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After a long series of debates focused on the economy in which
international issues factored only peripherally, the candidates finally met for
event devoted solely to foreign policy and national security in
Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Saturday, Nov. 12. At the debate, co-sponsored
by CBS News and the National Journal,
candidates squared off on Iran, Israel, China, and the war in Afghanistan.
The sharpest difference between the candidates came over the
question of foreign aid -- particularly to "difficult" countries like Pakistan.
Rick Perry said the foreign aid
budget under his administration would "start at zero" and countries would then
be judged on their policies. Newt
Gingrich agreed, asking why the United States would aid a country that "hid
bin Laden for at least six years."
Rick Santorum and
Michele Bachmann disagreed, noting
Pakistan's nuclear capabilities and the importance of maintaining a basic level
of cooperation with the country's government. Santorum later accused his
opponents of "pandering to an anti-foreign aid element out there."
In the end, pundits generally scored the debate as a victory
for Mitt Romney, who managed the
task of "not making any gaffes and otherwise looking presidential," as one GOP
insider put it.
At FP, Cohen
summed up the not-so-great
debate and Daniel Drezner gave
Following the Nov. 12 debate, during which Herman Cain managed to exceed very low
expectations by appearing somewhat in command of the issues, the former pizza
tycoon had a rough week on the campaign trail. First there was a
torturous interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel during which Cain appeared not only
unsure of his position on the Obama administration's policies in Libya, but
unsure of what actually happened there. In the same interview, he suggested
that an attack on Iran wouldn't be practical because "It's very mountainous." When
asked by a reporter later if his Libya response demonstrated a lack of
knowledge of foreign policy, he simply replied
"9-9-9"? (Maybe he meant "nein, nein,
nein"?) He also told one of the
Journal Sentinel's reporters,
"I'm not supposed to know anything about foreign policy. Just thought I'd
throw that out.… I want to talk to commanders on the ground."
Cain followed up this performance with an appearance at
Miami's famed Café Versailles, an important gathering place for Cuban exiles in
the city, during which he asked,
"How do you say 'delicious' in Cuban?" and also made it clear that he had
never heard of the "wet foot,
dry foot" policy, which has been in place to handle Cuban immigration
for more than a decade.
Not surprisingly, Cain's campaign canceled
an interview with the New Hampshire Union
Leader after the paper insisted on videotaping the conversation.
Read FP's exclusive
profile of Cain's foreign policy here.
weeks on the margins of the race, Gingrich seems to be riding something of a
above 20 percent for the first time in two polls released this week.
Republican voters still seem to be searching for a conservative alternative to
Romney, and with Cain floundering, the former speaker of the House appears to
be taking advantage. The boom may be driven by Gingrich's perceived strength on
national security. Gingrich got strong marks for his performance in Saturday's
debate: Democratic voters polled by National
Journal actually judged
him the winner, and in a Fox News poll, Republican voters said Gingrich was
the candidate they trusted
most with nuclear weapons.
Read FP's exclusive
profile of Gingrich's foreign policy here.
Huntsman is still polling in the single
digits, but the former Utah governor and ambassador has launched a major
media blitz in New Hampshire, hoping that his brand of competent realism
will sooner or later catch on. And when it comes to foreign policy, Huntsman is
in his element: He has attacked his rivals, accusing
Romney of "total pandering" for his hawkish rhetoric on China. Huntsman is
somewhat more aggressive when it comes to Iran, telling
CNN's Piers Morgan this week that "sanctions aren't going to
have much of an impact" on the country and that "it's likely we're going to
have a conversation with Israel at some point" about other ways to stop Tehran's
Read FP's exclusive
profile of Huntsman's foreign policy here.
president is touring the Pacific this week, with stops in Hawaii, Australia,
and Indonesia. On his trip, Obama is promoting a new
base for U.S. Marines in Australia and a new Pacific Rim free
trade agreement, both initiatives likely aimed at responding to an emergent Chinese
military and economic threat. The president's comments abroad have made their
way into the campaign as well. The president noted
in an interview in Hawaii that the U.S. government had been "a little bit
lazy … over the last couple of decades" in promoting the United States as a
destination for international investment.
ad released on Nov. 16 inferred that the president had been referring to the
American people as lazy. "That's what our president thinks is wrong with
America? That Americans are lazy? That's pathetic," Perry says in the commercial
aired in New Hampshire.
Read FP's exclusive
profile of Obama's foreign policy here.
Tuesday, Nov. 22, the candidates will meet for another foreign-policy debate, this
one in Washington, D.C. With Gingrich beginning to surge in the polls, other
candidates -- particularly Perry and Cain -- who have seen their campaigns
hobbled by recent gaffes may be on the attack. FP's crack Election 2012 reporters
will be in attendance, covering the debate from all angles.
Wednesday, Nov. 23, is the deadline
for the congressional "supercommittee" to find $1.2 trillion dollars in deficit
reductions. If the committee fails, it could
trigger massive cuts to defense spending. Conservative groups -- including
this week's debate hosts, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage
Foundation -- have issued
a statement on the potential cuts, saying, "The future of America's
national security hangs in the balance." Defense spending is sure to be a major
topic in Tuesday's discussion.
Cohen argues that, surprisingly, Democrats have become the party
of national security. But with a lousy economy, is it enough to propel Obama
David Rothkopf thinks
so. After watching Saturday's debate, he listed
10 reasons why Obama will get a second term.
James Traub wonders just who Republicans think America's friends are.
Drezner said conservatives shouldn't
despair about the GOP field's weakness on foreign- policy issues. A non-despairing
Peter Feaver responded.
Following Cain's tortured Libya answer, Drezner declared a Herman
Cain Mercy Rule in effect, vowing to stop writing about the candidate. [We'll see how long that lasts. -Ed.]
Government's loyal opposition, Michael
Magan urges the GOP candidates to reconsider their blanket opposition
to foreign aid.
Sen. Lindsey Graham
told The Cable's Josh Rogin that the candidates need to "step
up their game" on foreign policy.
Alex Wong/Getty Images