James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012 Roundup: GOP Candidates to Debate Foreign Policy, Again.

by James M. Lindsay
November 21, 2011

Republican presidential candidates on stage before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas in October 2012. (Steve Marcus/Courtesy Reuters)

The GOP presidential candidates meet in Washington, DC, tomorrow night for CNN’s national security debate. Wolf Blitzer will moderate. The debate begins at 8 p.m. The backdrop for the debate will be Newt Gingrich’s continued surge in the polls—the latest Gallup Poll has him one percentage point ahead of Mitt Romney. We will see whether the speaker’s rivals take a break from lambasting Obama’s foreign policy to attack his policy proposals.

A second background story for the debate is how much Herman Cain knows about world affairs. Gallup has him down five percentage points compared to its last poll, though it’s impossible to tell if his support declined because of the sexual harassment allegations or his bungled answer on Libya. If it’s the latter, Cain didn’t help himself at a Friday news conference when he tried to explain his Libya gaffe and ended up alleging that the Taliban are now working in Libya’s government:

His question was, ‘Do you agree or disagree with President Obama on Libya?’ What part? Do I agree with the part that we intervened with rockets and missiles? Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that Qaddafi should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you’ve got Taliban and Al Qaeda that are going to be part of the government?

Cain’s campaign defended his comment by noting that Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, the Tripoli commander for Libya’s National Transition Council and the man who announced Muammar Qaddafi’s death to the world, spent most of the 1990s in Taliban-governed Afghanistan. He fled Libya to escape arrest for plotting to overthrow Qaddafi; while in Afghanistan he ran mujahideen training camps. If Cain had said “where you’ve got people who have been associated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda that are going to be part of the [Libyan] government” he would have been on solid ground. But he didn’t, so he understandably raised more doubts about his command of foreign affairs. He can’t afford a similar mistake at tomorrow night’s debate.

 Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interview with Jon Huntsman on China. Huntsman argues that Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao, will have “three years of run room where we have an opportunity, if we have the right leadership here, that would allow us to begin embarking upon a strategic dialogue with the Chinese.” Huntsman doesn’t say what he would seek to accomplish with his strategic dialogue.

Michele Bachmann addressed the Zionist Organization of America in New York yesterday and talked tough on Iran. She called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadeinjad a “mad man,” urged the imposition of “crushing economic sanctions” on Iran, and said:

The Pentagon should prepare a war plan, as a last resort, should all else fail in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

She did not commit herself, however, to actually going to war to stop Iran from going nuclear.

Bachmann also said that on day one of her presidency she would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. She added that Israel should cede “not one acre, not one square foot, not one inch” to the Palestinians in a peace deal. If that’s so, it’s hard to see how a peace deal could ever be struck.

Finally and not surprisingly, Ron Paul does not like President Obama’s decision to build a military base for 2,500 Marines in Darwin, Australia. He calls it “mischief.” Why? Because he doesn’t think China would ever threaten the United States militarily:

He [Obama] thinks we need more troops spread around the world. So he’s over in Australia, promising to send thousands of our troops to Australia. Why do we have to occupy Australia? I mean what’s going on? He said well maybe the Chinese will attack us. The Chinese are our banker, they’re not going to attack us— you know it’s not going to happen.

I’ll wager my “Beat Ohio State” button that none of the other GOP presidential candidates on the stage tomorrow night will agree with Paul.

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