November 12 South Carolina GOP Debate Recap: Waterboarding Edition

Today there was yet another GOP debate, this one hosted by CBS News and the National Journal in South Carolina, focusing on national security issues.

First a complaint: The moderators, Scott Pelley and Major Garrett, were simply terrible, and the whole way this debate was run by CBS was a joke. The set looked cheap. Though this has been the only debate so far focusing on national security issues, they only played an hour on TV and broadcast the rest on the Internet, where most people could not see it because of networking problems. The news division of CBS must have really slipped over the years.

Now, to the issues:

On Iran, Herman Cain still thinks that energy independence would help us put pressure on Iran. However, since just 9.2% of the oil America uses comes from the Middle East, and most of that from the Arabian Peninsula, it is clear that Cain simply has no idea what he is talking about. Mitt Romney would use a full spectrum of measures to deal with Iran in order to keep them from getting nuclear weapons, including war as a last resort. Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would co-ordinate with Israel, Gingrich on covert ops and wet work (i.e., assassinations), Santorum on covert ops, wet work, and a bombing campaign. Gingrich would also resort to war as a last resort. Rick Perry would sanction Iran’s central bank–he promises that they will cave in a second if we do. Ron Paul thinks that Iran presents no danger, and that this is all a propaganda to get us into a war and oppress the Iranian people.

On Afghanistan, Perry just wants to finish the job, and is wary of timetables. Michele Bachmann talked at length and quite knowledgeably on the Afghan War, and wants a greater US commitment there. Romney supports the idea of a timetable, but would not second guess the generals, and would insist on victory. Gingrich gave a glib answer about the problem being with Pakistan and Iran, but gave no hint of what he would do. Jon Huntsman would withdraw all US fighting forces from Afghanistan immediately.

On Pakistan, Bachmann, Romney, and Santorum all seemed to have a firm grasp of the problems of working with that country, but of the necessity to at least make an effort in that regard. Romney noted correctly that Pakistan is close to being a failed state, and that it would be highly incendiary to send troops into Pakistan, so we should try to get a stronger commitment from the Pakistani government to go after insurgents.

Meanwhile, Cain seemed confused as to whether Pakistan was a friend or foe, and had no idea what to do. Perry seemed equally shallow of his understanding of Pakistan, and even wants to use foreign aid as a bludgeon to get Pakistan to behave.

Of course, without the foreign aid, Pakistan would be giving us no support at all–they would effectively be complete enemies. While we may think that this support they have been giving is too little to be worth it, this perception is entirely wrong–the area has been on the brink of war for years (China and Pakistan versus India). Our aid to Pakistan has helped to stabilize the region. Perry’s suggestion would cause us to lose all leverage with Pakistan, and might even make a regional nuclear war–and possibly the use of one of their nukes as a terrorist weapon against the US–inevitable. Like it or not, it would be irresponsible to cut off aid to Pakistan or to cut off Pakistan. The country has to be engaged by the US.

On the use of torture on foreign combatants, Cain and Bachmann are against it (as are presumably all the candidates, except perhaps Perry), but they do not believe that waterboarding constitutes torture and would not outlaw it. Paul thinks that waterbording is illegal and immoral, and that there is no evidence that we can get reliable evidence from it.

Paul is simply wrong on the facts. The record shows that waterboarding was seldom used, but that in the few cases it was used it yielded actionable intelligence that helped us avert further terrorist attacks. Indeed, waterboarding even led us to bin Laden.

On the issue of whether or not the president can order the death of an American overseas, both Romney and Gingrich support the idea of killing enemy combatants, regardless of their nationality. Paul believes that the whole war on terror is illegal and that this is simply a crime. He would use civilian courts to try terrorists.

On Syria, both Gingrich and Romney feel that we should deal more aggressively against the Syrian government and rely on covert ops. Paul would let the Syrians take care of their own problems, and says that every nation should have self-determination (newsflash to Paul: A brutal dictatorship does not represent self-determination).

On China, Perry believes that the Chinese communist government cannot survive unless it adopts virtue (newsflash to Perry: If it had virtue, it would no longer be communist or in charge). Romney would use trade as a leverage against China to make them play by the rules. Incredibly, Huntsman believes that we cannot take China to the WTO on currency related issues. Since the GATT talks in particular discussed currency related issues regarding China (they made the decision to punt), this is certainly something that can and should be handled by the WTO. One would think that a former ambassador would know this. His idea of solving problems in US-China relations by engaging the youth of China through the Internet and public diplomacy was hopelessly naive.

This was one area where Bachmann really showed her ignorance, despite an otherwise stellar performance. Bachmann blamed all of America’s domestic woes on LBJ’s Great Society programs, and seemed to be advocating turning back the clock and simply getting rid of them. She stated that China had no safety net, and that was the reason for China’s success. A few points: Not everyone in China has enjoyed its economic success. Indeed, most people in China still live in dire poverty. Second, many people do not receive proper medical care in China because of this lack of a safety net. The reason for China’s growth has nothing to do with safety nets: It has everything to do with overseas investment and a near absolute lack of business regulations, especially when it comes to quality, salaries and benefits, health, safety, and pollution.

Even though this was a debate about national security, they were asked how they would balance the budget. Romney would eliminate Obamacare, the Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and NPR. He would send Medicaid to the states, cut the federal workforce by 10%, and link federal pay to the pay scale of the private sector. Huntsman would adopt the Ryan Plan. Gingrich would balance the budget purely through innovation and growth, and actually proposes more spending. Gingrich still cannot name a single federal program that he would eliminate.

Going strictly by the answers, Mitt Romney came out very knowledgeable and competent. Michele Bachmann did quite well, despite her slip-up on China. On basic national security issues she is surprisingly deep, and conservatives should take a fresh look at her. Rick Santorum was also quite sound, but not quite as detailed or knowledgeable as either Romney or Bachmann.

Many people had the initial impression that Newt Gingrich did well in this debate. I simply did not see it. His answer to everything seemed to be to take a hard-line and to develop covert ops. Otherwise, he was non-specific and did not show a depth of knowledge on the issues.

Herman Cain has good instincts, but his answer to nearly every difficult issues was to listen to his generals. While Rick Perry did not fall into this trap, his answers were equally shallow.

While I thought that Ron Paul won the last debate, this debate shows why I would never support him as president.

Jon Huntsman was an embarrassment. One of his worst answers of the night was on China–and he is a former ambassador to that country.

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4 Responses to November 12 South Carolina GOP Debate Recap: Waterboarding Edition

  1. Pingback: Perry: My foreign aid budget starts at zero « Fed Up With Nanny Fed

  2. Pingback: Republicans Opt For War, Torture and Adopting The Chinese Communist Model « The Fifth Column


  4. I have to disagree with you on a couple points. Waterboarding wasn’t “seldom used.” We waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammad almost 200 times. Most of his “confessions” were just made up stories to get the torture to stop. Even if waterboarding did ultimately lead to a piece of information that eventually led us to bin Laden, it took years to get that information and more years to get anything out of that information. An interrogation technique that takes nearly a decade to develop actionable intelligence simply isn’t an effective technique, nevermind the damage that it’s caused to our standing in the world or our ability to confront human rights violators.

    I also thought this was Huntsman’s strongest debate of any so far. He’s right to be worried about a trade war with China, and the other candidates would do well to listen to him on that issue. When you consider the recent track of the Chinese-US exchange rate, especially in light of quantitative easing, Romney’s bluster about making China “play by the rules” seems downright bizarre.

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