By National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
There is one area where all eight Republican candidates seem to be in complete agreement: In their minds, Barack Obama's presidency has been a failure, and his national security policies have only served to weaken America's standing in the world, and left the United States more vulnerable to attack. That consensus aside, there are positions each candidate has taken in the areas of foreign policy and national security that set them apart from the field. As CNN prepares to host a debate Tuesday night on national security topics with the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, here is a look at some distinctive positions and experiences the candidates are raising on the trail.
What sets Herman Cain completely apart from the rest of the field is his lack of foreign policy experience, and it is that distinction he is happy to wear as a badge of honor on the trail and his debate performances.
While he may lack experience in the foreign policy establishment, Cain says it would be his experience in the business world that would guide him on matters of national security.
"I don't believe you need to have extensive foreign policy experience if you know how to make sure you're working on the right problems, establishing the right priorities, surround yourself with the right people, which would allow you to put together the plans necessary to solve the problem," he said at a press conference last month.
Cain had one of the more memorable moments of the GOP candidates in the national security area when he seemed confused and fumbled for his thoughts on President Obama's policy toward Libya during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Cain's campaign said the video was taken somewhat "out of context," and that Cain was just taking a moment to think about it after the various briefings he was receiving on the Arab Spring. That may be, but in a press conference in Orlando on Friday, Cain suggested that elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban comprise part of Libya's new government. There have been questions about the role Islam will play in a new Libyan constitution. The sympathies of some militia members also have been questioned during the uprising because of the presence of a regional al Qaeda affiliate, but there has been no plausible evidence that either the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban have moved beyond their bases of operation to include Libya.
Cain's command of national security issues has been called into question after comments he has made since launching his candidacy. In an earlier debate, Cain seemed unaware that China had a nuclear weapon, despite its membership in the nuclear club since 1964. He was also criticized for saying in an interview that he didn't need to know the name of the leader in "Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan," or asking how you pronounce something in "Cuban" while at a Cuban restaurant in Miami.
China, more than any other issue, seems to be in the cross-hairs for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his rhetoric on the consequences of China's currency and trade polices has gone further than any of the other candidates.
He has repeatedly called China a "cheater" for manipulating the value of its currency, and has said President Obama has not done enough to assert U.S. interests in his dealings with the world's second largest economy.
"China has learned the extraordinary effect of cheating, and it has had a very positive effect on China and a very negative effect on us," Romney told an audience at Microsoft headquarters in Seattle last month. Through its use of hacking and intellectual property theft, Romney said China is cheating the global economic system.
If elected president, he says he would enact higher duties on Chinese goods entering the American market, would label China a "currency manipulator" and would support strong measures to bring China in line with global trade rules.
In addition to criticizing its trade practices, Romney said China needs to begin pulling more of its weight in the area of foreign aid.
"This galls me. We give $10 million in foreign aid a year to China. Its not that they're bad people, but the idea that a nation that is as large and robust and economically viable as theirs is getting money from us just makes no sense at all," he said in a speech in Exeter, New Hampshire. Romney said it is time for China to use its own financial resources in place of U.S. financial assistance.
Romney has said he will reverse defense cuts undertaken by the Obama administration and expand defense spending, particularly in the area of naval power. He has said he will also focus on the U.S. relationship in Latin America to create economic opportunity through a "robust public diplomacy and trade promotion campaign."
Immigration reform has been a touchy issue over the years for the Republican party and its outreach to the electorate. The former House speaker has gone further than any of his competitors on the issue of legal status for illegal immigrants and the children of illegal immigrants.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in September, Gingrich said he would support a system based on the Selective Service boards started under World War II to help determine who should have a path to U.S. citizenship. "I think we need local boards that apply a human approach to trying to deal with this with some sympathy, but that's also very tough with criminals and very tough with people that have no ties to the U.S. and should go back home immediately," he told Blitzer.
