Monday, November 14, 2011

Recapping The Republicans Foreign Policy Faceoff

The Republican presidential candidates had a debate on Saturday dedicated exclusively to foreign policy. The fact that there even was a debate may come as some surprise to you since the event seemed to slip rather unnoticed into the political discourse – note to Republicans: this is the downside in having two or three debates a week, after awhile they just become part of the pop culture background noise of our media-soaked society.  I have to admit, after being initially interested in seeing what the field had to say, I forgot the debate was on and only caught a portion of it.  Foreign Policy, though, did a good job of recapping the night here and here, and ran the candidates' statements through their fact-checker (surprise, some were less than truthful/accurate).

I did see enough of the evening's festivities to form a few opinions.  The first is disappointment – along with seeming to think this was still 1981 and peppering their comments with references to the “free world”, at least half the field never seemed to rise above the standard political posturing one would expect from their various campaigns.  Mitt Romney insisted that Iran would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon during his presidency, even though the nuclear genie is largely out of the bottle by this point with Iran; it is probably safe to say that Iran has gained enough knowledge to construct a working nuclear bomb and that nothing short of a full-scale invasion/occupation could stop Iran from getting such a device if they really wanted it.  Candidates insisted that the US needs to stand solidly with Israel, and about half the field also believed that the technique of waterboarding did not qualify as torture, though their statements on this point – particularly Herman Cain's - came off as the phony swagger of a schoolyard tough guy who had never actually taken a punch. 

For me, two candidates stood out.  One was Ron Paul who, frankly, for the first time came off to me as a reasonable candidate with realistic positions and not a past-his-prime political hack with an odd fetish for the Federal Reserve.  The other was former governor, former ambassador Jon Huntsman.  Unlike most of the others, Huntsman not only said that he considered waterboarding torture, but then gave a thoughtful discourse on how engaging in practices like waterboarding diminished the United States in the eyes of people around the world who look to the US for inspiration and as a beacon of democracy and freedom.  While I watched, Huntsman also gave an insightful answer into US-Chinese relations, while subtly pointing out Romney's fundamental lack of understanding on how either the World Trade Organization and global currency markets work (kind of bad for a candidate who touts his experience as a businessman as one of his major qualifications for the presidency).
Huntsman looked like a man ready to be Commander-in-Chief, while the others simply repeated talking points and threw rhetorical red meat to their base constituencies.  That Huntsman is languishing in the low single digits in the polls perhaps says all that needs to be said about the sad state of this nominating process...  
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