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Posts For: November 12, 2011

Foreign Policy Debate is Cain’s Waterloo

After six months of debates, it was high time that at least 90 minutes of the country’s popular political reality show be devoted to the primary responsibility of the presidency: foreign policy. The results of the aptly-named “Commander-in-Chief” debate broadcast on CBS did not revolutionize the race. Mitt Romney is still in the strongest position of any of the candidates. A good sense of humor can’t revive Rick Perry’s hopes and strong performances from Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann won’t get them into contention. But it did illustrate that Herman Cain’s weaknesses can’t be disguised forever by his unflappable temperament.

The debate illustrated again that the divide in the GOP presidential field on foreign policy is between those who know what they are talking about and those who don’t. A clear grasp of war and peace issues won’t transform Rick Santorum into a first tier candidate from an also-ran. But his lack of command of the issues does make it difficult, if not impossible, for Herman Cain to put forward a plausible argument for himself as a potential president.

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After six months of debates, it was high time that at least 90 minutes of the country’s popular political reality show be devoted to the primary responsibility of the presidency: foreign policy. The results of the aptly-named “Commander-in-Chief” debate broadcast on CBS did not revolutionize the race. Mitt Romney is still in the strongest position of any of the candidates. A good sense of humor can’t revive Rick Perry’s hopes and strong performances from Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann won’t get them into contention. But it did illustrate that Herman Cain’s weaknesses can’t be disguised forever by his unflappable temperament.

The debate illustrated again that the divide in the GOP presidential field on foreign policy is between those who know what they are talking about and those who don’t. A clear grasp of war and peace issues won’t transform Rick Santorum into a first tier candidate from an also-ran. But his lack of command of the issues does make it difficult, if not impossible, for Herman Cain to put forward a plausible argument for himself as a potential president.

This was Cain’s most subdued performance yet in any of these debates and the first time he went the whole evening without letting loose with one of his standard crowd-pleasing one-liners. While it must be admitted that he’s come a long way from the comical ignorance he displayed on this topic when he began his campaign, he still came across as the weakest of all the contenders. His supporters may pretend this isn’t a big deal, but most voters understand that he is on thin ice when it comes to war and peace issues. Coming as it did in the week when his candidacy was assailed by sexual harassment charges, this was a case of very bad timing that may help speed his descent in the polls.

Romney emerged from the evening again looking good because of his ability to put forward a coherent critique of Obama’s foreign policy and a vision for his own presidency. Newt Gingrich illustrated why these debates have been so good for him. His professorial tone was perfect for this discussion, and while his boomlet may be a function of the fact that few in the press have taken him seriously since his campaign began so disastrously back in the spring,, tonight’s debate won’t hurt his numbers.

As for Rick Perry, one can’t help but think that if he were this animated and informed back in the first debates in which he appeared back in September, his campaign might not be on life support. But there’s no turning back the hands of time, and even if the Texas governor deserves credit for a fairly good performance tonight (though he undermined his dwindling band of pro-Israel backers with comments about foreign aid) and for having a sense of humor about his infamous gaffe in Wednesday’s debate, he’s still dead in the water.

As for Bachmann and Santorum, both showed that they knew what they were talking about even if they were struggling for the attention of the moderators as they have for months. John Huntsman and Ron Paul may have been articulate but they also showed that their isolationist stance would get a better response in a different political party.

With only seven weeks to go before the first votes begin to be counted, tonight’s GOP debate did nothing to alter the basic political equation of the race. The field is crowded with conservatives who have failed to emerge from the pack. While Cain still has strong support and Gingrich’s numbers are rising, neither has enough backing or a strong enough rationale for their presidential hopes to seize control of the race. As far as Perry’s candidacy is concerned, he’s still a dead man walking. Santorum and Bachmann are too far behind to make an impact. Huntsman and Paul are irrelevant.

That leaves Mitt Romney; the most polished and well-rounded of any of them, as the most likely nominee of the bunch. Conservatives may still be reluctant to back him, but this debate, like the last few, have done nothing to alter the basic math of the race. With Cain falling back in the pack, Romney remains the candidate to beat.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends.

Some clear winners and losers. Romney, Gingirch, Santorum and Bachmann all sound strong. Perry makes a good impression considering his disastrous performance earlier in the week. Cain sounds weak and uncertain. This is his weakest performance yet. No surprise since it’s something he doesn’t know that much about. Huntsman and Paul are out of step and irrelevant.

Again, the bottom line is that Romney is still in the catbird seat for the nomination.

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Interesting that the European economic crisis is just an afterthought in this debate.

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The debate ends.