He has also said the counterinsurgency policy followed by the Obama administration in Afghanistan does not work in a society driven by ethnicity and tribe. He also favors cutting U.S. aid to Pakistan, and accuses the Pakistani government of having played a role in hiding Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad.
One area where Gingrich has taken heat is his position on Libya. In a March 7 interview with Fox News before the NATO operation began, Gingrich said he would "exercise a no-fly zone this evening" in Libya. Six days later in an interview with NBC, Gingrich said, "I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot. ... I would not have intervened. I think there are a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi." Politifact labeled the contradictory statements as a "full" flip-flop. Gingrich then took to his Facebook page, saying his statements were not inconsistent, but it was rather President Obama stating publicly that Gadhafi must step aside, and thus taking away other options for confronting the dictator, that led to his follow-up statement on NBC.
Gingrich has also taken the lead in calling for a cessation of all U.S. funding for any kind of activity for a United Nations global initiative to combat global climate change known as Agenda 21. In a report by CNN's Jim Acosta, Gingrich acknowledged that Agenda 21 had not been ratified by the U.S. Senate, and that it is not binding on the local communities that adopt it. The fact that it is being implemented by local communities is the reason Gingrich raises the issue, he told CNN's Acosta.
While most of the field agrees with the premise U.S. foreign assistance needs to be overhauled, none of the candidates has gone as far as Rick Perry in advocating for an across the board elimination of foreign assistance to other countries.
"The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars - zero dollars," he said at a debate earlier this month in South Carolina. This stance puts him at odds with many of his fellow competitors like Michele Bachmann, who maintain there are certain countries, such as Israel, whose importance to U.S. national security interests should immunize them from such across the board cuts. In Perry's view, foreign aid would be extended only to those countries who share the values of the United States and support its policies.
Perry has also been pretty outspoken about the war Mexico is waging with drug cartels, telling an audience in New Hampshire the war, "may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks." Perry has said the violence spilling over the U.S. border has a real danger of escalating, and that no options should be taken off the table in confronting it. When it comes to border security, Perry also has called for the deployment of Predator drones over the U.S./Mexican border to relay threats to border security so law enforcement agencies can move in quickly to put a stop to it.
He is also hawkish when it comes to Iran. In an interview with CNN's John King, Perry was asked whether going to war with Iran to prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear program would be an option on the table in a Perry administration. "We cannot allow that mad man to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, because we know what he would do with it," Perry said.
Rep. Ron Paul
The Texas congressman's position on re-structuring and reducing America's presence in the world goes much further than any plan laid out by the other seven candidates.
Paul, who is making his third run for the presidency, is harshly critical of America's membership in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO, saying they infringe on the sovereignty of the nation. Under a Paul administration, the United States would withdraw from such organizations. An outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul said both wars are being waged with little or no national interest, and that U.S. troops should return home immediately. Although he supports military spending for the national defense, the current spending structure, in his view, is out of control. In addition to calling for an end to funding of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Paul said the U.S. must close its bases in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in keeping with his libertarian, noninterventionist stance.
While he voted to authorize military force to hunt down Osama bin Laden, Paul said the U.S. military is stretched too thin through its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with its commitments in Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Paul said the U.S. Congress has effectively ceded its authority in national security to the executive branch over the years, and he would undertake a complete replenishing of war-making power to Congress if he were elected president.
His other national security priority is securing U.S. borders. While he opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and the granting of citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States, he is against any type of militarized border fence, saying such a fence would likely function more as a way to keep Americans penned in, rather that illegal immigrants out.
Rep. Michele Bachmann
While most of her fellow candidates have government experience of their own, Bachmann uses her own national security credentials, more than any other candidate, as an argument for her readiness to be commander in chief.
Bachmann touts her membership on the House Select Committee on Intelligence as giving her a greater understanding of the threats the United States faces from abroad. Her exposure to such issues makes her most qualified to debate President Obama when the general election campaign begins, she recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "And in particular, our nominee has to be able to be conversant and be able to debate with President Obama on the stage on this issue. It's not like we can poll the audience or ask for a lifeline when it comes to the foreign policy debates with President Obama," she said in the interview.
