Review of the CNN GOP debate from across the Big Pond

Last evenings CNN Republican Candidate debate was moderated by Wolf Blitzer, regular host of the Situation room.  This debate, co-hosted in Washington, D.C., by the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, focussed on four main issues — national defense, the economy, international relations, and terrorism issues and lasted two hours in total and marked the 11th GOP debate of the election season.

The evening was introduced with an introduction highlighting National Security to any president as being the most important and daunting responsibility. CNN showed some footage of major security issues from previous presidencies which put the evening and topic very much into context.

The questions varied on content and context but consisted of the following:

Question1 – Focussed on there being 42 attempted terrorist attacks on the USA since 9/11.

Question 2 – The use of drones and efforts in Pakistan to defeat Al-Qaeda.

Question 3 – The cost to the US for its involvement in Afghanistan and was US involvement to prevent a terror safe haven worth it.

Question 4 – Should Israel be attacked by Iran, would the candidates support/help Israel in their efforts.

Question 5 – Focussed on the effect of sanctions in stopping Iran getting a nuclear bomb.

Question 6 – Focussed on development assistance for poor countries and economic development.

Question 7 – Focussed on spending and cuts to the military budget.

Question 8 – Focussed on the failure of the Super Committee and the $600 billion cuts.

Question 9 – The issue of the massive deficit the nation is facing and entitlement reform.

Question 10 – Focussed on the Mexico border and on how to stop the Mexican drug cartels.

Question 11 – Focussed on the need for High Skill immigration and immigration assistance for high skilled workers

Question 12 – Focussed on the violence of Syria and the impact on US allies in the region.

Question 13 – How to deal with Al-Shabab (Al-Qaeda)

Question 14 – The last question focussed on the one unexpected thing that could happen as president and what issue do the candidates worry about.

I’ve summarised the candidate’s responses and ranked them in order of how I believe they performed on the night.

1 – Newt Gingrich

Gingrich had the first question directed at him and drew the distinction between homeland terrorism and foreign threats and stated, he would not change the Patriot Act but would in fact enhance its powers. Gingrich responded citing the example of Timothy McVeigh as to why, he wanted powers to protect Americans in his response to Ron Paul’s view.

On the issue of Afghanistan, Newt put the questions into context stating,” We should start with Pakistan”. He used the killing of Osama Bin Laden as a reason why the US should be furious with Pakistan. He suggested some alterations and to pursue the fight intensively.

On Iran, Gingrich said the first efforts in dealing with Iran should be made at home in building US energy resources to reduce the impact of any sanctions against Iran. He called for a much strategic approach in dealing with Iran.

On the issue of spending and military cuts, Gingrich replied that there were things we could be better and invoked the memory of American efforts to win previous wars, and said the US could open up oil reserves within a year, and just get the job done and make the Millennium challenge work.

Gingrich commenting on the massive structural deficit referenced his own proposals and used Chile as an example of a model, which, he would use for the US to bring down the entitlement spending.

On the immigration issue, Gingrich called for the issuance of visa’s for highly qualified students to encourage them to stay in the US. He called for a comprehensive approach starting with border control, a visa program and a review of current illegals. Gingrich provided an excellent answer saying the party of the family should not force or break up long established families.

Gingrich said the three biggest threats were a dirty bomb in a major city, an electro magnetic pulse and cyber attacks in the unexpected area.

Assessment

Gingrich won the night again despite sticking his neck out on the Immigration issue which he managed to do in a very eloquent manner. He is realistic and practical on the issue, there is no chance the estimated 11 million illegal’s in the United States will ever be deported. It needs to be dealt with as part of a big package of measures. His assessment for future unexpected threats though was also brilliant.

2-      Jon Huntsman

Huntsman said the Homeland couldn’t be secured out of Washington D.C. but required a collaborative and national approach.

Huntsman opened the account on the second question, saying Washington needs to be fixed before the US turns its attention to foreign nations, but called Pakistan a nation waiting to fail and the US should not be nation building in Afghanistan.

Huntsman disagreed with Romney’s viewpoint and called for an honest conversation and called for a reduction in the 100,000 troops and focus on special-forces presence and the use of drones in Afghanistan.

On the issue of spending and military spending, Huntsman said the first issue needing attention was a deficit in trust among the people in the nation. He called for spending for defence to follow a determined strategy and must be driven by economic policy.

