The American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, GOP Foreign Policy Debate

The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute combined to offer a brilliant GOP debate focused only on foreign policy. This debate was substantive and intelligent, a serious adult discussion. Photo: Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, November 22, 2011―The Republican presidential candidates have held many debates with terrible moderators, biased questions, and nonsense about what food and beverages they prefer eating.

They’ve been asked questions about social issues when the entire world knew their positions and privately admitted how little a president affects those issues.

Meanwhile, third world genocidal lunatics have been trying to kill us all.

Finally, America was brought a serious, adult debate where substance was served up from beginning to end.

(Full disclosure: I am neutral in the GOP primary, and will support the nominee in the general election. I am absolutely not voting for Ron Paul, John Huntsman, or the uninvited Gary Johnson in the primary. Of the remaining six candidates, I have narrowed it down to four, and remain hopelessly undecided.)

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was the moderator, and he was professional, serious, and most importantly, fair.

What made this debate the model for future debates was that most of the question were asked by people working for the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

AEI and Heritage are the epitome of organizations consisting of people who are that rare combination of intelligent, articulate, and sensible. These people don’t have the time or patience for childish drivel offered by screaming moderators babbling incoherent gibberish. These people are adults, and the questions were as praiseworthy as the discussions that their queries provoked.

The first question was asked by former Attorney General Ed Meese. He wanted to know if we should extend the Patriot Act.

Newt Gingrich favored an extension, pointing out that there is a fundamental “difference between national security and criminal law.”

Ron Paul is against the Patriot Act, and he cited Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh as a justification for using conventional law enforcement tools.

Mr. Gingrich immediately pounced, pointing out that “Timothy McVeigh succeeded. He killed a lot of Americans.”

It was a devastating line. There will be no effect regarding Ron Paul, because his supporters and detractors have entrenched positions. Yet for Gingrich, it was a powerful line that clearly helped win him praise from those willing to consider anybody but Ron Paul.

Analysis: Mr. Gingrich won the exchange because Dr. Paul had no answer. He is a physician, yet it was Mr. Gingrich offering preventative medicine.

(For those who want to flood message boards praising Dr. Paul, please do this on another Ron Paul thread. This article is debate analysis meant for those willing to consider several candidates, not those absolutely tied to one man regardless of the debates.)

Michele Bachmann pointed out that Barack Obama has “outscourced” national security “to the ACLU.”

John Huntsman is the one candidate who will not offer anything remotely resembling substance. People can disagree with where Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich stand, but they stand for something. Jon Huntsman rambles on about shining lights. He does not answer questions.

CNN politics asked a question about TSA pat-downs.

Mitt Romney said that “We can do better” than the TSA system, and that he agreed with Newt Gingrich about terrorism being an act of war rather than just crime.

Rick Perry was blunt. “Privatize the TSA and get rid of those unions.”

The discussion continued with the issue of profiling.

Rick Santorum did not equivocate. “We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb. Israel does this.” He made it clear that “Muslims would be someone we would look at,” in addition to “young males.”

Ron Paul naturally disagreed, and lamented that there were “American citizens vulnerable to assassinations.” It was an important point, and the other candidates should have challenged him.

Herman Cain was going to be under the microscope because he fares much better on economic discussions than foreign policy discussions. 9-9-9 did not come up in this debate once, because this was not the forum for it. Yet Mr. Cain was given the opportunity to agree with Mr. Santorum, and he blinked.

He called it “oversimplifying” to just target Muslim Americans. He was against throwing out the entire Patriot Act, but his attempt to straddle the difference between Santorum and Paul was a mistake. He has taken flack in the past for his comments about Muslims, and he should have stuck to his guns rather than backtrack.

Analysis: Rick Santorum won the exchange for offering a clear answer that was not effectively challenged.

Fred Kagan of AEI wanted to know if an expanded drone campaign in Pakistan would be sufficient to defeat al Qaeda.

John Huntsman babbled about term limits for Congress before eventually supporting an expanded drone campaign. Once Mr. Huntsman was done filibustering, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry had a very serious exchange about the issue.

Governor Perry wants to cut off funding to Pakistan if they do not get their act together.

Congresswoman Bachmann pointed out that Pakistan is at the “epicenter of dealing with terrorism.” She was against cutting aid because while “they lie, they do share intelligence information.” She pointed out that “the Obama policy of keeping fingers crossed is not working in Pakistan,” and that Pakistan is “too nuclear to fail.”

