The CNN Republican National Security Debate was the most substantive of the Republican debates to date. I have seen all but one. Unfortunately the only presidential candidates that even came close to making sense on pragmatic and realistic international policies are Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. Their arguments while not necessarily in complete agreement with my beliefs were consistent.
My immediate impression of the Republican candidates was that Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry were completely out of their league. They offered talking points as answers and if they were visibly unable to answer they reverted back to the closest talking point.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich came across as very knowledgeable. They were both able to roll facts off of their tongues rather quickly. Sadly in the process of putting the facts out they purposefully conflated or simply misled their audience in order to maintain their party doctrine.
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As an example when asked about Iran, Newt Gingrich implied that America could take a hard stance irrespective of the disruption it would cause in the energy markets. He implied that if corporations are allowed to drill at will in America there would be enough oil to replace the potential Iran shortfall. That is patently false. American has 3% of the world’s reserve and could not even produce enough for its own needs.
Mitt Romney claimed defense cuts would put our troops in danger by making false claims of what would be cut (e.g., an aircraft that is already built out), and the refusal to acknowledge the new less expensive war methodology being implemented by the Obama administration (e.g., drones, small efficient special units, improved international cooperation) is much more cost effective.
Ron Paul took a more isolationist position where he wants just about all of the American military out of foreign lands. He went as far as to imply the reality that much of the angst of Al Qaeda towards America is the establishment of bases overseas on Muslim land as well as our intervention in these Muslim countries.
Both Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul alluded to our real national security risk which is our economic demise from the irresponsible and unchecked investment in our military and the rebuilding of foreign countries. Jon Huntsman was passionate in begging that real questions be asked and real solutions adopted. He was almost imploring the Republican Party to get real.
Newt Gingrich likely got himself in trouble with the Republican base as he came out in favor of “amnesty”. He did not call it amnesty but stated he would not break up a well-established family that went to church and paid taxes. He said a party that believes in family should not split families by deporting those fitting those criteria. Michele Bachmann immediately attacked Gingrich as being a supporter of amnesty that would exacerbate the undocumented immigrant problem.
Interesting enough, while Mitt Romney first called it a magnet for illegal immigration, after Newt held his ground, both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney left the door open while keeping plausible deniability.
Michele Bachmann showed Rick Perry that in the battle for the less knowledgeable candidates, his foreign policy acumen was the least of them all. She schooled him on Pakistan and why you simply cannot stop giving aid. Likewise Romney schooled Perry as to why a no-fly zone in Syria as a solution made no sense given the structure of their armed forces.
Given that Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul are unlikely to make it through the Republican primary, Mitt Romney seems like the only threat to President Obama’s reelection. After watching him stumble today while addressing Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, I believe next to President Obama he will not be up to par. Jon Huntsman however seemed both capable and pragmatic enough not only to challenge the President, but to potentially win given his pragmatism, his foreign policy knowledge, and simply the competence he exudes.