National Security Debate Coverage

I will once again be covering a primary debate – this one the National Security debate in DC to be hosted by the Heritage Foundation and CNN and moderated by Wolff Blitzer (which just may be the most awesome name in cable news).  The show begins at 8 PM, and so will I.  The main stories:

 – Will Herman Cain avoid making a complete ass of himself for once on matters of foreign policy?  He flubbed Libya, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea…he needs to prove he’s a quick study and he needs to unveil some concrete plan for our national defense and some idea of who he might select to advise him.

 – Newt Gingrich has promised that tonight, he will unveil has historically-founded and coherent international strategy for our common defense, including who will be in his defense department adviser list (and some of them are REALLY big names from the Reagan, Bush and Bush II years, FWIW), and why his plans are better than Romney’s.

 – Romney will try to set records for fractional plastic content within a human hairdo.  He’ll have to prove that he has as much insight as Gingrich does to keep any of his momentum going into the Iowa caucuses.

 – Ron Paul will probably get booed off the stage for being a loony, anti-American anti-military buffoon.

 – Huntsman will get to make a case based on his experience as a diplomat in China.

 – And we’ll see if Rick Santorum, who is best known as a social conservative with little in the way of practical security experience, can show command of the issues.

The others are likely irrelevant, though when Perry talks, it’ll be like watching a NASCAR race…both the Southern drawl and the desperate hope that he screws up horribly to make it more entertaining (come on crash!!)

Check back here to this thread for updates as the event unfolds…my commentary will be extemporaneous, so forgive typos…fast-typing while trying to beat the commercials or the next big question is hard, y’know. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “National Security Debate Coverage

  1. Note #1: Gingrich is gaining HARD on Obama according to Rasmussen.

    Two months ago, when asked if the election were between Gingrich and Obama, 31% chose Gingrich, 59% chose Obama and 10% abstained. As of the 20th of November, that gap has closed to 40% for Newt and 46% for Barry Hopenchange with 14% abstaining.

    Note #2: The generic republican is beating Obama in the presidential race 46% to 43%.

    Note #3: THe latest weekly tracking info from Gallup suggests that Newt Gingrich has taken a 1-point lead on Mittens in the generic primary, though, unfortunately for Gingrich, three of the first four states he's trailing…one by a huge margin (New Hampshire).

    Gingrich loves how many debates there are this year…maybe he'll score some gains tonight…time will tell.

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  2. So obviously, my comments have NOT been extemporaneous. Life intervened in the form of my girlfriend calling me and not wanting to let me do live commentary…but I'll take a conversation with her over a running commentary on a debate alone any day. 🙂

    The debate, however, can be broken into six key areas of policy:

    A) Middle Eastern Tensions
    B) Peacetime Foreign Policy (Foreign Aid)
    C) Energy Independence and Geopolitics
    D) Domestic Spending Reform and Military Spending
    E) Immigration and Homeland Security
    F) Non-military Options for Asserting Authority

    I would first like to say that I thought all of the candidates had nice nights tonight. Even the likes of Paul, Perry, Bachmann and Cain seemed on their games and handled a diverse set of questions surprisingly well…to say nothing for Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Romney, both of whom had a fantastic command of the issues, I thought.

    I'll tackle each of those broad topics in turn.

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  3. On the Middle East, I sensed three themes between the candidates – three basic philosophies on the sources of the problems and the requisite solutions to those problems.
    Paul did an admirable job advancing the position that the Middle East is as unstable and as anti-American as it is because we have meddled in their affairs so long, and changed our minds about who to support so often that they have come to see us as liars, invaders and occupiers. His belief is that if we got out of their way and became self-sufficient, they would leave us alone. He was more or less alone in that regard, but he didn't do a poor job of defending himself.
    There was a significant portion of the group who felt that the basic source of our vulnerability and continued struggle with the Middle East comes from our own weaknesses as a nation. There's a bit of overlap between Paul's positions and several others here. Huntsman, Bachmann, Santorum and Cain are in this camp, broadly. The requisite solution, they believe, to all of our troubles in the middle east is to have a very strong defense and a very strong economy…and the latter is the bigger problem at the moment. Huntsman went so far as to say that the greatest threat to national security today was joblessness. Cain re-emphasized his position that many of our problems would be less significant if our economy was healthy enough to use as a weapon (a peaceful weapon, mind you).
    The remaining participants – Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – spent more of their time arguing that the fundamental problem with the Middle East is that the philosophies winning the day there are fundamentally evil, that military and economic punitive measures should be used aggressively where necessary. These three see the Middle East that way that a gamer would see the map in Risk or Axis and Allies. Gingrich valiantly recalled our efforts in WWII, pointing out that there's no excuse for us not solving these problems with passionate commitment. He points out that we defeated Japan, Germany and Italy – totalitarian regimes all with massive military capability – 'because we pretended we were serious' (to use his sharp language). He made note of the fact that we could easily get Europe on our side against the Middle Eastern zealots if we were capable of replacing the energy supply that they are currently buying from Europe and that if we really wanted to win the war on terror, we could do it quickly in the same way that we won any of the conflicts in which we were engaged prior to Vietnam. Perry advocated crippling economic sanctions for Iran and Syria in concert with aid to friendlier countries in the region (Israel, Turkey, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar, for example). Romney attacked Obama for neglecting our allies and playing nice with our enemies.
    My position on the Middle East is that everyone is correct in some ways…

