Foreign Policy Reveals Different Strengths

Whether or not you think the GOP has a strong field, one thing is for sure.  Any of these candidates would be better than Obama when it comes to foreign policy.  That came across clearly from more moderate voices like Jon Huntsman in addition to the two front runners.  Overall it was a great performance by all the candidates.  The contrast between the GOP field, including Ron Paul, and Barack Obama was clear.  So, here are the winners and losers:

Mitt Romney won the debate because of his smooth ability to introduce ambiguity on some issues to give all Conservatives a cushion of comfort.  See Newt’s performance below.  Mitt also took on Ron Paul and I think Mitt won that debate.  It seems pretty clear that Al Qaida terrorists and Timothy McVeigh do not represent the same sort of threat.  In fact, I would argue that lumping McVeigh, a disgruntled anti-American government citizen attacking the system, in with the 9/11 hijackers, foreign terrorists attacking and targeting United States civilians, is a very dangerous way of looking at foreign and domestic terrorism.  I sure hope we would treat a foreign terrorist crossing our border illegally differently than a citizen radical trying to build a bomb in their basement because the IRS just sent them another tax notice.

Jon Huntsman demonstrated his firm control of foreign policy issues.  I think he overcame some fears when he affirmed our strong relationship with Israel.  Huntsman also expressed sentiments on Afghanistan that have been felt by many Conservatives who were mislabeled as “neo-cons” over the last decade.  Many Conservatives supported both wars, but do not support something for nothing nation building in nations that don’t respect us and don’t appreciate the sacrifices we have made.  Huntsman turned again and again to the economy and the failures of Obama and Congress to solve the problem.  Huntsman’s point on how we leave North Korea alone because they have a nuke, but invaded Libya after they gave up their nuclear ambitions is a great diagnosis of the inconsistency in America’s position towards nuclear ambitious countries.

Newt had a great, issue free performance.  Here is the problem.  Newt comes across hawkish, and he is far too honest.  In the end, Mitt agreed with him on long-time illegal immigrants, but Mitt said it in such a way that will be taken better by anti-illegal alien Conservatives.  Newt also hurt himself by endorsing and calling for an expansion of the Patriot act.  This could help guarantee that Ron Paulites stay home and let Obama get re-elected in 2012.  What Newt should have said was that he supported the Patriot Act, but recommends examining it for things that could be eliminated or added.  I think Newt is too straight forward on a subject that honestly Americans would prefer some ambiguity on.  Same with covert operations.  His answer regarding opening our oil resources is not new, but continues to be a very strong point for him.

Ron Paul continued to solidify his base and add some fringe Conservatives who are weary enough of the wars to want to radically change America’s relationship with the world.  For these people, Paul’s angry old man persona, scoffing and reacting to opponents’ answers, and idea that if we leave terrorists alone, they will realize the error of their ways and leave us alone, will not affect his support.  Still, Paul would make a better foreign policy President than Obama.  At least his disengagement would be total, not mixed with war hawkishness like Obama’s.

Rick Perry’s substance earned him a higher spot after this debate.  I still think his idea of zero based budgeting for foreign aid resonates with Americans.  His refusal to dabble in hypotheticals about illegals who have been here more than a quarter century is going to help him as people weed out Romney and Gingrich’s immigration comments and discover the softness there.

Herman Cain did well not to hurt himself in this debate.  He has come across as unknowledgeable on foreign policy.  In this debate he showed he has a recognizable set of foreign policy principles, although he kept things pretty vague.  He didn’t hurt himself and that is a victory for him on foreign policy.

Rick Santorum comes across as a neo-con.   This debate didn’t really change that, and only a change in that perception would cause his status to change as a result of this debate.  No mistakes, but also no movement for him after this debate.  He continues to maintain that we should be paying Pakistan for friendship.