Governor Perry kept it crystal clear. “They can’t be trusted. I would not send them one penny.”

Congresswoman Bachmann responded “That’s highly naive. We have to maintain an American presence.”

Governor Perry replied “Quit writing blank checks.”

Congresswoman Bachmann reiterated her point. “We’re not just writing blank checks. We’re exchanging intel.”

Analysis: Michele Bachmann came across as thoughtful while Rick Perry came across as simplistic.

Israel Ortega of Libertad wanted to know if it was worth the risk to pull all of our funding given how much effort we have put in Afghanistan.

(Liberal questioners would ask how quickly we get out. Conservative questioners are the only ones that would even consider a question broaching the possibility of actually finishing the job. This was a perfect example of why Republicans should go to these types of debates where the questions are tough but not overtly hostile and biased against them.)

Mitt Romney said that “We can’t just say goodbye,” while Jon Huntsman tried to disagree without offering specifics. Only when Governor Romney forced him to offer numbers, Governor Huntsman said we should have 10 to 15 thousand troops, not 100,000. When Romney pointed out that we have to listen and take advice from out generals, Huntsman offered nonsense about how “We listened to the generals in 1967,” implying that situations almost 50 years later were remotely analogous.

Speaker Gingrich again offered a brilliant line. “We were told that the killing of Osama Bin Laden took U.S.-Pakistan relations to a new low. Well it should have.” He also said that “We should be furious,” and that we should “Tell the Pakistanis to help us or get out of the way.”

Rick Santorum again named the enemy. “We are not fighting a war on terror. We are fighting a war against Radical Islam.” He pointed out that Governor Huntsman and President Obama were both playing into the Islamists’ hands since any withdrawal would just let the Islamists wait us out.

Analysis: Gingrich gets an A but Santorum gets an A+. Romney effectively cornered Huntsman.

Another AEI questioner wanted to know if Israel attacked Iran, would we help Israel launch the attack or help in other ways.

Herman Cain again tried to straddle the middle, and again it hurt him. He would “make sure they had a plan for clarity of the mission” and a plan for “success.” If it was a “credible plan,” he would support Israel. While Mr. Cain has always been pro-Israel, it should be implied that of course we would hold off if a plan was badly presented. No leader should accept a flawed plan.

Ron Paul gave an answer that frustrated everyone not already a devoted supporter, but at least he is consistent and clear. He immediately replied “No.” Then he followed it up with a leap of faith saying “I don’t expect it to happen.” He asked “Why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of the way.”

Dr. Paul cited an unnamed retired Mossad leader who allegedly said it would be the “stupidest thing to do in the world.” Retired Israeli leaders like to talk. Those currently serving say nothing either way.

The one follow-up question that must be asked of Dr. Paul is “What if he is wrong?” He does not expect the worse case scenario, yet if he is wrong there is destruction.

Analysis: Dr. Paul offered blind faith and Mr. Cain hedged. There were no winners, but Mr. Cain was the more likely of the two to defend Israel. He gets the win by default.

A Vice President at AEI asked the question that only a debate like this would allow. He had the nerve to politely question whether sanctions were a complete waste of time and can we just blow up Iran and be done with it?

(Heavy paraphrasing on my part, yes they are, and yes we should.)

Rick Perry said that we should “sanction the Iranian central bank.”

Newt Gingrich was tougher, pointing out that we have a “massive energy surplus here.” We should also “be honest about Radical Islam as Rick Santorum said.” Mr. Gingrich is all about solutions. Whether one agrees or disagrees, at least he has them. “If we were serious we would cut off the Iranian oil supply” and “sabotage their only refinery.”

Michele Bachmann lambasted Obama. She accused him of “unilateral surrender” for bungling the Keystone Pipeline decision, giving “Iran the luxury of time,” and practicing a “doctrine of appeasement.” This stinging language of red meat may be completely true, but it did not directly answer the question.

Analysis: Mr. Gingrich won the round by offering a tougher solution than Governor Perry.

The next question came from Paul Wolfowitz. Leftists and Ron Paul supporters consider Mr. Wolfowitz the devil incarnate, seeing as he is the main “Neocon” supporter of regime change in the war against Radical Islam. Yet Mr. Wolfowitz surprised everybody by asking if we should continue to spend money globally fighting AIDS in Africa.

This led to stunning answers, as Rick Santorum is stereotyped as “not caring” while Dr. Paul is the medical professional chastising others for being too harsh. Both men threw curves.

