In Case You Missed It: Highlights from the CBS News/National Journal National Security Republican Presidential Debate

November 14, 2011

CBS News and National Journal's national security debate provided a much-needed opportunity for the Republican presidential candidates to present their vision of America’s role in the world and broader U.S. foreign policy to meet the security challenges facing America. To date, much of the focus of the presidential campaign has centered on the state of the economy. Yet historically, presidents have faced unexpected national-security crises or challenges in their first terms. Below are suggested resources and highlights from the debate from various candidates who outlined their vision for preventing a nuclear Iran, the way forward in Afghanistan, the role of the U.S. in the Middle East and the Arab Spring, and America’s role in the world.


FPI Resources

  • A Holistic View of Defense – FPI Executive Director Jamie M. Fly and Policy Analyst Evan Moore –  National Review Online’s blog, The Corner – November 11, 2011

Suggested Reading


Debate Highlights

ON IRAN

Herman Cain: "The first thing that I would do is to assist the opposition movement in Iran, that's tryin' to overthrow the regime. Our enemies are not the people of Iran, it's the regime. And a regime change is what they are trying to achieve. Secondly, we need to put economic pressure on Iran, by way of our own energy independence strategy. By having our own energy independence strategy, we will impact the price of oil in the world markets, because Iran uses oil not only as a-- means of currency, but they use it as a weapon."

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Mitt Romney: "This is, of course, President Obama's greatest failing, from a foreign policy standpoint, which is he recognized the gravest threat that America and the world faces was a nuclear Iran and he did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly. What he should have done is speak out when dissidents took the streets and say, 'America is with you.' And work on a covert basis to encourage the dissidents.

"Number two, he should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. But instead of getting Russia, for instance, to what he gave in our missile defense system to agree to stand with those crippling sanctions, he gave Russia what they wanted, their number one foreign policy objective, and got nothing in return...finally, the president should have built credible threat of military action, and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, one thing you can know-- and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you'd like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon...it's worth putting in place crippling sanctions. It's worth working with the insurgents in the company to encourage regime change in the country. And if all else fails, if after all of the work we've done, there's nothing else we can do besides take military action, then of course you take military action. It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

"We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. This term 'unacceptable' has been applied by several presidents over history, and our current president has made it very clear that he's not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly. I will take a different course. I will make sure that the sanctions, diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, and support of insurgents within the country help them become dissuaded to get away from their nuclear ambition."

ON AFGHANISTAN

Scott Pelley: "That is time. Thank you. Representative Bachmann, do you think the 30,000 surge troops in Afghanistan have made a difference, and if so, where?"

Michele Bachmann: "They absolutely have, but it's unfortunate, the request was made for 40,000 troops. President Obama dithered for approximately two months, when he should have given the full complement of 40,000 troops. When he gave 30,000 troops to the effort in Afghanistan, that meant that a decision had to be made. With 40,000 troops, they could have conducted the war going into the southern province in-- in Helmand and also going into the eastern province and dealing with the problem all at once and coming to victory that much sooner and bringing our troops home.

"When 30,000 troops were given, then our troops did the very best that they could by going into the south and dealing in the Helmand Province. We actually have seen improvement down by Kandahar. That's a very good thing. And that's because of the brave actions by our men and women in that area. However, we have to recognize, now President Obama has made a very fatal decision in Afghanistan. He's made the decision that by next September, our troops will be withdrawn. If that is the case, how do we expect any of our allies to continue to work to-- with us? How can we even begin to seek the peace with the Hikani Network that are in the eastern regions."

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Rick Perry: "Now let me address this issue of Afghanistan and how we deal with it. The mission must be completed there. The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate.

"But the idea that we would give a timetable to our enemy is irresponsible from a military standpoint, it's irresponsible from the lives of our young men and women. And it is irresponsible leadership of this president to give a timetable to pull out of any country that we're in conflict with."

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Major Garrett: "Governor Romney, a much smaller footprint in Afghanistan? Do you support that? And secondarily, sir, is it time or would it ever be time for the United States to negotiate with the Taliban?"

Mitt Romney: "We don't negotiate with terrorists. I do not negotiate with the Taliban. That's something for the Afghans to decide how they're gonna pursue their course in the future. With regards to our footprint in Afghanistan, the right course is for us to do our very best to secure the victories that have been so hard won by the soldiers, the men and women of our fighting forces who have been in Afghanistan.

