Foreign Policy and the First GOP Debate

7 August 2015, 1347 EDT

Republican presidential candidates arrive on stage for the Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. From left are:  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie;  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio;  retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

So, with the conclusion of last  night’s first GOP debate, it’s worth a look back at the foreign policy claims made by the candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The focus was, as much of the election race will be, focused on domestic policy, but there’s still some stuff worth analyzing. I’ll be working off of the debate transcript posted by Time.

The first foreign policy question was directed at Senator Rand Paul:

BAIER: Senator Paul, you recently blamed the rise of ISIS on Republican hawks. You later said that that statement, you could have said it better. But, the statement went on, and you said, quote, “Everything they’ve talked about in foreign policy, they’ve been wrong for the last 20 years.”

Why are you so quick to blame your own party?

PAUL: First of all, only ISIS is responsible for the terrorism. Only ISIS is responsible for the depravity. But, we do have to examine, how are we going to defeat ISIS?

I’ve got a proposal. I’m the leading voice in America for not arming the allies of ISIS.


PAUL: I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

PAUL: So, we didn’t create ISIS — ISIS created themselves, but we will stop them, and one of the ways we stop them is by not funding them, and not arming them.

Paul is way off base here. His claim that Clinton and other Republicans “want to send arms to the allies of ISIS” is simply nonsensical. Yes, ISIS has managed to seize U.S. Humvees and other American-made weapons, but not because the US has furnished them directly to allies of ISIS, but rather because ISIS has been able to capture them on the battlefield. Paul is spouting little more than conspiracy theory here.

His disavowal of an earlier claim that “ISIS exists because of…[Republican] hawks” is interesting as that is actually a much stronger claim than the absurdities he claimed last night. In May, Paul claimed that aggressive hawks who supported giving arms “indiscriminately” and wanted to bomb Assad were indirectly strengthening ISIS. Agree or not, that’s a logical and defensible position. But Paul, presumably for political reasons, is walking away from that claim.

The next foreign policy moment (not counting immigration, which I’m ignoring as the candidates addressed it as a domestic issue) focused on NSA surveillance and counter-terrorism efforts.

KELLY: Alright, gentlemen, we’re gonna switch topics now and talk a bit about terror and national security.

Governor Christie. You’ve said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable, even going so far as to say that he should be called before Congress to answer for it if we should be hit by another terrorist attack.

Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?

CHRISTIE: Yes, I do. And I’ll tell you why: because I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the federal — the Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th.

I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and that happened in my state.

This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning.

When you actually have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it, and we did it, for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland.

And I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I’ll do.

PAUL: Megyn, may I respond?


PAUL: May I respond?

KELLY: Go ahead, sir.

PAUL: I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.


CHRISTIE: And — and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a — that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.” How are you supposed to know, Megyn?

PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

CHRISTIE: What are you supposed to…

PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

CHRISTIE: …how are you supposed to — no, I’ll tell you how you, look…

PAUL: Get a warrant!

CHRISTIE: Let me tell you something, you go…

PAUL: Get a judge to sign the warrant!

CHRISTIE: When you — you know, senator…


KELLY: Governor Christie, make your point.

CHRISTIE: Listen, senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.


When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure…

PAUL: See, here’s the problem. CHRISTIE: …is to make sure that you use the system (ph) the way it’s supposed to work.

PAUL: Here’s the problem, governor. Here’s the problem, governor. You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights.

Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants…

CHRISTIE: There is no…

PAUL: …indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end.

I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.


KELLY: Go ahead, governor.

CHRISTIE: And you know — you know, Senator Paul? Senator Paul, you know, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th.

Those are the hugs I remember, and those had nothing to do — and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you’re doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate, then putting them on the Internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign…

KELLY: Alright.

CHRISTIE: …and while still putting our country at risk.


KELLY: Alright, we’ve gotta cut it off there.

This is a very interesting and substantive exchange, engaging not only the “security v civil liberties” debate but also the question of experience and the burden of running the country. While I’m sympathetic to the worries over bulk collection of data and surveillance by the NSA, I think Christie wins the exchange. Paul comes off as naive and petulant. Christie not only got off two of the best zingers of the night (“that’s a completely ridiculous answer” and “when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that”) but clearly positioned himself as someone who understands what it means to be responsible for people’s lives. One only needs look at the differences between the claims of Candidate Barack Obama and President Barack Obama to see what happens when one not only gets the full threat assessments of the intelligence community but also shoulders the responsibility for protecting the country. One could take a cynical perspective on this transformation, claiming that power corrupts and of course the president would want to expand his own power. I see it as more likely the demands of protecting the country go far beyond what any of us can possibly imagine. While reasonable people can disagree about how much leeway the NSA should have or the legality of warrantless bulk metadata collection, Christie is exactly right that being president means making hard choices rather than simply shouting “use the Fourth Amendment.”

