Thursday night’s debate reinforced the view that the Republican presidential field, split over foreign policy earlier in the campaign, has shifted decisively toward a hawkish consensus–-with the notable exception of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Mitt Romney personified the evolution best: Once squishy about his views over whether the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s now touting a military buildup. Citing the U.S. drone aircraft captured in Iran, Romney said that President Obama has shown weakness in dealing with foreign countries and invited war.
“A strong America is the best ally peace has ever known,” he said. “This is a president that the spy drone being brought down, he says, 'Pretty please?' Foreign policy based on 'pretty please?' You have to be kidding.”
Not to be outdone, Rep. Michele Bachmann excoriated Obama’s withdrawal of troops in Iraq.
“He was essentially given on a silver platter victory in Iraq,” she said. “He is choosing intentionally to lose the peace.”
The candidates also took aim at Iran and the United Nations, the latter of which Newt Gingrich said has funded camps that “have been training grounds for terrorism.”
It’s not a sudden shift for the Republican candidates, who have gradually taken on a more hawkish tone as the campaign has heated up. The aggressive internationalism isn’t popular with the general public--polls show a vast majority of citizens overwhelmingly back withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan-–but it’s become essential in the Republican primary.
But, as always, Paul dissented. Just as he did in previous debates, the Texan argued that Iran isn’t a threat, evidence to the contrary is inaccurate, and people who want to attack the country are warmongers.
“Why were we flying a drone over Iran?” he asked. “Why do we have to bomb so many countries? Why are we--why do we have 900 bases in 130 countries and we're totally bankrupt? How do you rebuild a military when we have no money? How are we going to take care of the people?”
His response drew a sharp response from Bachmann, and the two engaged in a heated argument over the validity of the threat posed by Iran.
“If she thinks we live in a dangerous world, think back to when I was drafted in 1962 with nuclear missiles in Cuba,” Paul said.