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  4. 1) I do think Paul has a point when it comes to our playing politics with the region, chooses winning and losing regimes based on what suits our current needs and then not rewarding their cooperation in the future, running wars without endgames in mind, etc. All of that serves to empower the Jihadis and militants in the region to claim that we are not to be trusted. He's fundamentally naive when it comes to the root of their hatred, however, and that is a permanent flaw. He believes that they would go back to some pre-existing condition of peaceful life if we got out of their way. I think they were NEVER peaceful because they've never been introduced to real freedom. And they won't be until we make it possible for freedom to flourish there.

    2) I think Cain and Bachmann et al. are right – as was Chris Christie when he made his now-famous speech at the Reagan Library regarding the connection between foreign weakness and domestic weakness. We have to lead by example…and we have to have the economic resources to build a coalition. One of the reasons George W. Bush was an international failure was that he couldn't build a coalition in Europe. The fundamental reason they wouldn't back military action in Iraq had nothing to do with whether the war was just…they needed Iraqi oil to fuel the EU economy. Period. Everyone knows this to be true. If we'd had our own oil supply to offer as a replacement…we could have won global support for the campaign, established a peaceful Iraq more quickly, and saved ourselves a hell of a lot of money for running the war by getting more international assistance. But we aren't allowing ourselves to tap our own energy reserves and this has to stop.

    3) I think Gingrich and Perry and Romney are also correct that peace with the Middle East can't come through ONLY peaceful means and can't be wholly achieved with economic superiority. You can spend Russia into the ground, but you can't spend Iran into not having a Nuke in the hands of a radical Jihadi Mullah. I think Gingrich had the strongest grasp for geopolitical and military strategy, and I think our position in that region needs both the Bush-Doctrine philosophical underpinning (introducing the concept of freedom to oppressed peoples) and the economic might to stick with it long term as we did in Japan…not to mention the force of will to resist using the Middle East as a political pawn in your homeland election cycle.

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  5. On foreign aid, there are the economic zealots among the conservative movement who think it's crazy to spend any money abroad when we can't balance our own budget. I sympathize with Paul (a lot of our money is wasted on the wrong people and we do have our own problems to worry about) and I sympathize with Perry and his frustration with blank checks getting made out to Pakistan…but I think this is wrong, as it overlooks our best chance of making allies abroad in the long term.

    There are those, like Cain and Romney, who think foreign aid needs to be audited for success, constantly re-evaluated, and given only to allies. This seems logical to me…but will be hard to sell as compassionate in some cases. It is fundamentally correct, but you can understand why it isn't done in Washington.

    And then there is Newt…and you can see that he's had a long history in political circles and is a bit of a gamer sometimes in his answers here. He does make good points about us getting a lot in return for our investment of foreign aid in the long term…but he seemed to blanch at the idea of reviewing and making aid conditional. Bit of a head-scratcher IMHO.

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  6. On energy independence, there was a group-wide consensus…we have got to produce our own energy. This strikes me as a much bigger national security issue than many have given it credit for. The differences come down to the preferred approaches to opening up energy at home. Bachmann and Perry both brought up the Keystone Pipeline…Gingrich targeted the EPA and over-regulation, and Huntsman concentrated on job creation in that sector. Gingrich was a big nuclear wonk in his heyday as well, though he didn't mention it tonight. Cain and Santorum both mentioned the need to cut corporate tax rates for producers and manufacturers…but this was an area of broad agreement.