The debate then returned to the problem of ISIS:

KELLY: Well, I want to move on, because I have — we’re gonna get to you, governor, but I — I really wanna get to a Facebook questioner. His name is Alex Chalgren, and he has the following question:


QUESTION: My question is, how would the candidates stop the treacherous actions of ISIS — ISIL and its growing influence in the U.S., if they were to become president?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KELLY: Senator Cruz, I wanna talk to you about this, because many of the Facebook users and — and — the — the folks on Facebook wanted the candidates to speak to ISIS tonight.

You asked the chairman of the joint chiefs a question: “What would it take to destroy ISIS in 90 days?” He told you “ISIS will only be truly destroyed once they are rejected by the populations in which they hide.” And then you accused him of pushing Medicaid for the Iraqis.

How would you destroy ISIS in 90 days?

CRUZ: Megyn, we need a commander in chief that speaks the truth. We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words, “radical Islamic terrorism”.


When I asked General Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs, what would be required militarily to destroy ISIS, he said there is no military solution. We need to change the conditions on the ground so that young men are not in poverty and susceptible to radicalization. That, with all due respect, is nonsense.

It’s the same answer the State Department gave that we need to give them jobs. What we need is a commander in chief that makes — clear, if you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant.

KELLY: You don’t see it as…


KELLY: …an ideological problem — an ideological problem in addition to a military one?


CRUZ: Megyn, of course it’s an ideological problem, that’s one of the reasons I introduce the Expatriate Terrorist Act in the Senate that said if any American travels to the Middle East and joining ISIS, that he or she forfeits their citizenship so they don’t use a passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans.


CRUZ: Yes, it is ideological, and let me contrast President Obama, who at the prayer breakfast, essentially acted as an apologist. He said, “Well, gosh, the crusades, the inquisitions–”

We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.

Cruz is just terrible with this answer, even setting aside his bizarre praise for the Egyptian strongman. First, it’s clear from the testimony of both then-Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel and General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that their argument is that there is not a military only solution to the problem of ISIS, and certainly not one that the US is willing to implement. Additionally, the revelation that while US-led airstrikes have stopped its advance ISIS is no weaker than it was before the bombings reinforces the claim that there isn’t a military solution to the problem. Without political reform in Iraq to better integrate disaffected Sunnis into political life there, and without a major transformation in the situation in Syria, the swamp from which ISIS recruits cannot be drained.  Cruz doesn’t really answer the question of how he would defeat in ISIS in 90 days, but one would have to assume such a time line would require the introduction of US combat forces into both Iraq and Syria. If that is his intent as president, he needs to come out and say it. I’m not aware of anyone who would recommend such a move.

Cruz goes on to duck the ideology question by promoting his Expatriate Terrorist Act, which may or may not be a good idea but doesn’t address the ideological strength of ISIS. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) has become a critical aspect of US counter-terror strategy, involving reaching out to mainstream Islamic thinkers, finding ways to connect with disaffected Muslim youths, responding to extremist propaganda on social media and the Internet more broadly, and finding partners domestically and internationally. I tend to agree that Obama’s unwillingness to refer to a fight against radical Islam is problematic (although I do understand Obama’s argument and see how it connects to the CVE initiative), but Cruz’s implication that Obama is ignoring the ideological aspects is laughable.


KELLY: Governor Bush, for days on end in this campaign, you struggled to answer a question about whether knowing what we know now…

BUSH: …I remember…

KELLY: …we would’ve invaded Iraq…

BUSH: …I remember, Megyn.


KELLY: I remember it too, and ISIS, of course, is now thriving there.

You finally said, “No.”

To the families of those who died in that war who say they liberated and deposed a ruthless dictator, how do you look at them now and say that your brothers war was a mistake?

BUSH: Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence, and not having security be the first priority when — when we invaded, it was a mistake. I wouldn’t have gone in, however, for the people that did lose their lives, and the families that suffer because of it — I know this full well because as governor of the state of Florida, I called every one of them. Every one of them that I could find to tell them that I was praying for them, that I cared about them, and it was really hard to do.

And, every one of them said that their child did not die in vain, or their wife, of their husband did not die in vain.

