Before watching this debate, I had a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain, somewhat negative views of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, and fairly negative views of Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.
As always, I've summarized all the answers for each candidate below, along with my gut reactions. Since the "summaries" can be quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.
- On Afghanistan, "It's time to come home... This nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We've had free elections in 2004. We've uprooted the Taliban. We've dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden." (+1)
- He clarifies that he doesn't want to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, and would keep certain kinds of troops there like "enhanced special forces," but far fewer than 100,000. So, is it time to come home or not? (-1)
- The use of waterboarding has diminished our credibility on the world stage to support "liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets." (+1)
- How do we deal with China? Don't get into a trade war, because that will just hurt us. We need to reach out to the younger generation in China who want change. (+2)
- How would he tackle debt and spending? "The Ryan Plan." He would send Medicaid, education and economic development to the states, and if Romney wants spending to be 20% of GDP, Huntsman wants it to be 19%. (+1)
- "When you have a loose nuke, you have no choice." He would send in the special forces to take care of it. (+1)
- Europe is our second-largest export partner (second to Canada) and if they go down, they're taking us with them. But he doesn't have time to say what he wants to do about it. (0)
- She says the 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan should've been 40,000 troops, then criticizes Obama for announcing a timetable for withdrawal. (0)
- She would reduce foreign aid to "many, many countries," but not to Pakistan, because Pakistan has The Bomb. Because giving money to every country that has nukes will absolutely convince Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear ambitions! (-1)
- She would use waterboarding again, because it was "very effective." Really? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. Most of the "confessions" he made were just made up stories to get the waterboarding to stop. What little actionable intelligence we did gain from Mohammed took years to get out of him and more years to lead anywhere. That doesn't sound like a "very effective" technique to me. (-2)
- She wants to get rid of the military's cost-plus system of paying for things and move to a fixed-cost system. This is simple common sense, and I wish more Republicans were willing to talk about it. (+1)
- Asked about the military's health care, she says she wants to "modernize" the system but doesn't go into any further details before getting sidetracked by Obamacare. (0)
- Killing bin Laden was a good thing. Killing al-Awlaki was also good, because he was a major recruiter, and had recruited the Ft Hood shooter, the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. (+1)
- The last time Republicans controlled the budget, the annual deficit was $160 billion. This October, the monthly deficit was $203 billion. You know things are bad when a deficit of $160 billion is cited as the good ol' days. So her solution? Get rid of food stamps. (-1)
- Going to war in Iran is "not worthwhile." He also points out that Constitutionally, the Commander-in-Chief does not make the decision to go to war; that authority rests with Congress. (+1)
- Waterboarding is torture, it's illegal under US and international law, it's impractical, and he even calls it un-American. (+1)
- He's against doing anything in Syria, and says "the Syrians oughta deal with their country." I think that's what they're trying to do. (-1)
- He says, "We're pretending we're at war" because Congress hasn't declared it. Then he flirts with some paranoia that we're all going to be targeted and killed. (-1)
- Killing bin Laden was a good thing and should've happened sooner, but killing an American citizen (al-Awlaki) is different. He says over 300 individuals have been tried for terrorism in civilian courts and it's worked out just fine. (+1)
- "Our enemies are not the people of Iran, it's the regime." He would assist the opposition movement, something Obama dramatically failed to do. He also says they can only afford nukes because of their oil wealth, and that increasing our energy independence would bring down the global price of oil. Talk about long-term thinking! (+1)
- He would not help the Iranian opposition "militarily," but rather "help the opposition within the country." I don't know what that means. (0)
- Is Pakistan a friend or foe? "We don't know." He wants to see some commitments made by Pakistan to advance some kind of regional agreement. (+1)
- He has said he would rely on the advice of his generals, but how would he know when to overrule them? By relying on the advice of his other advisors. Hmm. (0)
- He "does agree with torture," but would trust the military to decide what is or is not torture. Because that's gone oh-so-well in the past. (-1)
- Waterboarding is an enhanced interrogation technique, not torture, and he would return to using waterboarding. (-2)
- The Arab Spring has "gotten totally out of hand." Obama was wrong to support the protesters in Egypt, and he's wrong to support democracy in Yemen. Cain is 100% wrong here. As a free society, we have a duty to support democracy in any country that wants it. (-2)
- He would keep Gitmo open, would not send captured terrorists to civilian court, and would reauthorize enhanced interrogation techniques besides waterboarding. (0)
- It's "unclear" where we stand with Pakistan or Afghanistan, and he would want to talk to Pakistan before going after terrorists within Pakistan who are crossing the border to attack our troops in Afghanistan. (0)
