Five must-see moments from the GOP foreign policy debate

November 13, 2011

The Republican presidential candidates assembled in Spartanburg, South Carolina, last night for a primary debate, the first to focus entirely on foreign policy and national security. In a dialogue that spanned assorted geopolitical challenges — including Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, America’s strategic relationship with Pakistan, and trade with China — the eight Republicans outlined the approaches they would take to diplomacy if elected head of state. Here are five of the most notable exchanges:

1. Is torture acceptable under any circumstances? And is water boarding torture?

“I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War,” wrote a veteran in a question submitted via email that was posed to the candidates. “I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases. What is your stance on torture?”

The question was directed first to Herman Cain, who said he opposed torture but would “trust the judgement of our military leaders” to determine what constitutes it, although in his view water boarding was not torture but rather an “enhanced interrogation technique.”

Michele Bachmann said that she too “would be willing to use water boarding,” which she called “very effective,” adding that she believes Obama is “allowing the ACLU to run the CIA.”

Ron Paul disavowed water boarding and torture, which he called “illegal,” “immoral,” and “un-American,” as did Jon Huntsman, who argued that torture lowers America’s “standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets.”

2. Candidates say it is acceptable for the U.S. government to assassinate Americans linked to terror groups

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich defended the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen suspected to be an al-Qaeda operative who was killed by the CIA last September without ever being arrested or tried.

Romney said he “absolutely” supported al-Awlaki’s assassination because “this is an individual who had aligned himself with a group that declared war on the United States of America. And if there’s someone that’s going to join with a group like al Qaeda that declares war on America, and we’re in a war with that entity, then of course anyone who is bearing arms with that entity is fair game for the United States of America.”

Gingrich argued that al-Awlaki was “found guilty under review” by “a panel that looked at it and reported to the president.” Citizens who “engage in war against the United States” lose their civil liberties and “cannot go to court,” he said.

Paul dissented: “I don’t think we should give up so easily on our rule of law,” he said.

3. Pessimistic outlook on the Arab Spring

Cain suggested “all of the revolutions that are going on” have been “mishandled” by the Obama administration, and “as a result, they have gotten totally out of hand.” Gingrich, meanwhile, worried that the Arab Spring “may become an anti-Christian Spring.”

4. Foreign aid for Pakistan?

During a discussion about America’s relationship with Pakistan, Rick Perry suggested that as president he would eliminate all foreign aid –“every country is going to start at zero dollars,” he said — and then reallocate depending on each country’s support for the U.S. “We need a president of the United States working with a Congress that sends a clear message to every country. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s Pakistan or whether it’s Afghanistan or whether it’s India,” he said. “Pakistan is clearly sending us messages….and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America.”

Bachmann sharply disagreed, saying that while she “would reduce foreign aid to many, many countries,” Pakistan is a special case because it’s a nuclear power. “We have more people affiliated with al-Qaeda closer to that nuclear bomb than in any other nation,” she said.

Rick Santorum made a similar point: “Pakistan is a nuclear power, and there are people in that country that if they gain control of that country will create a situation equal to the situation that is now percolating in Iran,” he said. “So we can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend. They must be our friend, and we must engage them as friends.”

5. Huntsman makes conservative case for leaving Afghanistan

“I take a different approach on Afghanistan,” Huntsman told the audience. “I think it’s time to come home. I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan: We had free elections in 2004, we uprooted the Taliban, we have dismantled Al Qaeda, and we killed Osama bin Laden.”

He went on:

“I say this nation’s future is not Afghanistan. This nation’s future is not Iraq. This nation’s future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st century’s competitive challenges. That’s economics, that’s education. I don’t want to be nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so needs to be built.”


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The most cruel point is intelligent has never been as effective under President Bush as under President Obama. Under 4 years of Obama Administration, the US killed more Al Qaeda operative than the whole 8 years of Bush combined. Surely if intels are not effective, how can we pinpoint their location with such accuracy to allow drone strike in the most remote area possible? If, as Bachmann said, Obama is letting ACLU running CIA, if it is so effective, why not? In the past the bloated CIA has caused numerous lasting damage to US reputation and security – Bay of Pig, Phoenix program, the Iraq WMD gaffe, and countless other CIA sponsored assassinations, foreign sovereignty violations, and provided support for totalitarian regimes. In the past we have already glamorized CIA to the point of beyond restraint. Surely you have to learn at least a little from history, no?

Posted by hereiam2005 | Report as abusive

On Afghanistan, EVERYONE knows that its best to withdraw from the country. EVERYONE does. The problem is HOW. Bush thought every problem can be solved by throwing bombs and money at it. And I dare to wager that every Republican candidates, congressman, and constituent think that too. The problem is, the Middle East is a VERY VERY COMPLICATED PLACE. Bush threw bomb at it, and now we have a ruin of a nation. Bush threw money at it, and now we have one of the most corrupt government on earth. Instead of being regarded as liberators, we are being seen as invaders and the root of corruption of its society. Instead of promoting human freedom, we cultured resentment. If we leave the two countries at this state, it will only be matter of time until the Taliban or any other repressive regime replace us to be the de factor ruler, labeling itself as liberator, further promoting hatred toward American, and in the end, destroy everything we sacrificed to achieve.
The problem of Afghanistan and Iraq cannot and will not be solved neither by money nor bullets alone. Freedom cannot be achieved SOLELY by money and bullets. This is a costly lesson, and American will be damned if it try to forget that.

Posted by hereiam2005 | Report as abusive

Bachmann certainly doesn’t think the ACLU is running the CIA (even though she said as much) I think she meant the CIA is less effective when held to constitutional limits.

Romney is scary (like gunslinger Bush) with his ideas on Pakistan. We do not have an England in that part of the world so we have to buy our allies and Pakistan is to strategic to be reckless with.

Gingrich played politics (big time) with the Christian reference. As president his responsibility is to the USA not Christendom.

Posted by gobucks | Report as abusive

If the Americans would let the world run the way it is, things would not be bad for the average US citizen.The US Presidents should concentrate on there own affairs ie Health care, drugs, Street crime, the falling dollar and of course the problems of the veterans.
When the Americans were not there, & it is only a 100 years back, the world had no such issues.
Like Iraq yesterday, Iran is the target today & Pakistan will be the target tomorrow. Have the average American thought what his life would be if this happens? God help you AVERAGE American.

Posted by Gandapur | Report as abusive