need intelligence. We need special forces. And we need some training on the ground. But I think one way to commemorate our 10-year anniversary of 9/11, remembering the 3,000-plus people who died in New York and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, is to say it's time for this country to set a goal for ourselves: We're going to get our core fixed. We're going to do some nation-building right here at home.
PERRY gets philosophical, gives props
HARRIS: Governor Perry, as we approach the 9/11 anniversary, I'd like to stick with national security for a moment. You recently said, quote, "I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism." Looking back, do you think President George W. Bush was too quick to launch military intervention without thinking through the risks?
PERRY: I was making a comment about a philosophy; I don't think America needs to be in the business of adventurism.
But let me just say something about the president of the United States. And I know he's -- he's taken lots of slings and arrows here today. But one thing that I want to say that he did do that I agree with is that he maintained the -- the chase and -- and we took out a very bad man in the form of bin Laden, and I -- and I tip my hat to him.
I give more props to those Navy SEALs that did the job, but -- and the other thing this president's done, he has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We'll never have to have that experiment on America again.
And I might add that he kept Gitmo open against the will of his base, and I'm glad he did that. America's safer for it.
HARRIS: Sir, just if I could quickly follow on that, you said you were making a philosophical comment, but it's hard to understand philosophy without understanding specifics. Where are some of the places where you think we've seen military adventurism?
PERRY: As I said, that is -- that was a philosophical statement that Americans don't want to see their young men and women going into foreign countries without a clear reason that American interests are at stake. And they want to see not only a clear entrance; they want to see a clear exit strategy, as well.
We should never put our young men and women's lives at risk when American interests are not clearly defined by the president of the United States, and that's one of the problems this president is doing today.
BACHMANN is on the Select Committee on Intelligence. No, really, she is.
Well, I want to say, as devastating as our economy is with the policies of Barack Obama, I think that he has actually weakened us militarily and with the United States presence globally. We have, for many years, maintained global order in the world with our United States military. We have the finest military. But in this last debt ceiling debate, one of the alternatives that came forward that we're going to be looking at with this new super committee of 12 different members of Congress is to see that our military could be hit with a huge reduction in resources.
The president has not done what he needs to do to keep the United States safe. If you look at the biggest issue in the Middle East, it's a nuclear Iran, and the president has taken his eyes off that prize.
As a matter of fact, what he's done is he's said, in fact, to Israel that, they need to shrink back to their indefensible 1967 borders. I sit on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation's classified secrets. And I firmly believe that the president of the United States has weakened us militarily and put us more at risk than at any time.
BACHMANN: A matter of caliphate
Well, I believe that it was wrong for the president to go into Libya. Number one, his own secretary of defense, Gates, said that there was no American vital interest in Libya. If there is no vital interest, that doesn't even meet the threshold of the first test for military involvement. The other thing is, we didn't know who the rebel forces were in Libya. Take a look at where we're at in Libya today.
Take a look at the oil revenues. We don't know if they will get in the hands of people who will have designs on radical Islam and the implication of a global caliphate. These are very serious issues, and I think it was wrong for the president of the United States to go into Libya.
SANTORUM makes us picture Ronald Reagan as a witch
Well, we're in the Reagan Library, and I'm hearing from at least a couple of people on this panel a very isolationist view of where the Republican Party should be headed about pulling troops out with Governor Huntsman and with Ron Paul.
The bottom line is, Ronald Reagan was committed to America being a force for good around the world. We were a society that believed in ourselves and believed that we can spread our vision to the rest of the world and make this country a safer country as a result of it.
We didn't have missions where we put exit strategies saying this date is when we're going to leave. We didn't say that we are the problem and the cause of the problems that confront us around the world.
We were -- we are a source for good. We could have been a source for good from the very get-go in Libya, but this president was indecisive and confused from the very beginning. He only went along with the Libyan mission because the United Nations told him to, which is something that Ronald Reagan would have melted like the old Wicked Witch of the West before he would have allowed that to happen.