Huntsman responded to a Twitter question regarding the Arab Spring saying, history will tell going on to say the US missed the Persian Spring and reminded all that Israel is a friendly ally. He said sanctions won’t work because China and Russia won’t co-operate.

Huntsman said the biggest unexpected threat was joblessness in America and it needed to be dealt with.

Assessment

The best debate performance by Huntsman to date and I have him tied with Gingrich on the night. He nearly dealt Romney a fatal blow in their heated exchange and Romney was saved by Wolf Blitzer as there is no doubt, had the exchange continued, Huntsman would’ve exposed Romney.

3 – Ron Paul

Rep.Paul disagreed with Gingrich and put forward the view that the Patriot Act is unpatriotic. He asserted his view that you do not have to give up liberty to secure your environment. Santorum’s stance on the use of profiling was attacked by Rep.Paul and said liberties should not be sacrificed because people are suspects.

Unsurprisingly, Rep. Paul said he would not support Israel in any attack on Iran. He said Israeli interests are not US interests and they are capable of looking after themselves. He said the US should be very careful in the nation’s willingness to go to war abroad.

Rep.Paul said he didn’t support financial assistance for foreign development saying it was taking money from the poor in America and giving it to the rich in those countries.

On the Mexico border issue, he called for a cancellation on the war on drugs. Paul went on about eliminating benefits which attracts illegal immigrants.

Rep.Paul in response to the Al-Qaeda threat in the Middle East region he put forward the friendly state policy of non-intervention/retaliation.

Paul said the biggest unexpected threat was an over reaction on the part of the US.

Assessment

Rep.Paul had a very good night and was afforded a lot of time most likely due to his many different views on the issues. As always, Paul talked a lot of sense but his exchange with Gingrich on the Timothy McVeigh exchange damaged him along with his stance on how to deal with Iran. A good night overall though for Paul, ignoring his differing views from the other candidates.

4 – Mitt Romney

The TSA systems was the first question directed towards him which he responded to quickly before shifting back to the terrorist threat and agreed with Speaker Gingrich saying the US needed tools to fight threat both domestic and foreign. He asserted that US involvement should continue and withdrawal gradual based on military advice on the ground.

Romney got engaged with Huntsman in his criticism of Romney’s statement on Afghanistan. He was firm that US involvement in Afghanistan should not be a case of cut and run, the cost was too high.

Romney on the issue of development funding and security and drew the comparison between the trillion dollar cuts from the military as being exactly the amount President Obama needs to fund healthcare. He said Obama was cutting the capacity for America to defend itself. He said Pres. Obama was friendly to America’s foes and disrespectful to its friends and promised Israel would be his first foreign trip.

Romney on the immigration issue called amnesty a magnate and said the US needed to attract highly qualified people. He said the country needed to stop the causes of illegal immigration and for the securing of the border.

On the Al-Qaeda issue and the Middle East again Romney cited Pres. Obama’s appeasement and policy of apology in the region and called for the use of covert action and sanctions in dealing with Syria.

On the threats to the US is Iran, China and the unexpected one is Latin America.

5 – Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann opened her night on the role of Commander in Chief and the technological aspects of the new threats and attacked President Obama on giving up protection for interrogators fighting the threat.

Bachmann called Pakistan the epi-centre of Al-Qaeda and raised the threat about the vulnerability of access to their nuclear facilities. Bachmann said on the issue of cutting funding to Pakistan that she would continue it but demand more for the present time. Bachmann called Perry’s view naïve and said people needed to consider the realities of the nuclear threat on the ground.

Bachmann echoed the other candidate’s views on the Iranian issue and again went after President Obama on his failure to pursue energy independence and reminded the audience that it was Iran threatening Israel back in August not the other way around, calling Obama’s approach in dealing with Iran a doctrine of appeasement.

Bachmann on the issue of deficit reduction went back to her stance from earlier in the year and the raising of the debt ceiling. Bachmann said she would first look to balance the budget then look at paying down the deficit.

Bachmann didn’t agree with Gingrich’s approach on immigration and she then went on to reference Steve Jobs. She said America needed to offer visa’s to worker which the nation needed.

Bachmann said domestic home grown terrorism was the biggest potential threat.

