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US Republican Presidential Candidates Tackle Foreign Policy Issues

Republican candidates who want to replace President Barack Obama sparred in Washington Tuesday night in one of the few televised debates centered on foreign policy issues.

The candidates gathered just a few blocks away from the White House - where they each hope to spend the next four years.

Two former governors - Jon Huntsman of Utah and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts - clashed over Afghanistan.

First, Romney asked Hunstman, "Are you suggesting, governor that we just take all our troops out next week? What's your proposal?"

"Did you hear what I just said? I said, 'We should draw down from 100,000.' We don't need 100,000 troops," said Hunstman. "We don't need 100,000 troops, many of whom can't even cross the wire [engage the enemy]."

But the Heritage Foundation's Jim Carafano says global issues will change before any of these candidates can become president.

"The most important thing in the debate is listening less to say 'What would I do if I were president today' - which is irrelevant - to what kind of character do they have," said Carafano. "What kind of commander-in-chief they are going to be. Are they going to put what's right over what's easy."

A current governor, Rick Perry of Texas, explained how he would handle Iran if elected president:

"When you sanction the Iranian Central Bank, that will shut down that economy," said Perry. "At that particular time, they truly have to deal with the United States."

But what about American allies in Europe that depend on Iranian oil?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, "We ought to have a massive, all sources energy program in the United States designed to once again create a surplus of energy here," said Gingrich. "So we could say to the Europeans, pretty cheerfully, that with all the various sources of oil we have in the United States we could literally replace the Iranian oil."

The Republican candidates criticized current U.S. foreign policy, even though opinion surveys show it is President Barack Obama's strength.

"There's going to be a referendum on that on how well it's worked," said James Carafano. "I think what's important is people have to distinguish what that is and how what they want to do is different than that. And, I don't think I heard that yet from any of these candidates."

In six weeks, the Republican candidates will face their toughest test yet. The Iowa caucuses are the first major event leading up to selection of the Republican presidential nominee.

Quotes from the debate:

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.