So, why it was difficult for me to do it was based on that. Here’s the lesson that we should take from this, which relates to this whole subject, Barack Obama became president, and he abandoned Iraq. He left, and when he left Al Qaida was done for. ISIS was created because of the void that we left, and that void now exists as a caliphate the size of Indiana.

To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to — stop the — Iran agreement, for sure, because the Iranian mullahs have their blood on their hands, and we need to take out ISIS with every tool at our disposal.

It’s notable and laudable that Bush is willing to reject the signature event of his brother’s presidency and say that “it was a mistake” and that he “wouldn’t have gone in.” His connection between the withdrawal from Iraq of US troops and the need to stop the Iran nuclear deal is nonsensical, however. With regards to ISIS, Bush’s argument seems to be that the mistake of invading doesn’t in and of itself excuse the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Fair enough. A president has to deal with the facts on the ground and while we may never know whether Obama could have worked harder to leave a US presence in Iraq or not, that decision should have been based not on a rejection of the original decision to invade but on what was best for Iraq, the region, and US interests at the time. How that connects to the Iran deal is anyone’s guess.

Walker got the next question:

KELLY: Governor Walker, in February you said that we needed to gain partners in the Arab world. Which Arab country not already in the U.S. led coalition has potential to be our greatest partner?

WALKER: What about then (ph), we need to focus on the ones we have. You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important.

You look at the Saudis — in fact, earlier this year, I met with Saudi leaders, and leaders from the United Arab Emirates, and I asked them what’s the greatest challenge in the world today? Set aside the Iran deal. They said it’s the disengagement of America. We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — America’s a great country. We need to stand up and start leading again, and we need to have allies, not just in Israel, but throughout the Persian Gulf.

Walker didn’t answer the question but rather claimed that US leadership has been waning. Again, fair enough. The question of whether Obama has sufficiently maintained the global role of the US has been a hot topic in both academic  and policy circles. Walker, unsurprisingly, offers little details on how he would restore the role of the US.

Ben Carson then got a question about interrogation techniques:

KELLY: Dr. Carson, in one of his first acts as commander in chief, President Obama signed an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques in fighting terror. As president, would you bring back water boarding?

CARSON: Well, thank you, Megyn, I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again.


KELLY: We have a lot for you, don’t worry.



KELLY: Fear not, you may rue that request.

CARSON: Alright. You know, what we do in order to get the information that we need is our business, and I wouldn’t necessarily be broadcasting what we’re going to do.


CARSON: We’ve gotten into this — this mindset of fighting politically correct wars. There is no such thing as a politically correct war.


CARSON: The left, of course, will say Carson doesn’t believe in the Geneva Convention, Carson doesn’t believe in fighting stupid wars. And — and what we have to remember is we want to utilize the tremendous intellect that we have in the military to win wars.

And I’ve talked to a lot of the generals, a lot of our advanced people. And believe me, if we gave them the mission, which is what the commander-in-chief does, they would be able to carry it out.

And if we don’t tie their hands behind their back, they will do it…


CARSON: — extremely effectively.

Despite a bit of obfuscation, Carson seems to be saying that as president he would not prohibit the military from doing anything it believes necessary to carry out a given mission. Carson has been repeatedly critiqued for not knowing much (anything?) about foreign policy, and he once again gives grist to that mill. It was never the military’s interrogation techniques that were in question, but rather those of the CIA. The military’s use of coercive interrogation techniques has never been the issue as the military is legally bound by the rules outlined in Army field manual 2-22.3 which prohibits coercive interrogation, including waterboarding. The executive order issued by President Obama ordered that individuals in the custody of the US “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.” Given that the Constitution gives the power “to make rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces,” the president could not simply order the military to waterboard a prisoner. Yes, the president could undo Obama’s executive order (all the more reason for Congress to enshrine its intent in law!), but that’s not the answer Carson gives.

The debate then finally turned to the Iran nuclear deal:

BAIER: Gentlemen, another question for a few of you.

Yesterday, just yesterday, President Obama criticized Republican lawmakers trying to block the Iran deal, calling them knee-jerk partisans, adding that hardliners in Iran who chant “death to America” were quote, “making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Here’s what two of your opponents on the five p.m. debate stage said about Iran.


PERRY: I will tell you one thing. I would’ve a whole lot rather had Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry. Maybe we would’ve gotten a deal where we didn’t give everything away.

But the issue for us is to have a Congress that stands up and says not only no, but hell no, to this money going to a regime that is going to use it for terror…



FIORINA: When America does not lead, the world is a dangerous and a tragic place. This is a bad deal. Obama broke every rule of negotiation.