- Victory in Afghanistan is not yet clearly defined, and he would make sure that definition is clear, although he doesn't say what the definition would be. (0)
- Asked if going to war with Iran would be worth it, he bashes Obama for awhile, then gets into a tiff with the moderator about timing (at 50 seconds the moderator says 60 have gone by and Romney says 30). He then says we have to make clear that we are willing to go to war in Iran if necessary. (-1)
- He would work with the Iranian "insurgents" and "if all else fails," he would "of course" go to war. He also says we need "crippling sanctions" on Iran, either rejecting Cain's statement that our enemies are not the people of Iran but the leaders, or showing that he hasn't thought about who is crippled by "crippling sanctions." (-1)
- He's fine with Obama's 2014 timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan, but he doesn't like the September 2012 timetable for drawing down the surge because that's right before the election. (-1)
- Anyone who is "bearing arms" for an "entity" we are at war with is "fair game," and can be targeted and killed even if they are American. Then he spends most of his time to talk about how great America is. I'd like that answer to be a bit more nuanced, but overall I think he's right. (+1)
- The way to handle China is through trade, specifically through punishing American consumers with tariffs if they don't "play by the rules." (-1)
- "Of course it's time for the Assad dictatorship to end," and he would use covert means to do it. I'm glad to hear someone supporting democracy, but Mitt has the same problem with the word "covert" that Newt does. (0)
- He wants to cap federal spending at 20% of GDP. He would eliminate Obamacare and the National Endowment for the Arts, including public broadcasting. He also wants to return Medicaid to the states and limit it's growth to inflation-plus-one-percent. Then he repeats his plan to cut federal employment by 10% and tie public sector compensation to private sector compensation. (+1)
- Pakistan is close to being a failed state, and in dealing with Pakistan, we have to work within that context. We have to make clear to them that either they go after the terrorists within Pakistan or allow us to do so. (0)
- He gets on international television to say we need "covert," "deniable" operations in Iran like "taking out their scientists." Um, Mr. Speaker, your mic is on... Even though I agree, and I think this is probably the second-best way to deal with Iran, that doesn't strike me as something you want to say on TV. He also says, "I agree entirely with Governor Romney" about Iran. (-1)
- How do we achieve peace without negotiating with the Taliban? "I don't think you do." He wants to broaden the "strategic" discussion to include Pakistan, and says between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Afghanistan is the "least important" strategically. What would he do about Pakistan, and how would he achieve peace? He doesn't say. (0)
- He agrees with Perry that the foreign aid budget should start at zero for every country each year, and should stay at zero for Pakistan, but he's a lot more articulate about why he believes that than Perry is. (+1)
- He's worried that the Arab Spring will turn into the Anti-Christian Spring, and wants the State Department (ie, the diplomats) "intervening" on behalf of Egypt's Coptic Christians. (+1)
- He's criticized Romney on the campaign trail, so would he like to do it to his face? "No, no." Hmm, I remember another candidate who did the same thing. What was his name... Paw... Pawlen... no, can't remember it. I'm sorry. Oops. (-2)
- How would he "think outside the box"? He'd do what Reagan did; he'd oppose a UN program that conservatives have opposed for nearly twenty years; and he'd increase military spending. On the good side, he repeats his support for adopting Lean Six Sigma at the Pentagon, but overall I think Newt just doesn't know what "outside the box" means. (-1)
- The correct thing to do in a war is "to kill people who are trying to kill you." Newt apparently follows the Malcolm Reynolds philosophy on foreign policy. He says al-Awlaki's killing was not "extra-judicial" but that it was and should be "outside criminal law." I wonder what he thinks "extra-judicial" means. (0)
- Newt's angry that Obama didn't support Mubarak in Egypt, because dictators are great when they're our dictators. (-2)
- On Syria, he would take covert operations against Assad, but would not take direct military action like imposing a no-fly zone. Once again with the misunderstanding of the word "covert." (-1)
- There are "four interlocking national security problems"-- the debt & deficit, energy, manufacting and science & technology. He wants to have a training requirement to unemployment compensation. He also wants to open up offshore drilling. (+1)
- We can't trust our current intelligence network because we rely too much on our allies' intelligence. (0)
- We can sanction the Iranian Central Bank and "shut down that country's economy." Because economic devastation always brings down dictators and never gives rise to new ones. (-1)
- In Afghanistan, "the mission must be completed," and withdrawing on a set timetable is "irresponsible." With bin Laden dead and al Qaida crippled, this raises the question of when he would consider the mission to have been completed. (0)
- He says the foreign aid budget should start at zero for every country, then "have a conversation" about which countries should get aid. He doesn't think Pakistan should get any at all because the military and "secret service" is running Pakistan, not the politicians. (0)
- The "most important thing from a strategic standpoint" is either his experience in Texas or securing the southern border. (-1)
