GOP presidential hopefuls Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry at a debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire / ReutersThere are some good reasons that foreign policy hasn't been a big issue in the Republican presidential primary competition. It doesn't poll as particularly important to voters, especially compared to the economy; there isn't too much difference between the candidates on big issues, who mainly seem to agree, for example, that Israel Good, Palestine Bad; and raising the more difficult or contentious issues tends to pose more political risk than potential reward. How do you answer a question on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, without angering either the national security hawks or the libertarian wing of your party? (Candidates have mostly managed to say as little as possible, hedging both against and in favor of withdrawal.)
With so little public or media attention on how foreign policy plays in the debates and stump speeches, the candidates have less incentive to double-check their facts or hold back their more eccentric opinions. When foreign policy does come up, the Republican candidates typically stick to the usual conservative scripts. But, unchecked by the same level of scrutiny they receive on domestic issues, one occasionally lets loose a real head-scratcher. Whether spinning wild conspiracy theories, casually suggesting new wars, or apparently confusing America's enemies with its allies, the GOP race so far has produced a diverse -- and, if you pay close to attention to U.S. foreign policy, a bit unsettling -- list of odd and off-key statements.
Here is a list of the 13 biggest foreign policy blunders, bloopers, mis-statements, and plain old mistakes of the Republican presidential competition. Maybe they reveal a GOP field that is little focused on foreign policy, maybe that international issues are of small concern to the Republican electorate, or maybe just that mistakes happen. The only leading candidates not featured are Ron Paul (whose libertarian policies have proven unpopular with many conservatives) and Jon Huntsman -- pity the former ambassador, who sighed recently, "Unlike my fellow candidates, my view of America's role in the world is shaped by hands-on experience gained during four stints overseas and serving in foreign policy positions for three presidents." Some of these off-key statements are funny, but the future leader of the world's richest and most powerful country might be on this list, so don't laugh too hard.
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