Live blogging the GOP foreign policy/national security debate


Brought to you from the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in DC by CNN, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

National security is about legacy, CNN suggests in montage. Reagan "for better" (the fall of the Soviet empire), Carter for worse (the Iran hostage rescue debacle.)

GW Bush opens Sept. 11, Obama closes it, CNN suggests, with killing of Osama bin Laden.

Nice ESPN-style score card opening with quote grabs from the candidates. (8:05)

The candidates walk on.

Gingrich gets boos???

Romney and Cain get major applause. Rick Perry not so much. (8:07)


Jersey Boy sings the national anthem — and Chris Christie isn’t even a contender! But his throwback look – skinny suit and tie, 60s coif — somehow fits. (8:09).


Ron Paul condenses his outlook into a pithy sentence — needless wars bleed the country; Rick Perry introduces his wife. Romney attacks Obama, "taking us into a perilous course."

Herbert Cain — "our security has indeed been downgraded." Doesn’t explain how.

Michele Bachmann (and Newt Gingrich) cite family ties to military service. Bachmann says Happy Thanksgiving to the troops.

Jon Huntsman mentions his kids, two in the Navy.

Best intros: Paul for pithiness, Bachmann for remembering it’s not just about the eight folks on stage. (8:14).

Ed Meese asks about expanding police investigative powers. Gingrich says innocent until proven guilty is good for criminal investigation, but we need to "protect ourselves" against those who would "take out an entire city.."

Ron Paul disagrees. Notes Timothy McVeigh was caught, tried under standard criminal law.

Paul says we can have security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights. Big applause.

Gingrich gets bigger applause by positing that Timothy McVeigh succeeded.

Bachmann: we’re in a war, with different bad actors. Notes changes in technology. Phones have gone from wireld to wireless.

I’m not so sure the ACLU would agree with Bachmann that Obama has handed over interrogation to them. Gitmo still open, targeted killings are on.

Huntsman: America has a democracy brand to protect, but agencies must share info. (Allusion to the Church commission-led changes from back in the 1970s, which severely restricted domestic surveillance by spy agencies.)

Mitt Romney: There’s crime and then there’s war. "There’s a different body of law that relates to war."

Emerging meme: Romney, Gingrich argue that "different kinds of law"  hold. How do you practically tease apart these constitutional protections? No answers.

Perry’s first national security priority: Get rid of the Transportation Security Administration unions.

Perry says Obama has failed on gathering foreign intelligence. How, he doesn’t say.

Santorum has first Israel mention: he backs profiling to find terrorists, says it works for Israel. (8:24)

Santorum cites Lincoln’s lifting of habeas.  I don’t think historians consider that as Lincoln’s better legacy.

"Muslims would be someone you’d look at" Santorum says of profiling as well as "younger males."

Paul counters, everyone says we are at war against "terrorism," but terrorism is a tactic. McVeigh couldn’t have been profiled, Paul contends. (But Mcveigh was young, disgruntled, ex-military — ripe for profile. no?)

Cain on Patriot Act: refine it, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. "We should use evrey means possible to kill (terrorists) first."

Cain keeps calling Wolf Blitzer "Blitz." "Blitz" seems to like! Calls Cain "Cain." (8:29)

Bachmann has a nuanced foreign policy wonk take on  Pakistan. It’s "too nuclear to fail."

Perry: Pakistan can’t be trusted. Don’t write blank checks,  get companies to go in and build up countries — has he not heard of USAID and its subcontractors? Not a new idea.

Perry wants to stop aid recipients from "deciding how the money will be spent." But which country does? Bachmann notes that the US doesn’t write "blank checks"  — it gets intel from Pakistan. (8:35) 

Gingrich, after Blitzer allows him to speak as long as he wants: "I’m happy to play by the rules, I just want to know what they are." Attacking the media even when the media is nice to him. (8:43)

Santorum: The Huntsman- Obama approach to drawing down in Afganistan is playing politics, feeding into what Islamists say: Wait out America, politics will interfere.

Oliver Willis (@owillis) Tweets in response: "shorter santorum: obama totally caving to radical islam, like that time where he ordered obl shot in the face" 

Mike Gonzales from Heritage: If Israel attacks Iran to keep it from getting nukes, would you help Israel?

Cain: "I would first make sure they hve a credible plan for success. Clarity of mission, clarity of success." Iran is mountanous, there are 40 locations where nukes are possibly hid. "If Israel had a credible plan I would support Israel, yes," and depending on how strong the plan was, would join the mission.

Paul: "I wouldn’t do that," notes that ex Mossad chief Meir Dagan said it was a "stupid idea." Paul does not believe Israel would attack Iran, but if it did, Israel should deal with the consequences. 

Cain responds: "If the mission and the plan were clear that it should succeed, but I pointed out that is highly unlikely" because of the terrain.

