The GOP National Security Debate (Updated)

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assigngopfpdebateirptjpg-1907880_p9.jpgThe Clemons Grades for the National Security DebateRick Santorum  D+ [Changed to C-]
Michele Bachmann  B+
Newt Gingrich  B-
Rick Perry  D-
Herman Cain  F
Mitt Romney  B-
Ron Paul   B
Jon Huntsman  B+[After reviewing my grades, I decided that Rick Santorum's candor about the importance of negotiating and willing to compromise with the "other side" deserves a bit more credit.  I hereby revise his grade to a C-.]

Here is the full transcript of the debate.

Sad truth is that this was really amateurish overall.  Where was the serious discussion about the costs of war and peace (except from Ron Paul)?  Nuclear weapons responsibilities and challenges?  North Korea?  Sudan?  Piracy?  The complications and challenges of the Arab Spring?  And what of non-traditional but important national security issues like global water management, climate change, pandemics, natural disasters, and the growing sense aroundt the world that America's mystique has been ruptured and is in decline.  Other than platitudes from Romney, very few got into the realities of America's limited stock of power today.

9:59 pm

AEI visiting scholar Marc Thiessen asks good question of candidates about what issue they haven't heard about tonight that they worry about or which might be hidden behind a blind spot.

Santorum says -- predictably -- it's all about "radical Islamists."  Also says that we need to do more care for Central and South American allies.

Ron Paul says that need to get out of unnecessary wars.  Gives a rosy view of Taliban -- says they are trying to kill us not here but over there...  Rick Perry says China is not a country of virtue -- says that "Communist China is destined for the dustbin of history."

Mitt Romney says China is a big issue.  Agrees with Santorum that Latin America is a lurking national security issue -- Hezbollah, he says, is building capacity in Latin America.

Herman Cain says that cyber security is the biggest threat ahead.

New Gingrich says he worries about nuclear/WMD attack; electro-magnetic pulse attack, and cyber attack.  Michele Bachmann believes that there is a radical Islamic threat here inside the United States now.

Jon Huntsman says that a trust deficit at home -- people not believing in Congress or their government -- is a national security problem, that joblessness and an economy not working is a national security threat.

9:53 pm

Former Cheney Chief of Staff and global war on terror architect David Addington from Heritage Foundation up.  Someone call Jane Mayer.  Asks about Syria -- and asks candidates to outline American interests in the region.

Herman Cain says he would not support No Fly Zone over Syria -- says that we should work with allies to constrain Syria's options, curtail oil purchases and use economic tools, not military ones, to influence Syria.

Rick Perry want a No Fly Zone over Syria.  Perry really seems uncomfortable with just about every question.

Jon Huntsman said the US missed the Persian Spring; got involved in Libya where the US has no interests; and now is holding back on Syria where it does have interests -- and the biggest interest is Israel.  Says we need to do more to prevent a nuclear armed Iran and need to work more closely with Israel.  Refrain.

Ron Paul making sense about the blowback that comes from intervention in other countries.  Links al Qaeda to US bases in Saudi Arabia and thinks that imposition of a no fly zone is exactly the kind of thing that would inspire an al Qaeda like reaction.  Wants the US to learn how to "mind its own business."

Mitt Romney on a platitude streak -- talking about America reasserting its power in the world and not apologizing for leadership.  Romney says no on No Fly Zone over Syria -- but YES to covert action inside Syria to achieve "regime change."

9:39 pm

Rick Perry oddly says "here we are again Mitt" -- agreeing with one another -- this time, on the "magnet" as a draw pulling in illegal immigrants.  Perry says he knows how to secure the border -- that he's been doing it for ten years.  (Then why is the border a problem today??)

Romney is strongly against conversion programs for illegal immigrants -- strongly for legal immigration programs, particularly for the educated (and rich?).  Bye bye Hispanic vote.

9:37 pm


For those interested, here is the CNN transcript for the first 30 minutes of the debate.

9:36 pm


Mitt Romney says that "amnesty is a magnet" and that we have to stop all of the support and stickiness that draws in illegal immigrants.  That said, he believes US should "stable a green card" to completed advanced degrees.

9:34 pm


Rick Perry says that within 12 months he will close down the Mexico-US border and make it secure.  Ron Paul says that the "war on drugs" is another war he'd cancel.  Good line actually.

Ron Paul called the federal war on drugs a total failure and believes that sick and dying people should have access to marijuana if they want it.  Says US should regulate some drugs like alcohol.

Cain says an insecure border is a national security threat.  Can't tell whether Cain supports amnesty for illegals or not -- my sense not, but he has a way of speaking that just doesn't help one get much detail about his views.