Michele Bachmann is either a career politician or has issues with comprehension.  On multiple occasions she seemed to not be able to grasp her opponent’s position.  A glaring example was when she interpreted Newt’s soft approach to long-time established illegals as some sort of call for general amnesty to 11 million illegal aliens.  She played the same role in Rick Perry’s demise, but now it seems more like a desperate cry for relevance.  Rising and falling as the Social Conservative choice at this point will require superiority on the issues, not loud misunderstanding of opponents, even though that usually produces success with the general electorate.

No matter who the nominee is, what is clear from last night is that we cannot afford four more years of Obama’s foreign policy.

And that’s time

In a short hour and a half, made up of minute responses and thirty second followups, the GOP candidates once again took the stage to answer questions from semi-respectful moderators.  In a debate most looked forward to by Ron Paul fans, Paul received very little time. We have seen pretty much all there is to be seen about candidate style, and many of these questions were repeats.  So here are the winners and losers:

The Good

Mitt Romney won this debate.  His answers were calming, yet clear and determined.  He portrayed the very stature Americans are looking for in a Commander in Chief, and he highlighted American Exceptionalism.  This area is a strong suit for Mitt, and one that does not involve any sort of past flip flops or policy changes.  His answers should give him a bump among social conservatives who are inspired by terms like American Exceptionalism.

Newt at one point had to school the moderators on war versus criminal law.  In some ways this debate seemed frustrating for Newt, but that is an aspect of him his followers often like to see.  Newt brings the fight to the moderators and to the left and usually wins.  Many of his answers were right on, but others were somewhat vague.  One thing that Newt will lose points for is how loosely he called for covert operations in countries like Iran and Syria.  This is something Newt has brought up as a policy in debates and speeches in the past, but is something better left unsaid.

Jon Huntsman did well in the debate.  The question on a tradewar with China is a favorite of most media moderators because it gives them a chance to toss Huntsman an easy softball.    Foreign policy hits many of Huntsman’s strong points without touching many of the issues that conservatives hate him for.  It won’t matter though, Huntsman is done.

The Bad

Santorum did pretty well.  He has the unfortunate bad luck of being a candidate on the back end of two long wars and sharing a policy that sounds eerily like Bush’s.  On the other hand, Santorum seemed to be saying that we need to keep funding Pakistan and being their friend because they have a Nuke.  True or not, Santorum is not going to win American hearts saying implying that we must borrow from China to pay off Pakistan to be our friend.

I have a feeling that media moderators purposefully cut Paul’s debate time short on debates like this to get his supporters riled up.  Get ready, we are going to hear about that for the next week or so.  Paul didn’t do bad for most of the debate, but some of his stances are really not correct.  The idea that the United States must capture a citizen who has declared war on the United States and bring them in to face civilian court, or that non-uniformed terrorists have any sort of rights under US law is wrong and violates precedent.  Gingrich and Perry were absolutely right on those counts.  Paul’s supporters were being their typical selves in the debate as well, to the point where the mods had to admonish them to be respectful.  They are another liability of Paul’s with the overall GOP.

Herman Cain reminded me a lot of Rick Perry in recent debates.  Without 9-9-9 to fall back on, Cain was slow in responses, vague, and seemed as though he would happily defer to a future self, surrounded by knowledgeable generals and advisers.  That’s great, but that is not leadership.  In that respect, Huntsman showed up Cain, and even Gingrich, when he said if a nuke was loose in Pakistan he would secure it.  Cain really did not give a performance that screamed “I am a leader”.  Instead, each response sounded like “How can I answer this without ruining my campaign”.

The Ugly

Michele Bachmann continues to be unimpressive and unmemorable.  She scored some points rebutting Ron Paul, but seemed to spend most of the night trying to get the moderators to let her respond to other candidates.  She also seemed to get less time.  However, I will give her a great deal of credit for her answers on ways to trim military spending without hurting the military.

