Having watched the November 22nd Republican foreign policy debate cosponsored by CNN, the Heritage Foundation, and the AEI, I would like to add my two cents to the discourse about how the candidates did and whether the debate was good or bad.
For me, the debate was deeply disappointing. It was a joke. For starters, Wolf Blitzer wasted 15 minutes on useless introductions – 15 minutes that could’ve been used for policy questions. Moreover, CNN invited Jon Huntsman to this debate, even though 1) he’s a Democrat masquerading as a Republican; 2) he does not poll higher than 3% in any recent poll and is therefore an irrelevant candidate. If that were not bad enough, Paul and Huntsman spoke like far-left Democrats on defense and foreign policy issues.
If that were not bad enough, there were many important issues that were not covered at all. Not one question or even word about Russia, the disastrous New START treaty, North Korea, the Pacific Rim and America’s treaty allies there, or India. Not one question about China, which was mentioned only a few times and only got serious attention thanks to Rick Perry, and not one question about missile defense or Europe. Marc Thiessen promised that this debate would be much better than the CBS “Commander-in-Chief Debate”. As it turned out, it was much worse.
As it turned out, at least 3 of the 9 candidates support the defense cuts the sequester would make and are willing to make further defense cuts on top of that.
Newt Gingrich refused to say that he would say that “national security is so important that further defense cuts are unacceptable” (when asked to do so by Allison Accosta Fraser of the HF), claiming that wasteful spending and long weapon production times are excuses for further defense cuts on top of all the cuts already administered. Remember this is the same Newt Gingrich who, together with a Republican-controlled Congress, rubber-stamped Clinton’s disastrous defense cuts.
Jon Huntsman said that if the budget is to be balanced, “there can be no sacred cows and the Defense Department must be on the table, and if we can’t find savings in a $650 bn DOD budget, we’re not looking closely enough”, as if the DOD was someone’s sacred cow, as if it had been off the table until now, and as if no cuts had been made to, or scheduled to be made to, the defense budget. He further claimed that foreign policy and defense spending must be subordinated to economic policy, that the only capability is needed is counterterrorist capability, and that “defense spending needs to be matched to where we find ourselves” – a codename for further massive defense cuts.
Huntsman was lying, as usual. (And this guy is considered a foreign policy expert superior to all others on this issue? Why? Because he was the implementer of Obama’s policy of appeasement towards China?) Here’s some news for you, Governor. Defense has ALWAYS been on the table – during the Bush era and during the Obama years. ALL OF THE TIME. It has never been off the table. The idea that defense spending should be treated as if it were just another line item in the federal budget, which you’re promoting, is wrong and morally repugnant. The same can be said about the idea that defense spending should be cut equally along with everything else, which you’re also promoting.
And contrary to your false claim, defense is not anyone’s sacred cow. It is the #1 Constitutional duty of the federal government, not someone’s sacred cow. It deserves full funding, regardless of America’s deficit problems. For a supposed foreign policy expert who swore an oath to protect the Constitution as US Ambassador, and who was debating this issue in Constitution Hall, ignorance on this issue is disqualifying.
And as for your false claim that the US can’t find savings in the allegedly-$650-bn-DOD-budget (it’s actually $630 bn), the DOD has undergone 5 defense cuts already and it’s now undergoing a sixth round. Since President Obama took office, it has had to find large savings 4 times: in 2009, 2010, January 2011 (under Gates’ efficiencies initiative), and April 2011 (under the CR). Now, under the debt ceiling deal, it has to find savings of $465 bn plus another $600 bn, a total of $1.065 TRILLION over a decade. To claim that the DOD can’t find any large-scale savings in its budget is ridiculous. It’s a blatant lie.