- China will end up "on the ash heap of history" not because of historical, economic or political forces but because they don't have "virtue." Hmm. And then somehow he turns that into saying that "fighting a cyber-war" with China is one of the most important issues the next President will face. (-1)
- Someone from Twitter asks if his "foreign aid should start at zero" idea also applies to Israel. He says, "absolutely," but also expects that after starting at zero, they will still get "substantial" aid from us. (0)
- He was in the Air Force, and he wants to use whatever techniques are necessary to save lives (referring to waterboarding). "This is war. That's what happens in war." (-1)
- France and Germany should deal with the crisis in Europe. They set up the euro to compete with the dollar, so now it's up to them to keep it going. (0)
- Victory in Afghanistan would come when the Taliban is "no longer a security threat" to Afghanis or Americans. (0)
- On Iran, he says he agrees with Cain and Romney and disagrees with Newt, which is odd because Newt said he agreed "entirely" with Romney. (-1)
- He agrees with Bachmann on Pakistan, saying we have to be their friend because they have The Bomb. (-1)
- Our military aid to Pakistan is spent in the US on US military hardware that creates jobs in the US. So not only does Keynesian stimulus work just fine when it's military spending, but it's somehow a good idea to give actual US military hardware to a country that Santorum himself says has factions that want to turn it into another Iran. (-2)
- He would have a "very clear agenda" and would only hire people who agreed with that agenda. Because the President should never have to listen to opposing viewpoints. (-1)
- What would that "very clear agenda" be? Making sure Iran doesn't get nukes, and he hopes that we're involved with Stuxnet and other covert operations against Iran. Again, even though I agree, this is not the kind of thing you want to say on TV. (-1)
- He stands by the Geneva Convention, but says when terrorists don't follow the rules, they don't get the benefits. Of course, the terrorists say the same thing about us, but he doesn't address that. (-1)
- What if one of Pakistan's nukes got into terrorist hands? He would work with the Pakistani military to recover it, but can't answer more precisely without knowing the details of the hypothetical situation. (0)
- Given that special forces are being trained to deal with this, would he use those special forces? He says, "You don't cowboy this one," and would not go into Pakistan to "interdict a nuclear weapon," but would rather work with the Pakistani government to secure it. Since we're currently training special forces to do something Santorum doesn't want to do, does that make him more of a dove than Obama? (-1)
The focus of this debate was foreign policy and national security, and except for a few references to government spending, they pretty much stuck to that topic. Most questions were explicitly about national security; other features of foreign policy, like trade and the European crisis, were given short shrift.
I always watch these debates online, but I was surprised when the moderator announced in the beginning that only the first hour of the 90-minute debate would actually be broadcast on live television. Are the networks sponsoring these debates getting tired of how many there are?
Rick Perry got a question from Twitter that was a follow-up to one of his answers from a previous question. Although other debates have featured questions from Twitter, this is the first time I can remember a random citizen being able to respond to a candidate's debate answer and get a response from that candidate in the same debate. What Great Stagnation?
Summing my reactions for each candidate, Santorum got an astounding -8 (out of nine questions), which I think is the lowest I've scored any candidate in any debate. Tied for second-worst were Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich at -4. Herman Cain was slightly better at -3, while Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney were slightly better still at -2. Ron Paul got +1 and Jon Huntsman scored higher than ever before with +5.
Jon Huntsman's strongest point is clearly foreign policy. A two-time ambassador, he has clearly put a lot more thought into these issues than some of the other candidates. Ron Paul had a great speech against waterboarding, but wasn't very strong in the rest of his answers. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, things waterboarding is "very effective." She was, however, the only candidate to mention the Pentagon's cost-plus system of financing.
If Ron Paul is an isolationist, Mitt Romney is an interventionist. There's no country he doesn't want to step up the rhetoric on, it seems, whether it's Iran, Pakistan, Syria or China. He wants a trade war in China and a real war in Iran. The new anti-Romney, Newt Gingrich, is a clear fan of covert action, but apparently doesn't get the irony of announcing this on television. He also had a true Pawlenty moment, where he decline to repeat to Romney's face a criticism he had already said on the radio.
For all that Herman Cain has been criticized for not knowing about foreign policy, he held his own in this debate. Which isn't to say I agreed with him-- I scored Cain lower in this debate than in any previous debate, most because of his support for waterboarding and opposition to the Arab Spring. Where he lost points wasn't because he hemmed-and-hawed or gave any indication that he didn't know what the question was about. Rather, he knows what his positions are; they're just the wrong ones in my opinion.
As far as I can recall, this marks the first time in any of the ten debates where a candidate didn't even get a single positive mark from me, and this time it happened with both Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. Santorum seemed particularly clueless, but maybe that means I'm just more libertarian than I thought I was.