Rick Perry still doesn’t debate well.  And once again he found himself as the butt of several jokes, made both by the moderators, himself, and Senator Graham.  Perry’s idea of zero based budgeting for foreign aide is a great idea, but the only reason it’s his is because he got to say it first.  Gingrich and Romeny both articulated it better when Perry was done.

But allow me a Newt Gingrich moment to say this.  The real loser was Barack Obama.  The candidates made it clear, once again, that every single one of them would run foreign policy better than Obama.  Several drove home the point that Obama had a range of good choices and bad choices and made all the bad ones and none of the good ones.  The only ambivalent candidate who actually seemed to end up on Obama’s side for some things was Ron Paul.  This is one of the aspects of Newt Gingrich’s leadership because he has focused these debates on defeating Barack Obama, and when Newt sets the tone the other candidates usually follow.

Jon Huntsman Tries to Get Traction with His Foreign Affairs Credentials

Bookmark and Share   Ahead of his giving a major foreign policy address in New Hampshire today, former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman released the following web ad.

Huntsman will draw contrasts between himself and the rest of the G.O.P. presidential field by making the case that his representation of the United States as Ambassador to China and Singapore and once as Deputy United States Trade Representative, give him the type of foreign affairs experience and knowledge that few others running for President in 2012, including President Obama, have.  His case is a good one.  However few seem to be concerned with that experience and even fewer seem to think Huntsman’s experience will equate to superior handling of foreign affairs as Commander-in-Chief.

But for Huntsman, foreign affairs is probably his greatest weapon in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.  His knowledge of China is unsurpassed and at a time when the greatest to threat to America’s economic survival and strength as a superpower comes from China, such knowhow should be quite valuable.  Yet Huntsman has not been able to get voters to draw that connection.   Nor has he seemed to try to do so with any great intensity.

In his remarks today, Huntsman is instead going to try to appeal to Republicans by tapping into the weariness of the War in Afghanistan, the longest war in our nation’s history.   In excerpts released in advance of his speech, the former Utah Governor will  call for a pull back from the war in Afghanistan and the need to  “right-size our current foreign entanglements.”  But while trying to sound dove-like on Afghanistan, Huntsman will be quite hawk-like concerning Iran when he states;

“I cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. If you want an example of when I would use American force, it would be that,” Huntsman will say in his remarks today.

The speech also includes an uncharacteristically hawkish note from Huntsman, who says he would be willing to use U.S. military tools to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The bulk of the Huntsman foreign affairs and defense speech will outline a path to a policy that is designed to utilize  “more agility, more intelligence, and more economic engagement” in U.S. foreign policy, rather than “simply advocating more ships, more troops, and more weapons.”  That last part is a swipe at Mitt Romney who last week, set foreign affairs up to be the main topic in the Republican over the next few days, when he delivered his own foreign policy speech.  Tomorrow, Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to deliver his own major remarks on the issue.Bookmark and Share

Believe it or not…Ron Paul could win

Ron Paul is notorious for stacking and winning straw polls.  So his latest victory at the Republican Leadership Conference comes as no big surprise.  In fact, national front runner Mitt Romney came in fourth behind Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and John Huntsman, if that tells you anything.

But this time around it just may be too early to write off Ron Paul.  In the past he was rarely taken seriously as anything more than an ultra-libertarian issues candidate.  This time, his issues speak to America’s condition as an overbloated bureaucracy in debt up to our ears, in a new war with no meaning, a weakened currency, and a whole lot of social issues that would be a lot easier to live with if the government didn’t have to take a stand either way.

Third time a charm?

Unlike 2008, we are now wrapping up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are no longer playing such a perceived crucial role in America’s defense.  Instead, we are now bombing our allies in Libya and fighting both sides of a civil war at a cost of a million dollars a day.  Unlike 2008, we are living with an administration whose deficits every year have nearly matched the entire 8 years of the Bush administration.  We have a Federal Reserve that seems out of control, especially after printing $500 billion to buy US debt under QE2.  And lastly, we have a weakening dollar which is helping to drive up commodity prices and inflation.

