The Republican field is not heavy on foreign policy expertise. The only candidate with significant international experience, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is a not a serious competitor. Given President Bush’s failed and unpopular foreign policy and President Obama’s comparative success—killing Osama bin Laden and withdrawing from Iraq, two things Bush couldn’t or wouldn’t do—Republicans don’t like to talk about foreign policy very much.
But on Tuesday night CNN co-hosted a national security debate with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. There were a few gaffes and troubling statements, but also a few surprising moments of sanity and intellectual honesty. The highlights are below.
Most insightful point: Texas Governor Rick Perry has promised to start funding for foreign aid for all countries at zero and only build it back up for those who demonstrate their loyalty to us. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) articulated how this policy is unwise and inhumane, and ultimately how it is also not fiscally conservative.
“I hear people up here talking abut zeroing out foreign aid and humanitarian aid in particular. I think that’s absolutely the wrong course. You want to—you want to spend more money on the military, zero out all the things we do to develop relationships around the world and we will spend a lot more money on the military.”
Most absurdly irrelevant answer: Rick Perry’s answer to a question about whether the Transportation Security Administration’s policy of conducting pat downs of people flying is a violation of civil liberties or necessary to protect national security. Perry ignored the actual question and, upon hearing the abbreviation “TSA” his memorized TSA talking point was triggered. He immediately trotted out a favored conservative hobbyhorse: privatization. “Governor Perry, you proposed legislation that would criminalize these TSA pat-downs under certain circumstances,” said moderator Wolf Blitzer. “Explain what you have in mind.”
“Well, here’s what I would do with the TSA,” Perry replied. “I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions.”
Moment when it became most apparent that Herman Cain has no idea what he’s talking about: here’s part of Cain’s answer on whether racial profiling in airport security is appropriate:
“I want to make sure that I get to the Patriot Act. So I believe we can do a whole better. The answer, I believe, also may be privatization. Now, relative to the Patriot Act, if there are some areas of the Patriot Act that we need to refine, I’m all for that. But I do not believe we ought to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Moment when it became most apparent that Herman Cain has no idea what he’s talking about, part two: Sorry, it’s a tie. Herman Cain has developed the habit of masking his lack of foreign policy knowledge or ideas by saying that he will take a business-like approach to foreign policy decisions: assess all the information, go forward on a mission if the cost-benefit ratio makes sense. The only problem? When someone proposes a terrible, dangerous idea, and you don’t identify it as such but just stick to your businessman shtick, it doesn’t answer the question at all. Case in point: Cain was asked if he would support an Israeli attack on Iran. Here’s his answer: