I watched last night’s GOP Presidential Debate on national security hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and CNN with great interest.  It was the first debate focused solely on national security issues, and since the President is the Commander-in-Chief I think it is vitally important to know how he or she will fulfill that role.

A couple of observations.

  1. It was great to have the debate mainly by scholars who care and are knowledgeable of the issues.  From my perspective there were not any gotcha questions.
  2. Where this debate fell short is that most of the questions were directed toward the “frontrunners.”  That isn’t helpful to voters.

One of my favorite moments of the debate – the exchange between Congressman Paul and former Speaker Gingrich over the Patriot Act:

 

My opinion is that Gingrich won that exchange with the comment, “Timothy McVeigh was successful.  That’s the point.”

Thoughts on each candidate (in alphabetical order):

Michele Bachmann: Congresswoman Bachmann did well last night.  She was obviously knowledgeable of her subject material.  I thought she was particularly strong in her answer about Pakistan.  “They’re too nuclear to fail,” she said pointing out that they have six nuclear sites that are vulnerable to terrorists.  She had a good exchange with Texas Governor Rick Perry where, in my opinion, came out on top.  It is obvious she has a good grasp on that particular issue, thanks in large part, to her work on the House Intelligence Committee.

Herman Cain: Cain gave a good answer on dealing with illegal immigration, the rest was downhill from there.  He was completely out of his depth however.  His answer on whether or not he’s support Israel if they decided to attack Iran for instance – “Do they have a credible plan?”  Weak.  Regarding foreign aid to Africa, “I’d like to see the results.”  Didn’t he do any type of debate prep for this?

Newt Gingrich: He had a good exchange with Congressman Paul on the Patriot Act (see above).  He said that there is a difference between criminal law and law that applies to war.  Rebutting Paul he said, “I want to stop attacks, not prosecute them.”  He noted that he wants to preserve our right to be innocent until proven guilty, but he also wants to have every tool at our disposal.  Gingrich provided, in my opinion, a solid answer on Iran’s nuclear capability by pointing out that while they export oil they don’t have much of a capacity to refine it.  They actually have to import gasoline.  Gingrich said to cut their gasoline off and to sabotage their only refinery.  That would certainly get their attention and could be more effective than sanctions alone.

The wheels came off the bus, so to speak, when dealing with immigration.  While he wants to secure the border his support of the Dream Act and a pathway to legal immigration for some of those who are here illegally will not garner favor in the race for the nomination.  While I understand he isn’t advocating blanket amnesty and his plan for citizen boards to review cases of people who are here illegally I admit seems more practical than just saying to deport all of them.  It’s still not going to go over with the majority of the constituency he’s after and opens him up to criticism from his opponents.

Jon Huntsman: Why is he still in this race? He didn’t seem like he wanted to discuss national security as he kept bringing several of his answers back to the economy.  His answer on Afghanistan about drawing down troops to 10-15,000 with a Special Forces/Drone presence will likely be the future of military action in that region.  The question is how quick to get there.  I think the chief criticism of his position is that he wants to do it too quickly.  He spelled out the threat presence in Pakistan well which shows he has a grasp on why we should be concerned about them.

The final question about what future threat that each candidate is concerned about that isn’t receiving a lot of attention he gave a lame answer (again related to the economy) “joblessness.”  Before that he made an interesting comment about China’s potential to be a threat down the road dismissing the idea.  He acknowledged that they are a present threat, but from his perspective from having lived there and being an ambassador there said they have problems that will limit their capacity (I don’t remember his exact words).  From some studying/research I’ve done on China, many people don’t realize what damage they have caused themselves with their economic development.  While yes they have embraced capitalism, marrying it with Communism has led to some unintended consequences – massive corruption, greater poverty among the peasant class, a decline in their ability to feed themselves, and ecological problems that pose public health risks.  These will weigh heavy on the government.  If this continues they will be under tremendous pressure internally to provide reforms.  So it could eliminate them as a threat or it could make them incredibly unstable.

