You can be forgiven if you didn’t make to the end of the CNN Tea Party Republican debate last night. But if you didn’t, or if you blinked, you missed the brief exchange on foreign policy and national security, in which Ron Paul was lustily booed by the audience for his comments on military spending and on Israel and Newt Gingrich warned ominously about cutting defense spending.
But then you missed the highlight, in which both Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman pretty much agreed with Representative Paul that it’s time to get out of Afghanistan.
When the moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN, took a question from Twitter to the field on defense spending, Gingrich tried to scare Republicans with the gravity of some threat obvious only to him, as a way of promoting spending on the Pentagon: “I think we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security. I think that we are greatly underestimating the threat to this country. And I think that the day after we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we should be reminded exactly what is at stake if a foreign terrorist gets a nuclear weapon into this country,” said Gingrich. He added: “We have failed for a decade to deal with North Korea. We have failed for a decade to deal with Iran. The developments in Egypt and Turkey are much more dangerous than anybody is looking at in this country. And I think we need, frankly, to ask for a very serious national dialogue.”
But Paul wasn’t buying it. “I’m tired of all the militarism that we are involved in,” he said. “I would say there’s a lot of room to cut on the military. …You can slash the military spending. … We’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.… There’s no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building.” That sent Rick Santorum into the stratosphere, and he blasted Paul, adding the strange remark that the terrorists want to kill us because we believe in American exceptionalism. “The jihadists…want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that,” said Santorum.
Then, an Afghan woman in the audience asked about the war.
Huntsman: We are ten years into this war.… America has given its all in Afghanistan. We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it’s to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan. We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country.
Perry: Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home.