Assessment

Overall, a more assured performance from Bachmann on the night and her insight on intelligence and security issues came to the fore. She did her wavering chances no harm.

6 – Rick Santorum

Santorum opened his account by reasserting his stance on the use of passenger profiling. Santorum also supported the use of the Patriot Act and called for the balancing of interests.

On Afghanistan, Santorum said he agreed with Ron Paul and gave an insight into what Radical Muslim leaders teach their recruits. Santorum said radical Muslim’s tell their members that they only need to out wait American involvement.

Santorum responded first on the issue of development assistance calling it absolutely essential and a key component in national security and called for more efforts and the promotion of key values.

Answering a question on a Ronald Reagan quote of getting 75-80% of what you want, you should accept it and move on. Santorum said it depends on what you get, but you should not undermine the ability of the country to grow for the sake of partisan politics.

Santorum answered the question on high skill immigration and praised the innovation that has been produced in the US by immigrants and said America should continue to be the beacon for such immigrants.

Santorum said he was concerned about Central and South America and the spread of socialism.

Assessment

Santorum always presents himself as very capable and competent. He struggles to get time during any debate, and his exchange with Ron Paul on the profiling of Muslim’s was not authoritative.

7 – Rick Perry

Rick Perry opened his account saying he would privatise the TSA and get rid of the Trade Unions. He returned to the issue of the Patriot Act saying it needed strengthening and cited the current administration a failure in their efforts to develop and gather intelligence around the world.

Governor Perry on the Pakistan issue reasserted his previous viewpoint of not sending any funding to the nation until they demonstrate themselves to be willing partners and not representing American interests.

Perry on the Iran sanctions issue called them the first measure in any fight against Iran and would include Syria in the equation and criticised President Obama for inaction.

On the issue of the super committee failure Perry said it is no surprise to anyone that it failed and said President Obama has been a complete failure on the entire budget process. He said Pres. Obama’s threat of the veto puts American lives at risk and said Leon Panetta should resign in protest. Perry referenced his ten years of bi-partisan working in Texas as proof that both sides can work together.

Perry called for a 21s century Monroe Doctrine to deal with the infiltration of the United States through the Mexican border. He said border security with Mexico was paramount to the security of the Western world and he would put boots on the ground. Perry said the whole issue of the border and immigration could not begin to be tackled until the border is secured, it is a must.

Perry said he supported a No-Fly zone over Syria but it was only one of a number of measures to deal with the problem and if implemented it might encourage others in the military to cross over.

Perry cited China as the biggest oncoming threat to the US national security.

Assessment

Perry had a decent debate but when Michele Bachmann called him naïve, the clip was played on all the major networks following the debate and his call for Leon Panetta to resign in protest was not a good strategic move. It is very hard to see Perry coming back from here.

8 – Herman Cain

Cain when asked on his stance on profiling as proposed by Santorum said he called it target profiling. He said terrorists want to kill all of us and every means possible should be used to prevent attacks. He slipped up calling Wolf “Blitz”, but quickly corrected himself.

Herman Cain answered the Iran/Israel question first and stayed on safe ground referring to the content of any plan as the basis of any decision. Cain responding to Paul said he would support Israel because Iran poses a threat in the region.

On development assistance Cain said it depended on priorities and the success of programmes and said he wanted to see the results before making a decision.

Herman Cain said yes the Mexican border was a threat and outlined reasons why it was a threat. He called for securing the border, enforcing the current laws and promotes the path to citizenship and empowers the states to do what the government can’t deal with themselves.

Cain said he would not support a No-Fly zone over Syria and said he would work with US allies to stop buying oil from Syria.

Cain said Cyber attacks were the biggest area of unexpected concern.

Assessment

Cain was sadly very exposed last night for his lack of comprehension of the major international events and security issues required of a Commander in Chief. He constantly adopts a default position reply of assessing the issue, seek advice from the General’s or experts and then plan or act. While on the face of it appears fine, you cannot use such a response when replying to nearly every question. As I mentioned before, the damage to Cain’s campaign was done in his team’s management and handling of the recent allegations, not the allegations themselves. There have been too many missteps on Foreign affairs and security issues for Cain to win the nomination but he is above all else, a gentleman and has added much to the GOP race. Last night unfortunately, only confirmed what many people suspected, he lacks the knowledge and grasp of the major issues to be President and Commander in Chief.

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