The Date-Night Debate
If you like watching something scary, you would have liked Saturday's Republican presidential debate about foreign policy.
Michele Bachmann braves the media after Saturday night's debate.
Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
My favorite remark in Saturday night’s “commander in chief” debate, in which the Republican presidential candidates answered questions about national security in one-minute sound bites, came from Michele Bachmann. "If you look at China, they don't have food stamps," she said. "They don't have the modern welfare state, and China's growing," she exclaimed, adding: "And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society and they'd be gone."
The rest of the debate wasn’t quite that eye-popping. It could even be said that Jon Huntsman came off as pretty intelligent (I assume he’s still in the race in hopes of becoming the next secretary of state), Ron Paul was principled at least (in an isolationist sort of way), and—the night’s biggest surprise—Rick Santorum made one (though just one) reasonable comment (that we have to seek good relations with Pakistan because it has nukes).
Otherwise, God help us if any of these jokers makes it into the White House.
It started off with Iran. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Santorum all said that, if sanctions and covert ops failed, they would stop the Iranian nuclear program through military action. (Paul said he wouldn’t; Bachman and Huntsman didn’t get the question.)
As for the other hot-button issue, whether we should resume torturing suspected terrorists, Cain pulled out this gem: “I do not agree with torture, period. However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders [as to] what is torture.”
Moderator: Is waterboarding torture or an “enhanced interrogation technique”?
Cain: I agree that it is an "enhanced interrogation technique.”
Moderator: So you support it?
Perry said he too would defend such “techniques” to his death, adding, “This is war. This is what happens in war.” (John McCain, call Rick Perry.)
Bachmann leapt in to say she’s fine with waterboarding, too, and complained that, under President Obama, “the ACLU is running the CIA.” (Quick, somebody, tell David Petraeus!) She also made the astonishing claim that when our troops capture terrorists on the battlefield, there are no jails to lock them up in. (Somebody, tell the Army to set up detention centers!)
Only Paul and Huntsman spoke up for the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogation. Huntsman noted with a grave expression: “This country has values. I’ve lived overseas four times.… We diminish our standing in the world when we engage in torture. Waterboarding is torture.”
Gingrich wasn’t asked the torture question, but he did say that the nation needs to throw out all the CIA reforms that the Church Committee passed in the 1970s.
Romney wasn’t asked the question (too bad), but, on a related matter, he said that he would never negotiate with the Taliban because he doesn’t believe in negotiating with terrorists. Someone should ask him, next time out, how he plans to win, end hostilities, reach a settlement, or do something besides keep fighting forever in Afghanistan.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.