"The commanders on the field feel that we can take out 30,000 to 40,000 troops sometime by the end of next year. The commander in chief, perhaps looking at the calendar of the election, decided to bring them home in September, instead, in the middle of the fighting season. Our commanders said that puts our troops at risk, at danger, 'Please don't pull 'em out there,' they said.

"But he said, 'No, I'm gonna get 'em out early.' I think that was a mistake. Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces."

ON PAKISTAN

Major Garrett: "Congresswoman Bachmann, you serve on the Intelligence Committee. I'd like to get your assessment of what you think is happening in Pakistan, especially with the Haqqani Network. And you know from sitting on that committee that those in the diplomatic corps in this country and even the intelligence community believe that there is a tangible benefit, at times, to properly apply foreign aid from this country. So I want to know if you agree with the governor on that question, starting at zero. And also your assessment of the intelligence situation in Pakistan, and what we should do about it."

Michele Bachmann: "Pakistan is a very difficult area, because they have been housing terrorists and terrorists have been training there. Al Qaeda, as well as Haqqani, as well as other militias dealing with terrorist organizations. But I would not agree with that assessment to pull all foreign aid from Pakistan. I would reduce foreign aid to many, many countries. But there's a problem, because Pakistan has a nuclear weapon. We have more people affiliated with Al Qaeda closer to that nuclear bomb than in any nation. This is an extremely important issue.

"And I think it underscores exactly why the next commander in chief has to understand from day one the intricacies that are happening in the Middle East. This is a very dangerous time. If you look at Iran and if you look at Pakistan and if you look at the links with Syria, because Iran is working through proxies like Syria, through Hezbollah, through Hamas. It seems that the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war against Israel. And if there's anything that we know, President Obama has been more than willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street, but he hasn't been willing to stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama and they do not see a friend."

ON THE ARAB SPRING

Major Garrett: "Mr. Speaker, at least 3,500 civilians have been slaughtered in Syria. Today, the Arab League voted to suspect Syria. If the opposition, and you were commander in chief, requested military assistance, covert smuggling, or a no-fly zone, would you authorize either or both?"

Newt Gingrich: "With first of all, I think that it's a good thing today that the Arab League suspended Syria. I think this administration should have been much more aggressive against Assad. It's ironic to me that Mubarrak, who had been our ally for years, who had done everything he could to help the United States, who had helped us in the Iraq campaigns, who had done literally we had requested of him, he was dumped overnight by this administration in a way that signaled everybody in the world, 'Don't rely on the United States, because they'll abandon you in a heartbeat if they feel like it.'

"Assad, who is our enemy, and is an ally of Iran, has had amazingly soft treatment by our State Department, as though they are afraid to make him feel bad. I would actively approve [of] taking those steps which would defeat his regime, which would probably be mostly covert. I don't think you need a no-fly zone. I think there are a number of steps you could take. And I think he would fall very rapidly.

"If the United States and Europe communicated clearly that Assad was going to go, I think you would find Europe-- there's a very tiny faction. And I think you would find him likely to be replaced very rapidly."

 

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Scott Pelley: "Governor Romney, if I may ask you a 30 second follow-up to that. Is it time for the Assad dictatorship to end? Would you use military force to do that?"

Mitt Romney: "Of course it's time for the Assad dictatorship to end. And we should use covert activity, as Speaker Gingrich has just indicated. Look-- the-- the reason I disagree with Ron Paul on this is-- that you have, in Syria, a nation which is an ally, the only Arab ally, of Iran. It is arming Hezbollah. It represents an axis of great significance to Iran. And as a result, because of our concern about Iran, and their effort to become the Hageman in the Middle East, it is important for us as a nation to stand up and to help those efforts to-- to replace Assad. And that means helping Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are putting pressure on him, as well as covert activity of our own."

ON AMERICA IN THE WORLD

Mitt Romney: "My foreign policy's pretty straightforward. I would be guided by an overwhelming conviction that this century must be an American century where America has the strongest values, the strongest economy, and the strongest military. An American century means the century where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

"We have a president right now who thinks America's just another nation. America is an exceptional nation. We have a president who thinks that the way to conduct foreign policy is through his personal affects on other people. I believe the way to conduct foreign policy is with American strength. Everything I do will make America stronger. And I will stand and use whatever means necessary within the law to make sure that we protect America's citizens and Americans' rights."

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