Ron Paul: Congressman Paul doesn’t believe in national security he believes in criminal justice.  While I’m sure his supporters cheered at his answers and some present did.  He did nothing to assuage those who have concerns with his ability to be the Commander-in-Chief and deal with present threats we have.  This is why he has a ceiling to his support.  While I agree with him that we can’t be the world’s policeman, and I am also concerned by the amount of foreign aid the U.S. doles out.  I’ve said before that I believe his position on terrorism is naïve, nor would it be proactive.  His administration would be one that would respond to successful attacks, not do what needs to be done to try to prevent them.  The position if we just leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone doesn’t mesh with history.  Ask Thomas Jefferson how leaving the Barbary Coast alone worked out.  Same mindset that was active in the Muslim world then is present today.

Rick Perry:  You know we seriously need to be serious about getting serious about Rick Perry, seriously.  I didn’t count how often Governor Perry said the phrase, “we need to get serious about…” but he said it a lot.  What does that mean?  Color me unimpressed.  Romney schooled him on Syria.  Bachmann won her exchange with him on Pakistan.  His comments on China, while I understood what he was getting at, seemed disjointed.  He did have a good answer to sanctioning Iran – to sanction the Iranian Central Bank, but that, in my opinion was his only real bright spot.  He was ok on immigration answers, but nothing that impressed me.

Mitt Romney: Regular readers of Caffeinated Thoughts know that I’m not a fan.  That said, Governor Romney did very well.  He was Presidential, and he had a good grasp on the topics at hand.  He was further to the right on immigration than Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.  He made Perry look foolish in promoting a no-fly zone over Syria.  His comments on American exceptionalism were spot on.  His provided a good rebuttal to Huntsman on Afghanistan.  His answer to the question related to future threats was good.  He agreed with Senator Rick Santorum that we need to be concerned with what is going on in Central and South America noting the increased presence of Hezbollah in the region.  There are a number of things about Romney that I’m concerned about.  His position on national security and foreign policy is not one of them.

Rick Santorum: Senator Santorum was asked perhaps three, maybe four question during the entire two-hour debate.  It was poorly moderated by Wolf Blitzer.  That said he gave solid answers as this is an area of strength for him.  Regarding the profiling question he pointed to what the Israelis do that makes sense in trying to eliminate threats – “We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb.”  He reiterated that we are at war, and reminded those watching of what Lincoln had to do during the Civil War.  He made a great point that Islamic terrorists just want to wait us out.  I think his comment about agreeing with Ron Paul fell flat, but the point he was making was good.  We are not fighting a war on terror, we’re fighting a war on radical Islam.

I feel Senator Santorum missed an opportunity when discussing foreign aid.  Instead saying he is in favor of sending aid to Africa he should have spelled out what criteria their should be and how he would work to make sure the aid was received by those it was intended for.  He did point out that it should go to those who would be our friends, so he doesn’t favor sending aid to those who are hostile to us.  He answer about the future threat in Central and South America with the growing socialist movement was excellent.

Winner: Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann – Romney had a solid debate, no gaffes, and demonstrated a good handle on the subject matter.  Bachmann didn’t “wow” me, but it was solid and she came across as capable and knowledgeable.  Also AEI and Heritage staff are winners for asking excellent questions.

Honorable Mention:  Rick Santorum – Santorum also could be in the winner’s column, but being asked so few questions makes it difficult for me to do so.  This is an area of strength for him so I’m disappointed that he was practically ignored most of the evening.

Mixed Bag: Newt Gingrich – if it weren’t the immigration segment he would have won outright.  He provided definitely more substance than Romney.  If it weren’t for the substance however I would consider him a loser for the immigration segment because his “pro-amnesty” position is all anyone will really remember.  We’ll see how this debate impacts him.

Losers: Wolf Blitzer and CNN – lousy job moderating and spreading the questions around.  Allowed too much back and forth.  Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry – none are prepared to be Commander-in-Chief in my estimation.

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