Some clear winners and losers. Romney, Gingirch, Santorum and Bachmann all sound strong. Perry makes a good impression considering his disastrous performance earlier in the week. Cain sounds weak and uncertain. This is his weakest performance yet. No surprise since it’s something he doesn’t know that much about. Huntsman and Paul are out of step and irrelevant.

Again, the bottom line is that Romney is still in the catbird seat for the nomination.

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Interesting that the European economic crisis is just an afterthought in this debate.

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Gingrich is right. The trouble started when Frank Church made the CIA join the Boy Scouts back in the 1970s.

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Michele Bachmann favorably compares China’s system to the legacy of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state. Critique of “Great Society” makes sense. Favorable comparison with Chinese doesn’t.

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Okay, we get it. All the Republicans are against debt.

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Jim DeMint isn’t interested in foreign policy so he turns the discussion back to federal spending. Romney dives in with his line about cutting the share of the fed to 20 from 25 percent of the economy.

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Lindsay Graham covers the same ground in his question that’s been previously discussed. Same divide between Ron Paul and the rest of the field on fighting the war on terror. Rick Perry: “This is war!”

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Romney points out that Syria is, along with Hezbollah and Hamas, is Iran’s only ally and can’t be ignored.

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Gingrich also laments Mubarak’s being dumped but then rightly says Obama’s handling of Syria and Assad has been far too gentle.

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Cain says Obama has mishandled Arab Spring. True, but then blames him for backing the opposition because Muslim Brotherhood was involved. Does he think we should have kept backing Mubarak?

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Bachmann says the military can save money on procurement and modernization of health care. Avoids the question of whether military spending will go up or down. She switches argument to Obamacare.

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The debate shifts to cbsnews.com and nationaljournal.com.

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Perry says even Israel should start the year at zero with its aid application but says he’s sure they’ll get substantial aid.

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Huntsman again tries to play the wise man on China. But the only constituency he pleases with this line are the people he dealt within Beijing when he was ambassador.

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Romney says Chinese have to play by the rules. Perry says that the Communists in Beijing will wind up on the dust heap of history if they don’t change.

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Scott Pelley joins the debate claiming death warrant for American al Qaeda member is outside the law. Gingrich reads him a lecture rightly pointing out that waging war on the US puts you outside the law.

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Romney repeats his “American century” slogan. Says Obama thinks America is just another nation.

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Huntsman’s comments on torture echo Obama’s 2008 campaign about diminishing US influence. So that’s why he was so comfortable serving in that administration.

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Cain says he’s for water-boarding. So does Bachmann. Bachmann: Obama’s letting the ACLU run the CIA. It’s as though we decided we want to lose the war on terror. She forgets Obama doesn’t think there is a war on terror.

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Perry is less impressive when he says being commander in chief of the Texas National Guard qualifies him to be president. Not really, Rick.

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Great joke about the Dept. of Energy from Perry. Say what you will about him, he’s got a good sense of humor.

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Caine says he’ll know that he’s right when he makes decision. Says he’ll select the advice of the adviser that makes the most sense. In other words, he’ll guess.

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Gingrich says calling Romney a competent manager is “an enormous compliment” when compared to Obama.

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Santorum agrees with Bachmann that relationship with Pakistan is essential. They may be trailing in the polls but both of them understand this issue. The Pakistanis may be terrible but with nukes they’re too important to cut loose.

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Gingrich agrees about no aid to Pakistan and then rightly points out that religious persecution of Christians in Egypt should impact aid to that country.

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Bachmann gets credit for a strong answer on Pakistan, remembering that they have nukes. Then shifts to the question of Iran and Obama’s weakness. Says Obama stands with Occupy Wall Street but not with Israel.

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Perry comes up with another good answer. This time on aid to Pakistan.

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Cain says he’s not sure whether Pakistan is a friend or foe. The one instance where his standard “I don’t know” is the right one.

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R0mney again hits Obama hard on Afghanistan. Gingrich deserves points for saying that Afghanistan is the least important country in the region.

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Huntsman sounds a McGovernesque note on Afghanistan. He’s sticking to his isolationist position but he’s still running in the wrong party.

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Santorum says victory is necessary in Afghanistan. Bachmann rightly criticizes Obama’s withdrawal schedule.

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Santorum says more sanctions on Iran are too late. Unless we work with Israel, the next explosion we’ll here in Iran will be a nuclear blast.

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Rick Perry insists on an Iran comment and its a good one. He says the U.S. should sanction transactions with Iran’s central bank. Excellent point and shows that he may forget a lot of stuff but he’s actually no dummy on foreign policy.

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Gingrich: Obama “skipped all the ways to be smart” about Iran.