Bachmann has also been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's role in the NATO operation in Libya since its beginning in March after then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States had no clear vital interest to protect in Libya. While the NATO mission was designed to protect the civilian population in Libya from an attack by Moammar Gadhafi's forces, Bachmann said the decision to let NATO take the lead in Libya opened up a dangerous and chaotic environment as the new government tries to assert its authority over a country ruled by a strongman for 42 years. "The problem is, no one really knows who's in charge in Libya today," Bachmann told Blitzer in the recent interview. "There's militias that are going after one another even street to street, city to city. That leadership hasn't yet been fully determined and we don't know who that will be. It's chaos in Libya now," she said of the still unsettled nation.
Bachmann has also been a strong backer of Israel on the trail and in the debates, and critical of opponents like Texas Gov. Rick Perry for proposing a cut in foreign aid to the vital U.S. ally. She has been even more forceful in her criticism of President Obama's handling of the Israeli/Palestinian peace plan. "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," she said in a debate earlier this month.
More than any other candidate in the race, Rick Santorum has championed the neoconservative foreign policy that held sway during the administration of President George W. Bush that championed the promotion of democracy worldwide, and argued for robust military spending.
While calling for fiscal austerity in other areas of the federal budget, it is Santorum who has been especially critical of the cuts in the defense budget that have occurred under the Obama administration. He said such cuts should be reversed, and has argued for much greater military spending, which he said will create more jobs for American workers. While his fellow candidates have been fiercely critical of the Obama administration's withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, Santorum has been the most effusive in noting the need for a long-term military commitment in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban's return to power.
A former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum has national security credentials from his eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Afterthe last debate, where many of the candidates followed Perry's lead in calling for the elimination of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Santorum argued back that Pakistan "must be our friend," because the country has nuclear weapons that might fall into the hands of terrorists. In the days after that debate, Santorum warned his fellow candidates to be mindful of tough talk in the area of foreign policy. "You have to be very, very careful in making these kinds of statements as to how it's going to reflect upon our ability to pursue the national security interests of our country," he said.
When it comes to Iran, Santorum has been critical of the Bush and Obama administrations' policies on Iran, and has said neither administration did enough to support pro-democracy groups inside Iran, nor toughened sanctions enough against the Islamic Republic. He has said the United States must support Israel in what he expects will be an Israeli led pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear program. "A country that is developing a weapon of mass destruction to use it or destroy another country must be stopped in a pre-emptive strike," he said in a New Hampshire speech earlier this month. "I cannot imagine that any leader of the state of Israel cannot act at this point." Santorum said it is not a matter of whether the United States was ready for another war, but rather the United States must be willing to draw the line when it's security interests are at stake.
Huntsman is in a league of his own among his fellow candidates with his own experiences in U.S. foreign policy, most recently serving on the front lines of what is likely to be the greatest foreign policy challenge going forward.
As President Obama's first ambassador to China, the Mandarin speaking Huntsman received a view no other candidate has of what is likely to be the most challenging foreign policy issue in the decades to come. And having served in the diplomatic post, Huntsman is well-versed in how the machinery of the State Department and U.S. foreign policy operates. China was not Huntsman's first overseas posting. He served as an ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush, and was a Deputy Trade Representative under President George W. Bush.
Huntsman said he accepted the China post because one always serves when asked by the president. He has been skeptical of the American effort in Afghanistan. "We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. This should not be a nation-building exercise," Huntsman said in August. "It's time to come home." While some of the other candidates have said they would rely on the military leadership on the ground in Afghanistan to decide when U.S. troops should come home, Huntsman calls for a complete removal of U.S. troops now, save for a component of rapid reaction Special Forces contingent and a small training force for the Afghan Army. Huntsman said the nation's future is "not Afghanistan," but rather the Asia-Pacific region, where the U.S. should focus its attention.