Dani Pletka at AEI: Are there any sanctions that could stop Iran from getting a weapon?

Perry: Sanction the Iranian Central Bank. (Obama administration yesterday effectively warned it may be sanctioned, a step shy of actually sanctioning it.)

"This president refuses to do that," he says. (Not really, considering yesterday’s announcement.) 

(Also: When candidates say "sanctions," in this case is secondary and tertiary sanctions, against other entities that deal with Iran; US is already sanctioning CBI.)

Gingrich flatters Blitzer by saying he "put his finger on it" by redirecting the Iran discussion to energy, and the need to supplant the need for Iranian oil.

"If we were serious we could break the Iranian regime in a year" by embargoing the sale of refined oil and sabotaging a plant, Gingrich suggests.

This is the second debate in which Gingrich openly speaks of actions the United States would likely not want attached to its fingerprints; last time he talked about offing nuclear scientists.

Bachmann: Iran wants to strike Israel. Does it? What she cites  conflates Ahmadinejad wishes with actual plans (He keeps imagining a world without Israel, but has yet to explicitly threaten an Iranian role in its removal.). Not that Ahmadinejad’s wishful thinking is nothing, but it’s not an actual direct threat.

Paul wants to end development assistance, export capitalist ideas.

Romney: "What we’re talking about is a failure to lead with strength." Obama "friendly to our foes, disrespectful to our friends."

"The right course for Israel is to care about Israel.

"My first foreign trip will be to Israel to show we care about them." (Obama went to Cairo to deliver speech to Muslim world five months after inauguration, has yet to visit Israel as president.)

Romney also wants to indict Ahmadinejad for genocide.

Gingrich would only bomb Iran if it was a last resort and would result in regime change. (How does one guarantee that?) He would back Israel in a conventional war, because otherwise he thinks Israel will nuke Iran, if it feels abandoned.

I have never heard of any Israeli leader who has contemplated nuclear weapons use on Iran or anywhere else. Not sure what he’s talking about. Israel’s reported strategy is to consider conventional weapons to keep Iran from getting nukes. Moreover, its repeated pledge is never to be the first to use nukes. (9:07)

Perry: Hezbollah and Hamas are active in Mexico. Hamas? And, actually, Hezbollah? We know Hezbollah has ambitions in Mexico, but is there evidence of actual operations? (9:27)

After a long immigration break it’s back to the Middle East.

David Addington, Robin to Dick Cheney’s Batman, is the first questioner to get applause. What would you do to protect friendly neighbors from Syria?

Cain: rejects Perry’s no-fly zone idea (cited by Blitzer, quoting from an earlier interview with Perry.). Work with allies, Cain says. (But a no fly zone counts as working with allies, no?)

Perry: No-fly zone is one of many possible sanctions, overt or covert. Gives military cover to disband. If we’re "serious about Iran" he says, "we have to be serious about Syria," because it is an Iran proxy. (9:47)

Question to Huntsman: Has the Arab Spring gone sour?

"History will tell," and then he segues right into what he wants to talk about.

But what does Huntsman want to talk about? "We need to remind the world what it means to be a friend of the United States," referring to Syrian threat to israel. Sanctions won’t work on Iran, he says, and they are determined to get a weapon. Don’t jump int too soon, he says of Iran. "Our interest in the Midcdle Wast is israel" and not letting Iran get nukes.

But what exactly would he do?

Paul: No-fly zone over Syria would be an act of war.

Romney: President Obama feels "America is another nation with a flag." Romney wants an American century as opposed to Obama’s "global century." Obama "apologizes" for America, Romney says. (Obama campaign strongly disputes this, and fact checkers have given the Romney claim low marks.)

Anyway, Romney does not back no-fly zone — Syria is not bombing its people. He backs sanctions, covert action. Good line: "Syria has 5,000 tanks, they need a no-drive zone, not a no-fly zone."

Perry: "if we’re going to be serious about saving Israel, we have to be serious about Syria and Iran."

Saving Israel? Whoa.

Biggest worries — what keeps ’em awake at night?

Santorum: Biggest concern is about spread of socialism.

He continues:  "Maybe my first trip I would take to Israel, but my second trip and third and fourth would be to South America."

Paul: Biggest worry — more foreign wars.

Perry: China or as he emphatically puts it, "Communist China."

Romney: Longterm, he agrees with Perry — China. Immediately, it’s Iran getting nuclear, but props too to Santorum for mentioning Latin America. Notes Hezbollah presence in Venezuela (which, as opposed to claims about Mexico, has been substantiated.)

Cain: Cyber attacks.

Gingrich: Nuke attack, electromagentic pulse attack, cyber attack on American city.

Bachmann: Obama is giving the "peace in Iraq" away. Shu?

Huntsman: Biggest problem is at home — joblessness.

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