GOP rivals tackle torture, Iran, aid in foreign-policy debate
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|Sun, 11-13-2011 - 12:24pm|
The Republican presidential rivals took on foreign policy Saturday in a South Carolina debate that saw the field splinter over how candidates...
By Seema Mehta
Los Angeles Times
The Republican presidential rivals took on foreign policy Saturday in a South Carolina debate that saw the field splinter over how candidates would deal with Pakistan, foreign aid and waterboarding, but largely united in their view that President Obama has weakened the nation's standing in the world.
Foreign policy has received scant attention this election amid the dominant focus on the nation's sputtering economy, but it is an area of weakness for several on the stage, and at times some candidates — notably businessman Herman Cain — glided over specifics. Cain repeatedly told questioners he would quiz his advisers about the best course.
The sharpest divide came over whether waterboarding equated torture, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman saying it clearly is — and is beneath the United States.
"This country has values, we have a name brand in the world," Huntsman said. "We diminish our standing in the world and the values we project, including liberty, democracy and human rights and open markets, when we torture."
Several others, including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, disagreed, saying waterboarding, which Obama and GOP nominee John McCain opposed in 2008, was an effective means of obtaining information from the nation's enemies.
Obama has banned waterboarding. In doing that and in calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Bachmann said, the president "is allowing the American Civil Liberties Union to run the Central Intelligence Agency."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched the most forceful defense of waterboarding, saying all means possible should be used to extract information from those who would aim to hurt U.S. service personnel. "I will be for it until I die," he said.
He also suggested, in a discussion of foreign aid, that all countries should begin at zero in their requests for foreign aid, a statement that is sure to set off criticisms by those backing strong U.S. support for Israel.
Throughout the evening, the candidates faulted Obama for planning to withdraw troops from Iraq by year's end, saying he has lowered America's standing in the world and has betrayed the nation's special relationship with Israel.
"We have a president right now who thinks America is just another nation," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "America is an exceptional nation."
All eyes during the debate were on Perry, who stumbled during a debate Wednesday, when he forgot one of the three federal agencies he said he would eliminate. Perry fought back on the debate stage, arguing that his decadelong tenure as governor of Texas and dealing with the shared border with Mexico made him the most qualified on national security. He also repeatedly joked about his poor performance.
When a moderator noted he has proposed eliminating the Department of Energy, Perry said dryly, "Glad you remembered it."
"I've had some time to think about it, sir," replied CBS anchor Scott Pelley.
Perry said, "Me too," as the crowd roared.
All candidates said Obama has failed to stop Iran from working to develop a nuclear warhead, but their prescriptions for what to do ranged from increasing sanctions to assassinating Iranian scientists to going to war.
Romney said he would push "crippling" sanctions first and then work with Iranian dissidents to help them overthrow the government. If neither worked, he said, "then of course you take military action."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he'd order "maximum covert operations ... including taking out their scientists ... all of it covertly, all of it deniable." He, too, said he would not rule out military strikes. "You have to take whatever steps are necessary," he added.
Cain said he'd assist the opposition movement in Iran to force "regime change." He said he would deploy U.S. warships near Iran as a show of force, but, "I would not entertain military options."
Paul said he would not go to war to stop Iran and that no president should have the power to order military action without a declaration from Congress.
"I'm afraid what's going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq," Paul said.
On Pakistan, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said having a relationship with Pakistan was critical to ensuring the nation's nuclear weapons don't fall into the wrong hands, while Perry and Gingrich said the nation is compromised, and that the United States ought to reconsider foreign aid.
"They don't deserve our foreign aid because they're not being honest with us," Perry said of Pakistan.
The meeting of the eight candidates seeking the GOP nomination at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., was the 10th debate of the year, and sponsored by CBS and the National Journal. Pelley and National Journal correspondent Major Garrett moderated.
Material from The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers is included