Senator Santorum pointed out that he supported the aid while a Senator, saying that “Zeroing out foreign aid is he wrong course.” He also noted that we should “promote our values” and that we have done more “good for Africa” than anybody.

Herman Cain for the umpteenth time refused to take a stand. In the past he has been so direct and confident, and it appeared he has retreated in the face of unrelenting criticism. Some of the attacks on him have been unfair, but his decision to retreat only makes things worse.

He responded that it “depends on our priorities.” We should be “looking at the program and seeing if it has been successful.” He said that he “would like to see the results.” Again, nobody sane would support a program if they knew the results were bad. In this case, it is universally accepted that curing Aid to Africa has had positive results. This is one area where liberals and conservatives actually agree.

Dr. Paul was truly alone on this one. Even his supporters may have been taken aback at a rather cold answer. “The aid is all worthless. You accomplish nothing.” This was the only time in the debate where Dr. Paul truly started rambling. He thinks we should “export principles of sound money.” Teaching people to fish is better than giving them fish, but when people are dying of disease, that is the time to put charity ahead of tough love and self-reliance messages.

Analysis: Rick Santorum was the compassionate conservative, a role he is rarely accused of playing. He offered humanity while Ron Paul offered the ice cold equivalent of “let them die.” Perception is reality in politics, and this was the worst moment for Dr. Paul in all of the debates.

The failure of the Super Committee was discussed by Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, and neither man offered anything lofty or made a mistake on the topic. Governor Romney offered an Iran comment worthy of note, saying we should “Indict Ahmadinejad.” Nobody was asked about repealing the law on foreign assassinations and just executing him, so indictment was the best even this conservative audience could hope for.

Alison Fraser of AEI wanted to know if all cuts to the defense budget should be deemed unacceptable.

Mr. Gingrich again showed his command of policy, and replied “no,” and that everything should be on the table. Pivoting back to Iran and Israel, he pointed out that the issue is one of how serious we were, and that “the price of oil would collapse” but only “if we were serious.” He would bomb Iran “as a last resort.” He wisely pointed out that to “collaborate with Israel on a conventional campaign” is “better than Israel using nuclear weapons.”

John Huntsman did what he does. He wasted time that could have been used by people with anything of value to say. He talked about a “trust deficit” and that there were “no sacred cows.”

Analysis: Mr. Huntsman should just be quiet and give the rest of his time to Mr. Gingrich.

Wolf Blitzer wanted to know if the candidates would be willing to compromise with Democrats to avoid gridlock.

(Wolf couldn’t help himself. “Coming together” is code for Republicans caving, but even the best of debates have the obligatory question about “compromise” because it sounds warm and fuzzy and means nothing.)

Rick Perry made it clear that we expected the Super Committee to fail. He mentioned that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hated the defense cuts Obama was ensuring and that “If Panetta is an honorable man he would resign in protest.” Perry also wants to “make Congress part-time.” Both statements were red meat that would never occur.

Rick Santorum pointed out that getting 75-80% of what you want as Ronald Reagan would do and then grabbing a deal overlooks a key detail. “It all depends on what the 75-80% is.” He observed that Republicans had drawn a “line in the sand on taxes, rightfully so.” He forcefuly declared that “Obama has poisoned the well,” while Mr. Santorum himself “did welfare reform” and “stuck to my principles.”

Analysis: Governor Perry talks tough but on this one Senator Santorum got things done. Words versus deeds makes Santorum the winner.

Alex Brill of AEI said what liberals will never say, that the Super Committee savings were a drop in the bucket. He wanted specifics on what the candidates would do regarding entitlement reform?

(The Obama plan is to do nothing and blame Republicans. He has never even once offered real cuts in entitlements.)

Newt Gingirch spoke about the Social Security plan that helped Chile and was copied in Galveston, Texas.

Michele Bachmann took a different tack, pointing out that at the rate we are going with our debt, that “our money will be used to grow China’s military.”

Analysis: Mr. Gingrich gets less credit than usual on this because Herman Cain has been talking about it much longer. While Congresswoman Bachmann did not offer specific cuts, she wins the round due to offering a strong wakeup call as to why all of this even matters.

Phillip Trulluck of Heritage wanted to know if the Mexican border is a national interest threat?

Rick Perry wanted a “21st Century Monroe Doctrine” while Ron Paul channeled his inner uninvited Gary Johnson by saying we should “cancel the drug war.”

