Republican presidential candidates during a break at the CNN GOP National Security debate in Washington / ReutersThe Republican presidential candidates really don't want to talk about foreign policy. Or so it seemed, anyway, during much of Tuesday night's debate on foreign policy and national security. The biggest foreign policy story of the moment -- renewed violence in Egypt as protesters turn against the once-beloved military rulers, posing a difficult dilemma for U.S. policy over whether to continue its massive aid to that military -- went unmentioned until the final 13 minutes of the two-hour debate.
The ongoing European debt crisis went totally unmentioned. China's rise was brought up only three times: once as an argument for cutting the deficit (Bachmann), once as an argument against loosening immigration restrictions (Bachmann), and once to declare that China was bound for "the ash heap of history" because it has too many abortions (Perry).
At times, their efforts to dance around complicated foreign policy questions could reach Baryshnikov-like heights. Here's Ron Paul responding to a tough question about the rise of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked insurgency that controls a large swathe of Somalia and which Obama has increasingly targeted with drones and special forces:
You have to understand who the al Qaeda really is. The -- the al Qaeda responds in a very deliberate fashion. As a matter of fact, Paul Wolfowitz explained it very clearly after 9/11. He said that al Qaeda is inspired by the fact that we had bases in Saudi Arabia. So if you want to inspire al Qaeda, just meddle in -- in that region. That will inspire the al Qaeda.
... They are quite annoyed with us. So if you drop -- if you have a no- fly zone over Syria, that's an act of war. What if we had China put a no-fly zone over our territory? I don't think -- I don't think we would like that.
What does a Syria no-fly-zone have to do with a failed state in East Africa? Unclear. Mitt Romney didn't do much better with the same question:
Wolf, that is a foreign policy. It's different than President Obama's, but similar in some respects. President Obama's foreign policy is one of saying, first of all, America's just another nation with a flag.
... President Obama apologizes for America. It is time for us to be strong as a nation. And if we are strong, with a military and economy that are so strong, no one in the world will try and attempt to threaten us or to attack our friends.
The candidates seemed more comfortable discussing domestic issues like immigration, the PATRIOT Act, and airport security. The one area where they appeared excited to discuss foreign policy was Iran, largely because they seemed to agree that Iran is bad.
Still, unlike the first of these two foreign policy-focused debates, at least it was not held on a Saturday evening, and at least the whole thing was broadcast this time. But, despite the candidates' best efforts not to talk about foreign policy, talk they did, and as with their last foreign policy debate, gaffes and bloopers and conspiracy theories abounded. Here are some of the most notable face-palm moments from last night's debate.
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