NATCHITOCHES, La., November 13, 2011—If Ron Paul’s supporters always seem angry, they sometimes have a reason.
Last night’s GOP debate featured foreign policy. For 90 minutes the candidates fielded questions and declared their positions on Pakistan, Iran, China, nuclear arms proliferation, American forces in Afghanistan, and other matters of pressing concern. CBS aired only 60 minutes of that, which was a shame, and of those 60 minutes, Dr. Paul was given exactly …
You need not be a Paul supporter to recognize the petty injustice of that. Paul has yet to poll much above ten-percent among Republicans, but he’s polled that consistently, doing better than Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann on a regular basis and better than Rick Perry since Perry’s flameout. And yet he regularly gets relatively little media attention, and has received the least air time of any candidate who’s participated in the entire series of debates.
It was especially unfortunate that the public heard so little of Paul during this last debate. His positions are the most at variance with the rest of the pack, offering genuine alternatives to policies that the other candidates take as given. If his dovish views on American military power don’t set well with his generally hawkish party, he brings some principled arguments to the table that they’d do well to listen to.
Important among those is his rejection of torture. Perry’s view of torture seems summed up in his comment, “This is war. That is what happens in war.” Herman Cain is opposed to torture, but he doesn’t believe that water-boarding is torture, and his idea of leadership on the subject is, “I would trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.” His comments on the subject were incoherent.
The only candidate who unambiguously shares Paul’s views on torture is Huntsman, who agreed with him that water-boarding is torture and that torture is illegal and immoral. Paul’s passion on this subject is arresting when compared to the mealy-mouthed way the other candidates tap dance around it, both wanting to sound tough on security while nodding to our general belief that torture is un-American. Paul has been rightly insistent that the Bush Administration officials who wrote the memos that justified water-boarding should be required to defend their role in court.
Paul has also been opposed to the execution of U.S. citizens abroad without trial. He was strongly critical of the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been convicted of nothing and was accused primarily of fomenting anti-U.S. sentiment in the Islamic world. Mitt Romney and New Gingrich both argued that such executions are legal, Gingrich claiming that Americans who fight against us are enemy combatants who lose their rights. While Paul hasn’t claimed that fighting against America should go unpunished, he strongly insists that rights aren’t forfeited by executive decree, but by judicial process.
Rating the candidates
Paul and Huntsman, our former ambassador to China, were the two strongest participants in the debate. It should have been and was Huntsman’s best performance so far. Unfortunately for Huntsman, the race will be won and lost on economics, not foreign affairs, or he might be a serious contender. As it is, he’s as irrelevant as Bachmann, who, not incidentally according to some reports, also received very little air time.
Mitt Romney also performed well, as he has throughout the debates, but he still doesn’t arouse much passion. His answers were less forceful than they seemed at first glance. He’s mastered the use of ambiguous language, leaving himself enough wiggle room to walk away from almost every answer he gave. That’s a useful political and diplomatic skill, but it earns him few points from the GOP base.
Gingrich turned in a solid performance. He was hawkish, informed, and less condescending than he’s been in other debates. In the wake of Cain’s difficulties, Gingrich has been positioning himself as the latest non-Romney, and last night helped.
Perry wasn’t as bad as he’s been in previous debates, but he’s set the bar for himself so low that not sticking his foot in his mouth seemed brilliant. He did propose that we use zero-based budgeting in foreign aid, an idea he lifted from Jimmy Carter, and he did himself no favors when he said that the policy should apply to Israel, too. Perhaps he ended the night sucking on his toe.
Cain’s performance was poor. He didn’t have 9-9-9 to fall back on, and while he now knows that China has nuclear weapons, his knowledge of foreign affairs seemed thin. His answers were vague, and he said several times that he’d rely on the advice of experts in his administration to come up with specific policies. He should certainly listen to experts, but he gave no indication of how he’d decide which experts to listen to.
In response to a question about the growing nuclear threat from Iran, Cain’s answer was astonishing: energy independence. The end of American reliance on foreign oil might put economic pressure on Iran, but it will undoubtedly take Iran much less time to build a nuclear bomb than it will take the United States to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Cain’s answers to some questions were contradictory, and by and large he fudged.
This was by far the most interesting of the GOP debates so far (unless what interests you are gaffes and strange behavior), and the GOP field showed some depth. Cain and Perry were the weakest performers, but after Romney were in the top for air-time. It would have been very nice to hear less from them and much more from Paul.
The prize for weakest performance of the night goes to CBS.
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