Ron Paul claimed that even under the sequester there will be no real cuts to defense spending, only cuts to the rate of growth of defense spending. Ron Paul LIED. Cuts to the defense budget WILL happen, in real terms, WITH or WITHOUT the sequester. And those will be REAL CUTS, not just cuts to defense spending growth. With or without the sequester, the defense budget will see ZERO GROWTH and REAL TERM CUTS over the next decade. Without the sequester, defense will be cut by $13-17 bn IN REAL TERMS in FY2012 and further cuts down the road. With the sequester, the cuts will be even deeper.
Here’s my assessment of how the candidates did:
Jon Huntsman did awfully badly. Not only did he repeatedly lie about defense spending, not only did he endorse further defense cuts, not only does he advocate further appeasement of China, he also doesn’t know that unilateral American and European sanctions CAN do serious harm to Iran: for example, sanctioning the Iranian central bank and adding Hezbollah (Iran’s chief proxy in the Middle East) to the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, which, by the admission of Hezbollah’s leader, would dry up that organization’s funds. So Huntsman deserves a resounding F.
Ron Paul also did awfully badly. By denying that the sequester will make any real cuts to defense spending and any real damage to the military, by endorsing appeasement towards evil regimes, and by treating terrorism as a crime, Paul proved that he should not even be allowed within 1000 miles of the White House, let alone elected President. A resounding F.
Newt Gingrich refused to pledge to reverse the defense cuts that the sequester would make and refused to rule out further defense cuts on top of that. He also didn’t promise to do anything substantive about the Iranian nuclear program (weaning America off Middle Eastern oil will have no impact on Iran, from whom the US doesn’t buy oil, and will take decades to accomplish in any event), and clearly doesn’t understand that any attack on Iran whose aim would be regime change would have to be a combined air-ground attack like the invasion of Iraq, a scenario that no presidential candidate should even contemplate. He deserves a D-.
Michele Bachmann did well during this (and the previous) debate. Armed with the information she gets as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, she answered questions well, and rightly attacked Gingrich for his amnesty plan. I don’t like the fact that she previously accepted defense cuts in principle, but she did not say that this time around, so she has to receive, at minimum, a B+.
Rick Santorum answered those few questions that he was asked ably and forcefully, but he doesn’t seem to understand that foreign aid is an utter waste of money, which recipient countries usually squander on purposes the US opposes. Still, difference of opinion is not the same as being utterly wrong like Huntsman was, so Santorum gets a B+ from me, and I’m stingy.
Herman Cain did better than during the previous debate, but still, he offered few specifics on any subject. He did not even try to erase the impression that foreign policy is not his strong suit. Sadly, I can give him no more than a D.
Mitt Romney did very well. He has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about foreign and defense issues, and is clearly committed to a strong defense and a muscular foreign policy. He rightly schooled Ron Paul about the defense cuts the sequester will make and Obama’s previous defense cuts (albeit he could’ve pointed out that Ron Paul’s claim that the sequester will make no real-term cuts to defense spending is a blatant lie), and answered his other questions well. I’d give him an A.
Rick Perry did better than during any previous debate. He sounded more confident and more forceful than ever before, knew his stuff, didn’t have any brain freeze, and condemned the sequester’s defense cuts – and Obama’s policy of holding the US military hostage – in the starkest possible terms. He even called on Obama’s Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, to resign in protest against these massive defense cuts “if he’s a man of honor.” (Panetta has repeatedly warned that these cuts would be akin to “shooting ourselves in the head” and “a doomsday scenario”, but recently, he has weakened under President Obama’s enormous pressure, and now says that members of Congress should not introduce any legislation to nix the sequester or spare the DOD from it, and should instead cut spending by an equal amount ($600 bn) as a substitute for defense cuts.) When asked what he believes is the biggest threat to America’s national security, he said it’s cyber warfare, which is right because this is currently America’s biggest weakness by far, which America’s enemies (most notoriously China) are eagerly exploiting. He was confident, forceful, and at times (rightly) impassioned. He deserves an A, or at least a B+.
I don’t think there was any clear winner of this debate, but several candidates performed very well: Perry, Romney, Santorum, and Bachmann.