Yes, our allies are not perfect, but Iran is at the heart of most of the evil that is going on in the Middle East through their proxy.


BAIER: Now, I wanna ask a few of you this. First, Governor Walker.

You’ve said that you would tear up the Iran deal on day one. If this deal is undone, what then?

WALKER: Well, first off, let’s remember. I still remember, as a kid, tying a yellow ribbon around a tree in front of my house during the 444 days that Iran held 52 Americans hostage. Iran is not a place we should be doing business with.

To me, you terminate the deal on day one, you reinstate the sanctions authorized by Congress, you go to Congress and put in place even more crippling sanctions in place, and then you convince our allies to do the same.

This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.

It’s yet another example of the failed foreign policy of the Obama-Clinton doctrine.


BAIER: Senator Paul, would you tear up the deal on day one?

PAUL: I oppose the Iranian deal, and will vote against it. I don’t think that the president negotiated from a position of strength, but I don’t immediately discount negotiations.

I’m a Reagan conservative. Reagan did negotiate with the Soviets. But you have to negotiate from a position of strength, and I think President Obama gave away too much, too early.

If there’s going to be a negotiation, you’re going to have to believe somehow that the Iranians are going to comply. I asked this question to John Kerry, I said “do you believe they’re trustworthy?” and he said “No.”

And I said, “well, how are we gonna get them to comply?” I would have never released the sanctions before there was consistent evidence of compliance.

BAIER: Governor Huckabee, what do you think about what Senator Paul just said?

HUCKABEE: Ronald Reagan said “trust, but verify.” President Obama is “trust, but vilify.” He trusts our enemies and vilifies everyone who disagrees with him.

And the reason we disagree with him has nothing to do with party.



HUCKABEE: It has to do with the incredibly dangerous place that this world is gonna be as a result of a deal in which we got nothing.

We didn’t even get four hostages out. We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want.

We said we would have anywhere, anytime negotiations and inspections, we gave that up. We said that we would make sure that they didn’t have any nuclear capacity, we gave that up.

The president can’t tell you what we got. I’ll tell you what the world got. The world has a burgeoning nuclear power that didn’t, as the Soviets, say “we might defend ourselves in a war.”

What the Iranians have said is, “we will wipe Israel off the face of the map, and we will bring death to America.” When someone points a gun at your head and loads it, by God, you ought to take them seriously, and we need to take that seriously.

Scott Walker starts out claiming that on the first day of his presidency he’ll reject the agreement and move to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Given that the Iran deal doesn’t have the legal status of a binding agreement he would indeed be able to reject the agreement. But what about the sanctions? Sanctions are generally understood to be wasting asset–that is, they tend to erode over time and it becomes harder and harder to maintain them. Already we see companies preparing to invest in Iran once sanctions lift. Especially as there is significant support for the deal from America’s European allies as well as the UN Security Council, I’d say it’s highly unlikely that multilateral sanctions could be reimposed absent a violation from Iran. That doesn’t mean Walker couldn’t do what he said he’ll do; it just means that the US would likely be acting alone.

Rand Paul then criticizes the president for negotiating from a position of weakness and for agreeing to lift the sanctions without “consistent evidence” of Iranian compliance. According to the agreement’s timeline , sanctions won’t begin to be lifted until “Implementation Day” which only occurs once the IAEA certifies that Iran has complied with its nuclear-related requirements and sanctions won’t be fully lifted until “Transition Day,” a full eight years after the adoption of the agreement. Now, maybe Paul means that the measures in the deal are insufficient to know for sure whether Iran is complying or if Iran is working on a secret facility. But, as I argued earlier on this blog, the deal, as I read it, will certainly be strong enough to force Iran to break the agreement if it does indeed intent to proliferate.

Huckabee finished this question by first claiming that President Obama has chosen to vilify his opponents (a claim supported by several prominent foreign policy analysts), then stating that president didn’t get anything worthwhile in the deal, and then arguing that Iran isn’t the Soviet Union, in that the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons for defensive purposes while Iran has expressed its intent to use nukes. Now, while at the end of the day there wasn’t a major war between the US and the USSR and while nuclear deterrence may have played a large role in preventing that war, it’s clear that both sides thought a lot about using nuclear weapons. Huckabee seems interested in the rhetoric used by enemy states, but rhetoric is cheap talk. What matters here is whether you believe in the stability of nuclear deterrence. There are certainly valid reasons to question whether deterrence between Iran and Israel will be stable, it’s not what countries say but how they act that ultimately matters.

Walker then got another question:

BAIER: Governor Walker, as president, what would you do if Russian President Vladimir Putin started a campaign to destabilize NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, mirroring the actions Putin took at the early days of Ukraine?