But in addition to the issues being more conducive to a Ron Paul candidacy, many of Paul’s liberal grass roots liberal supporters haven’t figured out yet where stands on the issues.  It never ceases to amaze me how many Obama voters would have made Ron Paul as their number one choice if given the opportunity.  My amazement stems from the fact that no two candidates could be further from each other when it comes to worldviews and ideologies.  Ron Paul’s anti-establishment, bring the troops home (something Obama promised and failed to deliver) and social libertarianism on issues like gay marriage seem to be his liberal aesthetic.  But this could give him the momentum he needs to be taken seriously.  Why?

Because there is no Democrat primary.  New Hampshire is a semi-open primary, meaning that the voters with no party affiliation can vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary.  This is sure to help Ron Paul this year as social liberals who would normally vote in the Democrat primary have the opportunity to use their vote to help decide the Republican nominee.  South Carolina is another early state with an open primary.

Many Republicans find Ron Paul to be abrasive, sometimes outright annoying, and he never seems to answer the question he was actually asked in a debate.  But with no Democrat primary this time around, it might not be Republicans who make the final decision on Ron Paul.

Potential Republican Presidential Candidate Runs Against DADT

Gary E. Johnson
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
Bookmark and Share   While a lack of proper attention from the media prevents people from knowing the daily movements of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, he has nonetheless been crisscrossing the nation arguably more than other Republicans who, with the exception of making it official, are undoubtedly actively seeking the G.O.P. nomination.

At each of his events, and through each of his interviews, the Governor never fails to distinguish himself as the most unique Republicans thought to be seeking the presidency. He is a true Republican, who believes in the core principles of the Party and he always has. But within those beliefs exists a purity of heart that has not allowed politics to alter those beliefs and water them down.

That is why Governor Johnson recently came out in support of a court ruling which declared the military must put an end to its discriminatory policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But the Governor suggested that President Obama‘s request to put a stay on that ruling so that all parties concerned can prepare for it is unnecessary. According to him:

“Let that ruling stand and move on,”

 Johnson added:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has always been wrong and it is still wrong.”  “This policy is just not fair and it does not work — we need to get rid of it now.”

As a Republican, Johnson’s position on the issue puts him in the minority of the Party establishment but it reflects the purity of his interpretation of the core conservative principle which dictates that government stay out of our private lives.

His stand in defense of the rights of gays to not have to hide who they are, is just one of many breaks from the establishment of the G.O.P.. Johnson also is at odds with the mainstream of the Party establishment when it comes to his support of abortion rights and for the legalization of marijuana and prostitution. While he does not personally endorse abortion and does not encourage or participate in prostitution and pot smoking, he understands that government does not have the right to make those decisions for him.

Johnson’s stands on the issues, which include opposition to the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, will lead some to paint him as a liberal. Others will appreciate his libertarian Ron Paul-like streak. But like Ron Paul, will that appreciation be enough to overcome the Republican base in a race to be the standard-bearer of the Party?

The answer to that question relies upon two other questions.

Could the rise of TEA movement challenge the hold of the religious right enough to counter their influence over the G.O.P.? And at a time when social issues have taken a backseat to the economic crisis that we face, will Johnson’s untraditional positions on social issues be enough of a factor to dramatically hurt him after voters get to hear his commonsense conservative approach to limited, smaller government, states rights, fiscal responsibility and a free market based economy?  Afgter all, right now,  ‘it really IS the economy, stupid’.

Being one of the few libertarian thinking Republicans to be elected and reelected to govern an entire state, Johnson does bring to the table an advantage that others like Paul do not. He has proven that even with his unorthodox Republican positions, he can win widespread, popular support from the political mainstream. If he can do so on the national level is yet to be seen.  Competing for the Republican presidential nomination with these positions against an unusually large field of more traditional, well known, well financed Republican figure, will be a great challenge. But few have a better chance of facing that challenge than Johnson does.

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