Will have to check out the clock later on how long each of these candidates got to speak.  It seems, surprisingly, that Rick Santorum is getting much more time than anyone else to speak.  Not hearing as much from Mitt Romney as we should tonight.  Gingrich is getting a good deal of air time.

Gingrich supports an H-1 visa for everyone who gets a graduate degree here and who came from other countries.  Wants US to educate folks and keep the best.  References Albert Einstein.  Thinks on immigration, US needs a comprehensive approach that secures border but that also reviews those who have been here illegally and creates a way of keeping those who have built solid lives here -- and deport those that haven't.  Bachmann opposes this sort of program and doesn't think there should be amnesty for 11 million workers in the US illegally. She supports the Steve Jobs platform of granting visas to highly skilled workers like chemists and engineers.  Impressed that she knew about Steve Jobs' conversation with President Obama.
 
9:16 pm


AEI economics staff member asks a question that doesn't even pretend to rope in a national security theme.  He asks about what they would do to cut entitlement programs because of a large and growing $11 trillion debt picture. 

What about China?  And those combat troops just sent into Africa?  The implications of the Euro debt crisis?  Does anyone know what the key takeaways of the Halifax International Security Forum were this past weekend (where 18 defense ministers including Leon Panetta and Ehud Barak assembled)? 

How did we get back on entitlement program cuts?  Wasn't that in the last debate?

9:11 pm


Gingrich goes off on doing everything more efficiently. Most interestingly, he basically supports a more efficient Millennium Challenge Corporation.  He also says that the only Iran bombing program he would support was one tied to regime change.

Jon Huntsman says that "everything needs to be on the table" in cutting the budget deficit -- including defense!  Brave comment at an even cosponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.  Says we need defense spending to match our strategy and objectives.

Wolf Blitzer asking Rick Perry about the failure of the Super Committee and asks if he would compromise with Democrats in Congress to help stop the large coming budget cuts.  Perry turns the question into an assault on Obama's leadership -- doesn't mention Congress' failure at all. 

OOPS.  Perry says "half a trillion dollars" -- and then says with emphasis "500 million dollars."  I'll leave that to others to play with.

9:03 pm

Mitt Romney says that his first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country.  Pandering!!  His first trip should be to either China, Mexico or Canada -- all rank far more significantly to the United States than Israel.  Romney is fundraising tonight.

8:57 pm


American Enterprise Institute foreign policy program director Danielle Pletka asks whether sanctions really make any difference in clipping Iran's nuclear weapons track.  Rick Perry says "yes" and that the US and world should sanction Iran's central bank.  Perry says that Obama has not had the backbone to cut off the central bank as of yet.

Newt Gingrich says we need a serious strategy for topping and replacing the Iranian regime using as minimal force as possible.  Gingrich thinks that sanctioning Iran's central bank a good idea.

Michele Bachmann going after Iran because of its standing, overt threats to Israel.  While I disagree with her overall framing, she has clearly studied up on foreign policy -- and has views that are generally informed and internally coherent.  Impressive actually.

Now Paul Wolfowitz up and asking about Millennium Challenge program and foreign assistance.  Rick Santorum says he completely supports Millennium Challenge Corporation and other forms of foreign aid as vital to the US.  Santorum challenges those (like Rick Perry) who have talked about "zeroing out" all foreign assistance.

Santorum's answer Messianic, all about spreading American values -- but still an internationalist even though he's got a Borg-like posture of wanting to assimilate the rest of the world to look like the US.

Cain says he'll support foreign aid if there is a tight plan, tight mission, tight objectives. 

Ron Paul says that we are in big trouble at home -- endless wars, too much foreign aid, too much meddling abroad.  He says the biggest threat to the United States today is America's domestic economic condition.

Ron Paul ties foreign policy to "Obama Care."  I'm dizzy on that one.  How did he get there??  Ron Paul hammering on Obama administration's so-called cuts.  Says that nothing is getting cut.

8:47 pm

Big question:  If Israel attacked Iran to help Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would the candidates help Israel?

Herman Cain says that he would want to know what the likelihood of success was -- and what the mission and plan were.  He would help if it was a solid plan and perhaps even join US forces to the Israel mission.

Ron Paul thinks that's crazy -- and wants to get out of Israel's way.  If they want to do something, then they should go ahead and the US should not be involved.  Says US is over-involved in Israel's key decisions.

8:44 pm

Former US Senator Rick Santorum says that the US is "fighting a war against radical Islam."  Opened by saying that he agreed with Ron Paul (really??) that we are not fighting a war on terror.

Now, taking a break.

So far, most impressive responses and positions -- in terms of coherence -- have been articulated by Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul.