WALKER: Well first off, for the cyber attack with Russia the other day, it’s sad to think right now, but probably the Russian and Chinese government know more about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server than do the members of the United States Congress.



And — and that has put our national security at risk. If I am president, he won’t think about that. You know, Putin believes in the old Lenin adage: you probe with bayonets. When you find mush, you push. When you find steel, you stop.

Under Obama and Clinton, we found a lot of mush over the last two years. We need to have a national security that puts steel in front of our enemies. I would send weapons to Ukraine. I would work with NATO to put forces on the eastern border of Poland and the Baltic nations, and I would reinstate, put in place back in the missile defense system that we had in Poland and in the Czech Republic. (APPLAUSE)

We define (ph) steel.

This is one of the best answers of the night, unfortunately cut short by the brevity of the “30 second” format. One of the worst foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration was the removal of the missile defense system from Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the ill-fated Russian “reset.” For the record, I’m not a big believer in missile defense, as I tend to think that its cost is not justified by the threat or the reliability of the system. But to give away an asset that Russia was so obviously concerned about without getting anything in return was a huge mistake. Reinstalling it or even threatening to do so could give the US some much needed leverage over Russian actions in Ukraine.

BAIER: Senator Paul, the first budget your proposed as senator cut all financial aid to Israel. You have since changed your view on that issue. What made you change your mind.

PAUL: Well, let’s be clear, I’m the only one on the stage who actually has a five-year budget that balances. I’ve put pencil to paper…

(UNKNOWN): I do.

PAUL: … and I’ve said — and I’ve said I would cut spending, and I’ve said exactly where. Each one of my budgets has taken a meat axe to foreign aid, because I think we ought to quit sending it to countries that hate us.


I think we ought to quit sending it to countries that burn our flag. Israel is not one of those. But even Benjamin Netanyahu said that ultimately, they will be stronger when they’re independent. My position is exactly the same.

We shouldn’t borrow money from China to send it anywhere, but why don’t we start with eliminating aid to our enemies.

BAIER: OK. But you still say that Israel could be one of the countries that is cut from financial aid?

PAUL: I still say exactly what my original opinion is. Do you borrow money from China to send it to anyone? Out of your surplus, you can help your allies, and Israel is a great ally. And this is no particular animus of Israel, but what I will say, and I will say over and over again, we cannot give away money we don’t have.

We do not project power from bankruptcy court. We’re borrowing a million dollars a minute.


It’s got to stop somewhere.

Another terrible answer from Paul, who again comes off as nearly incoherent.

Christie then got the same question:

BAIER: Governor Christie, what do you think of that answer?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen.

You know, if we want to deal with these issues, we have to deal with them in a way that makes sense.

I agree with what Dr. Carson said earlier. The first thing we need to do to make America stronger is to strengthen our military, and I put out a really specific plan: no less than 500,000 active duty soldiers in the Army. No less than 185,000 active duty marines in the Marine Corps. Bring us to a 350 ship Navy again, and modernize the Ohio class of submarines, and bring our Air Force back to 2,600 aircraft that are ready to go.

Those are the kind of things that are going to send a clear message around the world. Those are the things that we need to start working on immediately to make our country stronger and make it better. Those are the things that we need to be able to be doing. And as we move towards dealing with foreign aid, I don’t disagree with Senator Paul’s position that we shouldn’t be funding our enemies. But I absolutely believe that Israel is a priority to be able to fund and keep them strong and safe after eight years of this administration.

Not much there.

That ended the foreign policy discussions. All in all, not a lot but I think we do learn a few things.

First, Rand Paul comes off as little more than a blithering idiot. His answers bordered on the absurd and demonstrated little to no sophisticated understanding of foreign policy. It’s also clear that he’s backed away from all of the libertarian-ish policies that made him stand out. Now he’s just another Republican with a poor grasp of the issues.

Second, Bush, Walker and Christie (his last answer notwithstanding) all did pretty well. Walker was probably the worst of the three, but he at least seems to understand the issues and was able to mount some solid critiques of Obama’s foreign policy. Bush only got the one question, but also was able to thoughtfully (assuming my interpretation is correct) assess an aspect of Obama’s foreign policy. Christie did particularly well challenging Paul. It’s probably not all that surprising that the governors–all of whom obviously have executive, if not foreign policy–experience, did the best.

Unfortunately, Trump didn’t get a single foreign policy question. When it comes to Trump, in the words of Milhouse Van Houten, “I fear to watch, yet I cannot turn away.”