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  7. The candidates were asked – point blank – whether they thought any military spending cuts were acceptable. Gingrich immediately said that he was in charge of programs to make military spending more efficient and proposed like four different very specific ways it could be done today (he loves sigma-six and brings it up a lot, for example)…Paul wanted to gut military spending, obviously…Romney and Perry both said they would not accept significant spending cuts without good reason and Romney specifically refused to budge on the notion of troop draw-downs.

    I think that Gingrich had the best line of the evening on this topic. He mentioned that when it takes 15 years to build a military weapon or vehicle, while Steve Jobs is making a new technical breakthrough every year, there's something seriously wrong with the system. The bottom line is that military contracts are fraught with corruption, confusion, and inefficiency and that we need to privatize weapon and defense technology development and concentrate military spending on deploying assets and providing for defense…perhaps my father will comment here?

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  8. On the homeland side of the security question, there were a couple of interesting subtopics.

    1) Profiling and transportation safety…should we be picking and choosing who to screen?

    Here, Paul took the side opposed and was its primary defender and Perry and Gingrich took the side for. Everyone stopped well short of suggesting that racial or religious profiling should be done, but suggested that background checks and data mining for clues about which types of people are the most likely to pose a threat (like the insurance companies do when the set your premiums) is the most reasonable action. Cain compared it to business practices for customer product-testing and market research. Perry said that one of the first things he'd do in office was privatize the TSA and pointed out that Denver is doing this already and it's working.

    2) The Patriot Act

    Should the Patriot Act be continued? Paul was obviously against, but everyone else seemed to be for its' continuation and possible improvement. Gingrich made a very clear point of separating criminal activity from terrorism and war and suggested that the country is justified in doing anything it must to fight a war, including all of the powers outlined by the Patriot Act…he pointed out that the Act has prevented dozens of attacks including one ripped from the headlines today in NYC.

    3) Border Security and Immigration

    Here you had Paul arguing for immediate amnesty and a closed border, Perry arguing that we can't talk about anything else until we have closed the border but suggesting that we needed to think about some kind of legal path to citizenship for the illegals already here, Cain giving his stock line regarding a closed side door but a wide open front door, and Romney siding completely against any amnesty for illegals already here and Gingrich taking the msot interesting position of the night…arguing in favor of a specific proposal to allow illegals with significant ties to the community to stay as legal residents but deny them citizenship (and the benefits that come with it). This seems logical to me. You shouldn't get citizenship by cheating your way into the system…but you shouldn't get torn from your family just the same. And I think that the main problem economically with illegal immigration isn't the ones who come here to find work, but the ones who come here to get our benefits…deny them the benefits and there won't be an immigration problem. Gingrich scores for me here as well.

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  9. As for non-military American influence…I won't go into all of the broad base of ideas here accept to coment that the running theme seemed to be…Obama is taking away all of our options in this regard. He's killing our economy so we can't financially outcompete other influential powers like China…he's killing our energy production for environmental reasons so we can't offer alternatives to OPEC…he's killing our diplomatic ties with our allies so we can't ask them for help when we need multilateral pressure…and he's taking away our ability to interrogate and gather intelligence with foreign combatants. They're right on all of those counts, IMHO.

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  10. Overall…I would say that Gingrich was the most decisive, most specific, and most impressive man on the stage yet again…proving he's not just a student of economic and political history and strategy, but also a master of military history and international affairs.

    Romney was sharp and skilled, but missed the mark a few times when he had a chance to go on the offensive. Cain was surprisingly adept tonight…I didn't perceive major weaknesses on this particular day…but he needs to outline some specific policy ideas I think before we can consider him viable. Paul…well what can you say about Paul except that he's…well…Paul. He had a vocal minority of supporters in the crowd and the rest were polite…so no booing. But his non-verbal antics while others were answering questions were childish and made him look crazy…or…crazier.

    I think the big winner was Gingrich…who solidified his entire platform and avoided getting drawn into snark-fights despite being attacked several times, including on immigration reform. He did have one moment where he snarked at the moderator saying he doesn't mind obeying the rules but they should be consistent and he wants to know what they are. But this seemed to provoke laughter rather than annoyance from Blitzer, the candidates and the crowd. I think he'l gain some ground after tonight in the heartland and with the Hawks of the party.

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