The GOP candidates faced off in Sioux City on
Thursday in what will likely be the last primary debate before the Iowa
Caucuses. Foreign policy was very much on the agenda. Responding to a question
about the downed U.S. drone in Iran and president's request that it be returned
by Iran, Mitt Romney accused
the Obama administration of weakness: "Does timidity and
weakness invite aggression on the part of other people? Absolutely," Romney said.
"A strong America is the best ally peace has ever owned. A spy drone downed
over Iran and he says ‘pretty please?'"
Perry repeated his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to
resign over the controversial Operation Fast and Furious
undercover gun-running scheme on the U.S.-Mexico border. In response to a
question about whether Holder should take responsibility for the incident even
if, as he claims, he didn't know about, Perry said, "If I'm the president of
the United States, and I find out that there is an operation like Fast and
Furious and my attorney general didn't know about it, I would have him resign
immediately." Perry also disputed
the president's assessment that the border is safer that it's ever been.
Huntsman took a counterintuitive
approach, using lower
immigration numbers as evidence of the president's failures: "In terms of
immigration, and illegal immigration, this president has so screwed up this
economy, nobody is coming anymore. There is nothing to come for. There's not a
problem today! Look at the numbers coming across. The numbers posted the other
day -- lowest in four decades."
Santorum continued his attack on Latin America policy and
claims that Islamist militant groups are using the region as a safe haven:
"This president has ignored that threat, has insulted our allies like Honduras
and Colombia deliberately and embraced like other scoundrels in the Middle
East, embraced Chávez, Ortega, and others in South America not promoting our
value and interests."
Paul, who has seen a recent
surge in the polls, dismissed
concerns about Iran's nuclear program, saying, "There is no
evidence they have a nuclear weapon. This is another Iraq coming. There's war
propaganda going on." Michele
Bachmann responded incredulously to Paul's attitude, saying she had
"never heard a more dangerous statement."
Gingrich finally got his wish for a three-hour Lincoln-Douglas
style debate he sat down on Monday at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College
with the trailing Huntsman. It was a cordial affair -- after all, a strong
showing by Huntsman in New Hampshire can only be to Gingrich's advantage
against Romney -- with few
major disagreements between the two. (Huntsman even referred to Gingrich as
a "great historian.") Gingrich disapproved of the way Obama had handled the
Arab Spring, particularly how he "dumped" U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in a "very unceremonious way." Huntsman anticipated
"a hubristic, nationalistic generation" poised to take power in
Gingrich's 15 minutes up?
Once again, Newt dominated the news this week,
particularly for his controversial comments that Palestinians are an "invented
people," a remark that generated a sharp backlash from
Palestinian leaders. Even Romney, hardly known for his pro-Palestinian views, went
after Gingrich's "erratic outspokenness."
This also seemed to be a week when major Republican
figures turned on Gingrich. Columnist George Will blasted
the front-runner, saying he "seems to believe there is
always some higher synthesis, inaccessible to lesser intellects, that makes all
his contradictions disappear." The National
"His character flaws -- his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for
half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas -- made him a poor Speaker
of the House."
Whether attacks like these will resonate with
primary voters remains to be seen, though Gingrich's numbers do seem to be slipping
somewhat in Iowa.
touts Iraq pullout
At a modest ceremony in Baghdad this week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta marked the official
pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a new web video from the Obama
campaign titled, "Promises
Kept," the president touts his commitment to ending the Iraq war, saying,
"Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the
final march out of that country... Iraq's future will be in the hands of its
people." The pullout, despite being conducted along a timeline
previously agreed by Obama's predecessor, is likely to be a centerpiece of
Obama's pitch to voters, along with the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Guess who's back? Former candidate Herman Cain, who famously struggled
with even the fundamentals of foreign policy during his campaign, was
interviewed by Barbara
Walters this week as part of her annual "most fascinating people" segment
and told her that if he had his choice of Cabinet positions, he'd like to be
secretary of defense. This response prompted a rare "what?" from the veteran
interviewer. Perhaps he'd settle for ambassador
to watch for
All eyes are on Iowa this holiday season as
residents of the Hawkeye state prepare for caucuses on Jan. 3. There's now increasing
speculation that Paul might have his turn as the
next "anyone-but-Romney," following turns by Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and
Gingrich. Paul has consistently polled in second or third place in Iowa, and
with Gingrich's numbers
beginning to fall, he may be in a position to capitalize.
Expect more scrutiny of Paul's views, particularly his neo-isolationist foreign
policy, in the days ahead.
latest from FP:
Defense writer Sharon
Weinberger examines Gingrich's far-out
futurist vision of warfare.
Former candidate Tim Pawlenty tells FP's Josh
Rogin that Gingrich is a flip-flopper
on foreign policy.
A. Cohen laments that more genuine disagreements weren't
aired at the
Clement explains why, despite Iraq and Osama, the president shouldn't
feel safe from attacks on his foreign-policy record.
Scott Olson/Getty Images