Debating National Security

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Debating National Security

This Saturday, conservative candidates for president will debate national security and foreign policy in Spartanburg, South Carolina. So far those vying for the nomination have given few specifics about how they view the world beyond America’s shores. As conservative columnist George Will wrote last week, “the candidates have some explaining to do.” With two wars still winding down and the European economic crisis threatening the U.S., Americans need to know how the men and women who want to be America’s commander-in-chief would deal with the rest of the world. Citizens need to know what they see as the chief external challenges to America and how they would shape our civilian, economic and military institutions to respond. The National Security Network has put together this list of questions for the eight contenders who will be taking the stage:

European Economic Crisis

You have all said that the market by itself is the best tool to handle the financial crisis in Europe. If European markets spread panic and freeze credit for American businesses, what then?

If European attempts to deal with the euro crisis fail, would you be willing to protect American banks from failure in order to prevent a second financial crisis in the U.S.?


Many of you have said that you would follow the advice of the commanders in the field for major decisions on Afghanistan and elsewhere. Those same commanders have warned about the consequences of military action against Iran. Would you follow their advice?

Most of you have said that a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable.” The Iraq War cost nearly 5,000 U.S. lives and an estimated $3 trillion dollars. How much is military action, which might very well fail, worth in lives, in dollars, in higher gas prices and instability in the Middle East, to try to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

Support for the Troops

During a debate in September, audience members booed a soldier serving our country on active duty in Afghanistan. Do you condemn that action?

Unemployment numbers for veterans who served post-9/11 are three percent higher than the national figure. Should the government play a role in helping those who served pay for college and get jobs? Do you support the portion of President Obama’s jobs bill that provides tax credits to businesses for hiring veterans, which was taken up in the Senate this week?

Deficits and Defense Spending

As the Associated Press has reported, “The same Republicans who insist that federal spending doesn’t create jobs and should be cut in the face of staggering deficits are leading the charge against smaller military budgets because about a million defense jobs would be lost.” Does federal spending create jobs, or not?

Governor Romney, you have argued for spending four percent of GDP on the military. Reaching that target from current levels would amount to a 14 percent increase over this year’s budget, and that’s not even counting war spending. What threat justifies that level of spending in a time of austerity? Where would you cut the federal budget in order to afford that level of military spending without adding to the deficit?

China, Trade

Governor Romney, you have recently vowed action against China for unfair trade practices if you’re elected. But in your book you criticize actions by both President Bush and President Obama to punish unfair actions by China. One of your trade advisors, Carlos Gutierrez, has come out against bills that would have punished Chinese currency manipulation – bills you said you would support. What’s your position now?

Governor Romney, last month in a speech you said China was “building a global alliance of authoritarian states.” What’s the name of that alliance? How many members does it have now?


Many of you have criticized President Obama’s decision to end the war in Iraq. As Washington Post columnist George Will has asked, how many troops would you have wanted to leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are you prepared to invest there?

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, fully 78 percent of all Americans support President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by December. Are they wrong?


Many in your party have been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism prosecution in civilian courts. Senior judges, FBI agents and military leaders have said that civilian courts – which have convicted more than 400 suspects on terrorism charges, compared to just six in military tribunals – should play a key role in bringing terrorists to justice, along with the military strategy that has resulted in deaths of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al Awlaki and the top tier of al Qaeda’s leadership. What is your strategy to defeat al Qaeda?

Israel and Allies

Is there any American security interest that would trump a request from Israel? For example, would you release Jonathan Pollard?

Mr. Cain, you’ve said, “We need to clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are.”  Where do Turkey, a NATO ally, and Pakistan fit in those categories?


Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, how many nuclear weapons does the United States need and for what purpose?

Last year, the Senate passed the New START treaty on a strong bipartisan basis. The treaty reduced the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and reinstated a verification regime that had been in place for almost two decades. The treaty was supported by both Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, every living Republican Secretary of State, our NATO allies and the leadership of the United States military. Mr. Romney, you called the New START treaty President Obama’s “worst foreign policy mistake.” Do you stand by this claim, and how do you explain the disagreement of conservative and nonpartisan security leaders?


Mr. Romney, you have criticized President Obama’s policy on Afghanistan. Are there any circumstances under which you would reverse the current troop reductions? If not, how would your position differ from President Obama’s?

Foreign Aid

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said “development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers” and David Petraeus, former commander of the mission in Afghanistan and now CIA director, has cautioned that cutting the budgets of the State Department and USAID could “jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission” in Afghanistan. Do you agree with Gates and Petraeus or with Congressional Republicans who have proposed cuts of nearly 29 percent to the foreign aid budget next year?


In Libya, President Obama’s policy led to the removal of Muammar Qaddafi – who Ronald Reagan called “the Mad Dog of the Middle East” – without putting a single U.S. soldier on the ground. All of you have criticized President Obama’s approach. Would you have committed more scarce American resources, or would you have refrained from action despite the threat Qaddafi posed to Libyans?

Governor Romney, Jake Tapper of ABC News has documented that your position on Libya has changed five times. How do you justify that?

Arab Spring

How do you reconcile the images of young people across the Arab world organizing on their Facebook pages, making signs in English and quoting from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Newt Gingrich’s statement that the Arab Spring is an “Anti-Christian Spring“?

What policy guidelines apply equally across the Middle East? Could your administration have kept Mubarak in power in Egypt? Alternatively, are you advocating that the U.S. military undertake regime change across the Middle East? Do you agree with Senators Graham and McCain that the U.S. should intervene in Syria?


Who should be responsible for fixing the global problems that affect Americans? Can the U.S. afford to go it alone?

What are the top three national security challenges you see, and how will you adapt America’s Armed Forces to meet them?

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