GOP Debate Highlights Key Differences in Field
Candidates sparred over torture and troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, and some rooted openly for the assassination of foreign scientists
SPARTANBURG — Saturday night's debate at Wofford College showed America that while the eight Republican candidates for president may be likeminded in their aversion to President Barack Obama's policies, their stances on key foreign policy issues are anything but cookie-cutter.
The most contentious moments came over a topic that became white hot during President George W. Bush's administration: torture.
The question that started the sparring was posed online by Stephen Schafroth, which asked whether or not he supported interrogation techniques that have now been prohibited by Obama's administration.
Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, who spent much of his time during the foreign policy debate by saying he'd defer to his military advisors, was the first to take a crack at answering the question.
"I believe in following the procedures that have been established by our military. I do not agree with torture, period," Cain said. "However, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture."
Rep. Ron Paul predictably railed against the practice of torture, specifically waterboarding, calling it immoral, impractical and un-American.
Likewise, former Gov. Jon Huntsman said torture did serious damage to America's reputation abroad.
"This country has values," Huntsman said. "We have a name-brand in the world."
That brand, Huntsman said, is built upon values that include democracy and human rights, and would suffer if the United States re-instate techniques he considers to be torture, including waterboarding.
Rep. Michele Bachmann directly supported Cain's position.
"I would be willing to use waterboarding," she said.
The topic of torture was not the only moment Huntsman would depart from the rest of the field in terms of foreign policy. The former ambassador to China and governor of Utah also said he believed in significant troop reduction in Afghanistan.
"I take a different approach on Afghanistan," Huntsman said. "I say it's time to come home. I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We had free elections in 2004, we uprooted the Taliban, we have dismantled Al Qaeda, and we've killed Osama Bin Laden."
"I say this nation's future is not Afghanistan. This nation's future is not Iraq. This nation's future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st century's competitive challenges. That's economics, that's education. I don't want to be nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so needs to be built."
Meanwhile, Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum differed from the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the topic of foreign aid to Pakistan.
After Cain questioned the country's true intentions in the war on terror, Perry offered starting at a "zero" foreign aid budget, which would then change only after "conversations" with each country vying for U.S. dollars.
If Pakistan doesn't hold up to its end of the bargain in assisting America, then they wouldn't receive a dime of aid.
"They don't deserve our foreign aid," Perry said.
But Bachmann and Santorum both disagreed with idea of pulling Pakistan's aid, since Pakistan is in a crucial region, and also has a nuclear weapon that could fall into the wrong hands should terrorist elements ever seize control.
"I would not agree with that assessment to pull all foreign aid from Pakistan," Bachmann said. "Pakistan has a nuclear weapon."
"Pakistan must be a friend of the United States," Santorum said. "We can't be indecisive about if Pakistan is our friend. They must be our friend."
Santorum and Gingrich both agreed during the debate on taking aggressive covert action against Iran to prevent its development of a nuclear weapon — including "taking out" scientists, as Gingrich termed it.
For much of the night, Romney managed to steer clear of much of the infighting, though he did find himself at odds with Cain and Paul as to whether or not military action should be a legitimate option to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
"If all else fails, if after all the work we've done, there's nothing left we can do but to take military action, then of course we take military action," Romney said.
But Paul disagreed with the notion of intervening in Iran, while Cain said any action should be covert, and that direct military conflict should be avoided.
The debate had its moments of contentiousness and humor. When moderator Scott Pelley asked Perry about his stance to eliminate the Department of Energy, it led to a moment of levity referencing Perry's major gaffe at the last debate.
"You advocate for the elimination of the Department of Energy," said Pelley.
"Glad you remembered it," Perry said, prompting loud laughter and applause.
"I've had some time to think about it, sir," Pelley said.
"So have I," Perry responded.
When moderator Major Garrett attempted to get Gingrich to evaluate Romney on whether he was creative enough to formulate "out of the box" solutions for America, the former speaker of the house didn't take the bait.
"We're here tonight talking to the American people about how every single one of us is better than Barack Obama," Gingrich said.
The debate was presented by CBS News and The National Journal.