8:41 pm


Romney says he's with the commanders.  Huntsman counters by saying the Commander-in-Chief calls the shots, not commanders.  During Vietnam, the President deferred too much to the generals.  Romney, seems wounded, and says of course he knows that the Commander-in-Chief calls the shots.  Newt looks and sounds ruffled and grouses at them for not playing by the debate rules.

8:38 pm


Mitt Romney says we need to help bring Pakistan into "modernity."  Also thinks that we need to stay in Afghanistan until the country can incrementally take over more of its core security responsibilities.

Jon Huntsman makes strong statement supporting withdrawal from Afghanistan -- says we have done nothing to define an "end point" in Afghanistan.  Huntsman calls for 10-15,000 troops with much more limited roles in counter-terrorism and security support. 

Romney says that this is not the "time for America to cut and run" from Afghanistan.

8:34 pm


Governor Rick Perry says that he'd not give one dime of US aid to Pakistan unless it was tied directly to American interests. 

Wow again! Michele Bachmann calls Perry "hopelessly naive", properly and maturely mentioning that Pakistan has nukes that could be vulnerable to terrorists and that we must be engaged and have a presence.

Perry says we need to stop writing "blank checks" to countries like Pakistan.  Bachmann counters that our arrangements with Pakistan are "not blank checks".  She says we are sharing a lot of intelligence information -- and she is largely correct, certainly more than Perry.

8:30 pm


AEI's Fred Kagan asks candidates whether they support expanded drone use policy.

Jon Huntsman says Pakistan is the country that should be keeping us all up tonight.  Says Army Commander General Kayani really running the country -- not President Zardari.  Says that an expanded drone program would serve US interests but also says that 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan are not serving US interests. 

Wow.  Michele Bachmann knows about and mentioned the Haqqani Network.  That's like getting an extra three points on FourSquare.

8:28 pm

Ed Meese launches things with a very wonky question about the investigatory powers of the Patriot Act, which he feels has helped stop more than forty acts of terror in the United States.  Wonder if Herman Cain got that. 

Newt Gingrich thinks that the US government and presidency should have many more powers to fight terrorism.  Ron Paul says the Patriot Act is unpatriotic as it "undermines our liberties."  Gingrich responds that Timothy McVeigh "succeeded." 

Ron Paul implies that Gingrich advocates the building of a "police state."  Michele Bachmann says that "we are in a very different kind of war."  Bachmann says that we need to completely change the way that we investigate terrorist activities -- says Obama has "outsourced investigations to the ACLU."  Jon Huntsman said that we have to be very careful about sacrificing our liberties -- says that it is part of the shining light of the United States abroad. 

Mitt Romney said we can "do better" than TSA pat-downs. Mitt Romney says there is "crime" and there is "war" and that there is a body of law that applies to each.  Really? Isn't the problem of our Kafkaesque secret prisons and Guantanamo detentions a function of the laws of war being thrown out and made up in ad hoc ways?

Rick Perry says that the Obama administration has been poor at drawing in intelligence from around the world to keep America safe.  Who got bin Laden, Governor Perry?  Wolf needs to drill down on some of these.

Santorum says "we are at war" and supports profiling of "Muslims" and "younger males" to chase down likely terror candidates.  Ron Paul goes after Santorum for reckless with terms and words -- and says that this is a slippery slope to all Americans being at risk. 

Herman Cain rebrands "profiling" as "targeted identification."  Says terrorists "want to kill all of us" so we should use every means possible "to kill them first."  Wolf Blitzer keeps pushing on the issue of whether Cain supports profiling of Muslims and more.  Calls Wolf Blitzer "Blitz".  Blitzer calls Herman Cain, "Cain."

8:13 pm

Rick Santorum throws punch at Obama on economy and national security.  Ron Paul says that unnecessary wars undermine the nation.  Rick Perry uses national security debate to talk about 29 years of "married bliss".  Mitt Romney wants "to keep America strong and free."  Herman Cain says America's national security has indeed "been downgraded."  Newt Gingrich says that this is all about "the survival of the United States."  Michele Bachmann wishes Happy Thanksgiving to soldiers around the world.  Her dad was in Air Force (mine too).  John Huntsman intros wife of 28 years who is sitting "fortuitously in the New Hampshire box."

8:06 pm

Wolf Blitzer intros Jon Huntsman as former US Ambassador to China but not as former Governor of Utah or Deputy US Trade Representative. 

7:57 pm EST

I'm not at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall tonight as are many of my friends preparing in moments to watch the CNN GOP national security debate -- but I'm going to blog it remotely.

Prediction:  Herman Cain now knows more about what President Obama did and didn't do towards Libya.

Photo Credit:  CNN

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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