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Good answer from Romney about Obama’s history of failure on Iran including pointless appeasement of Russia. He says if we re-elect Obama, Iran will go nuclear, says he’ll stop them. War is only the answer if all else fails since it is “unacceptable” for Iran to get a nuclear weapon.

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Herman Cain leads off with a good answer about helping the Iranian opposition. But then he goes back to energy independence as the answer. Good idea but it won’t influence the Iranians in the short term. Shows his stubbornness in sticking with wrong answers even when he’s been informed that it’s foolish.

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The CBS lead-in shows highlights from many of the previous debates. Good idea since it shows that this is really just the latest episode in the nation’s favorite political reality show.

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Debate Preview: The Republican Divide on Foreign Policy

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina may be just the latest episode in America’s favorite political reality show but it also give us a rare opportunity to hear the candidates try to articulate their positions on foreign policy. The results should be interesting even if not particularly insightful.

When it comes to foreign policy — which, despite our understandable emphasis on economics during what may turn out to be a double-dip recession, remains a president’s first and most important area of responsibility — there are two basic divides among the GOP hopefuls. In terms of policy, all but two, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, seek to associate themselves with the notion of American strength and the need to fight our enemies abroad though some seem more amenable at times to cutbacks in the Pentagon budget. But the even greater divide is the one between the candidates who can put forward a coherent worldview on war and peace issues and those who can’t.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina may be just the latest episode in America’s favorite political reality show but it also give us a rare opportunity to hear the candidates try to articulate their positions on foreign policy. The results should be interesting even if not particularly insightful.

When it comes to foreign policy — which, despite our understandable emphasis on economics during what may turn out to be a double-dip recession, remains a president’s first and most important area of responsibility — there are two basic divides among the GOP hopefuls. In terms of policy, all but two, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, seek to associate themselves with the notion of American strength and the need to fight our enemies abroad though some seem more amenable at times to cutbacks in the Pentagon budget. But the even greater divide is the one between the candidates who can put forward a coherent worldview on war and peace issues and those who can’t.

As far as the first divide, though Huntsman doesn’t share Paul’s abhorrence of his country’s role in the world, he has carved a unique role in the campaign as a man who is running in large measure on his expertise in world affairs (a resume item secured by his service as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China) so as to defend an isolationist agenda. Huntsman favors a bug out of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a general retrenchment of American forces that would guarantee victory for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Paul’s brand of libertarianism isn’t just opposed to the use of force abroad, he has gone off the deep end on this issue to the point where he has acted as an apologist for the Iranians and other Islamists who fight the United States. But both are far out of the Republican mainstream.

Though the rest of the field has at times flirted with withdrawal from Afghanistan and cutbacks in military spending, they each see themselves as falling roughly in the broad range of conservatives and Republicans in the Ronald Reagan/George W. Bush mode of defenders of a strong America.

As to the second divide, the difference between those who know what they are talking about in terms of foreign policy and those who don’t is just as stark if not more so.

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have always been able to speak knowledgeably about such issues. Both Gingrich and Santorum often spoke out on foreign affairs during their service on Capitol Hill, especially in terms of support for Israel. In particular, Santorum was an early and vocal advocate for action on the threat from Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Romney has never been known for his interest in this realm but his recent foreign policy speech put forward an intelligent vision of the need for a strong America, a reinvigorated alliance with Israel and a willingness to recognize the impending threat from China.

Rick Perry is a relative newcomer to foreign policy but in this case he has tended to stick with what he knows and believes. That is to say the Texan has a sophisticated view of energy policy and is a passionate evangelical supporter of the State of Israel.

Michelle Bachmann is another strong evangelical backer of Israel but after that her interest as well as her knowledge seems to somewhat sketchy. She was a fervent opponent of the Libyan intervention and has, at times, flirted with an isolationist position on Afghanistan.

As for Herman Cain, much has been written about his abysmal ignorance of foreign affairs coming into the campaign. He has tried to correct it with a trip to Israel but the lack of sophistication here is appalling. So, too, is the arrogance that his refusal to even pretend that he has even a smattering of knowledge about the world. His notion of relying on advisors rather than any expertise or insight of his own is an invitation to disaster.

As for the debate itself, it will be fascinating to see if the candidates can put forward anything more than stock answers. All, except for Paul, will likely emphasize support for Israel and disdain for bailing out bankrupt Europeans. Other than Paul, all will also try to sound tough on Iran.

But, as is always the case with these debates, the real drama will be provided not so much by the substance as by the personalities and the potential for pratfalls. Nevertheless, the public would be wise to listen carefully to the candidates’ positions. If one of these people is elected president their stands on foreign policy will have a much more direct impact on the world than their tax plans.

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