Herman Cain did not waffle on this one, saying that “terrorists do come through Mexico.”

Analysis: Cain won the round because he answered the question without offering tangents.

Nick Schulz of AEI wanted to know how we could be more welcoming to skilled immigrants.

Rick Santorum spoke about being the son of legal immmigrants.

Newt Gingrich said we should offer an “H1 Visa for every degree in math, science, and engineering so people stay here.” Mr. Gingrich then opened up a major Pandora’s box by expanding his remarks.

Now nobody in the GOP race has advocated deporting all 12 million illegals. The Lou Dobbs vote just doesn’t get traction. The GOP does not have the stomach for it. Yet the audience was surprised by how far in the other direction Gingrich went.

He pointed out that we should look at every illegal immigrant on a case by case basis. He would be fine with deporting illegals who have not been here “that long” and have no ties. Yet for those who have “been here 25 years, attend church, pay taxes,” Gingrich pointed out that we “can’t split up families.”

Michele Bachmann pounced, saying, “That is the Dream Act.”

Mitt Romney pounced on Gingrich one moment and praised him the next, splitting the difference. He said that “amnesty is a magnet,” and that it “encourages more people to come here illegally.” Yet he also said we should “staple a green card to every diploma for math and science PhDs.” This was not flip-flopping by Governor Romney since he agreed with Gingrich on one issue and disagreed on the other one.

Gingrich was not backing down. “Americans will not take kids with families and expel them” and that “the party of the family cannot adopt anti-family policies.” Gingrich emphatically stated “I will take the heat,” and “let’s enforce the law without breaking up families.”

Rick Perry got in trouble for appearing soft on illegal immigration in a previous debate, but it was just his poor choice of words implying others were “heartless.” This time he was more measured, saying we should secure the border but for “people who did one thing 25 years ago, keep families together.”

Mitt Romney accurately pointed out that “25 years is the extreme exception, not the rule.”

Analysis: Gingrich won this one big. He managed to argue the compassionate position without demonizing his opponents. He did not call them heartless. He just pointed out that his position was practical.

After several debates about nonsense, America finally had the question that should have been asked in every debate brought to the forefront. David Addington, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, asked about a no fly zone over Syria.

(He could not ask if we should just blow it up right now, but even in a conservative debate this was far better than nothing.)

Herman Cain was against a no fly zone, saying that we should “work with our allies.” He then talked about the economy, which was totally irrelevant to the question.

Rick Perry was in favor of it, saying that it “gives dissidents and the military a chance to disband.”

The candidates were asked if the Arab Spring was a good thing, which led to more discussion of Syria.

John Huntsman finally offered substance. “History will tell.” “We missed the Persian Spring.” He then addressed Syria perfectly. “We do have an American interest in Syria. It is called Israel.” “Sanctions aren’t going to work because China and Russia won’t play ball.” Huntsman pointed out that North Korea can do what it wants because it has nuclear weapons while Libya voluntarily gave up its program under pressure.

Katherine Zimmerman of AEI asked about al Qaeda in Somalia.

Ron Paul said that meddling in the world “inspires al Qaeda.” He then quoted Paul Wolfowitz inaccurately, an irony given that Dr. Paul and his supporters despise Wolfowitz. Paul mused about how we would feel of “China put a no fly zone over us.” We should try the “policy of good will.” There was no mention if this involved sprinkling fairy dust on our enemies.

Mitt Romney said that now is “not the time for a no fly zone over Syria.” Romney supported “sanctions and covert actions.” He also pointed out that Syria has “5000 tanks” and joked that we should have a “no drive zone.” He also said that “Syria is not bombing its people.”

This is actually not true unless one wants to split hairs. Assad is murdering his own people. The fact that he is shooting them with bullets rather than bombs should not matter. They are still dead.

Story Continues →

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Eric Golub

Eric Golub is a politically conservative Jewish blogger, author, public speaker, and comedian. His book trilogy is “Ideological Bigotry,” “Ideological Violence,” and  “Ideological Idiocy.” 

He is Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1990. He received his Bachelors degree from the University of Judaism, and his MBA from USC. A stockbrokerage professional since 1994, he began blogging on March 11th, 2007, the three year anniversary of the Madrid bombings and the midpoint of 9/11. He has been inflicting his world view on his unfortunate readers since then. He blogs about politics Monday through Friday, and about football and other human interest items on weekends.



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