The eight leading GOP presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina on Saturday night to discuss foreign policy. Judging by my Twitter feed and early news coverage, the ninety-minute exchange—actually, sixty minutes in most of the country if you Tivo’ed the debate or didn’t have an internet connection handy—was pretty much a wash. No candidate sparkled, and no candidate flopped. We did learn a few things. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich say they would be willing to go to war to keep Iran non-nuclear. By contrast, Herman Cain “would not entertain military opposition” to Tehran. Rick Perry proposes cutting off all aid to Pakistan because "I don’t trust ’em"; Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum think we don’t have any choice but to continue supporting Pakistan. Finally, Cain and Bachmann both support waterboarding suspected terrorists; Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman don’t. President Obama broke the silence he has maintained thus far on the GOP debates to say that his rivals are “wrong” for endorsing waterboarding.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Politico, and Slate have all weighed in with their after-action reports on the debate. Dan Drezner, being a professor and all, offers up the grades he would give each of the candidates.
In advance of the debate, the National Journal compiled dossiers on the foreign policy positions taken by all the major candidates: Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Huntsman, Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum.
Huntsman took aim at Perry’s and Gingrich’s proposal to apply zero-based budgeting to foreign aid, telling “Face the Nation” that it is “sound bite campaigning.” Huntsman favors a more nuanced approach:
The fact of the matter is we’re broke as a country and we’re going to have to look very, very carefully at foreign aid. But we also have to look at it through the prism and through the analysis of what kind of return we get on our national interests. So when you’ve got aid money that goes to Israel that’s balanced to somewhat with the Palestinian authority, that’s important for the ongoing peace process. When you have aid money that is targeted toward expanding rule of law, for example, in parts of the world that don’t have it, enhancing human rights. There are certain areas that I would argue are in America’s interests and if they’re in America’s interest we get some return on that invested dollar. And I think we have—you know, it’s fair enough to say we have got to start with a zero based budget approach but let’s also be smart enough to say that we do as people get a certain return through foreign aid. We have to carefully identify what that return is, explain it to the American people. But to say we’re just going to wish it all away I think is a political sound bite.
Bachmann defended her stance on waterboarding on “Meet the Press”:
I want to save American lives and that’s why I want the CIA to have every interrogation tool available to them…I’m on the same side as Vice President Cheney on this issue.
A new Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll concludes that Obama’s persistently low approval ratings for his handling of the economy and a growing sense that the country is on the wrong track could make him more vulnerable next year than other surveys suggest. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows that support for Cain and Perry is falling. Romney has been the beneficiary of their stumbles. He now leads the field with 32 percent support. A poll released this morning of likely GOP voters in Iowa has Cain topping the field at 20 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich at 19 percent, and Mitt Romney at 14 percent. As someone who lived in Iowa for a dozen years, I recommend taking these poll numbers with a grain a salt. It is not how many people who say from the comfort of their living room that they support you that matters. It’s how many people will go out on a frigid January night to show their support matters. And yes, it gets darn cold in Iowa.
There are just 50 days until the Iowa caucuses.