Romney’s Iran policy was the only one to include indicting Ahmadinejad on charges of advocating genocide. He also said that Israel would be the first country he’d visit. Herman Cain said he’d only support Israeli action against Iran if their plan was “credible,” but that he thought Israel would be “highly unlikely” to have one because Iran has approximately 40 nuclear sites, some of which are in mountains. Ron Paul would not support Israel but said the U.S. should get out of its way. Rick Perry called for sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank, which he said would shut down Iran’s economy, and Gingrich agreed.
There was a difference of opinion over how to handle Syria. Rick Perry is the only one to support an immediate imposition of a no-fly zone, arguing that it is essential to curbing Iran’s ambitions. Ron Paul and Herman Cain opposed it altogether, with the latter saying he’d work with allies in the region. Romney mocked the idea of a no-fly zone, noting that Syria has 5,000 tanks. He supports a policy of regime change through sanctions and covert action, but didn’t rule out the military option. He said the Allawite minority has to be reassured that they don’t need to fight by the side of Bashar Assad and supports working with the military defectors fighting the regime, referring to the Free Syria Army.
Defense spending cuts brought out another disagreement. Romney opposes any cuts. Gingrich said defense spending should be on the table because there are ways the Pentagon can operate more cheaply. He mentioned that it takes 10-15 years to develop a new weapons system, but Apple puts out new technology every 9 months. Jon Huntsman said cuts should be considered and Ron Paul mocked the notion that defense cuts are being planned, arguing that the “cuts” are really just a decreased growth in spending.
The best question of the night came from Marc Thiessen, who asked the candidates which national security issue they are most concerned about that hasn’t been discussed. Herman Cain was the first to pick cyber warfare. Newt Gingrich said it was the threat of an EMP attack and cyber warfare. Rick Santorum said it was the alliance of radical socialists and Islamists in Latin America, which Romney agreed with. Ron Paul chose overreaction to threats.
Rick Perry said “Communist China,” which he predicted would enter the “ash heap of history” as the Soviet Union did. Bachmann mentioned the premature withdrawal from Iraq and al-Shabbab’s recruiting of Americans, including in her state. Huntsman said China but that it has “trouble ahead.”
National security isn’t a major issue in the campaign, as the economy, deficit and health care dominate the minds of voters. However, this could change at any moment and no one can foresee what will happen after 2012. This debate reminded America that it is choosing a Commander-in-Chief.
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