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How the Experts Rate the GOP Presidential Debaters How the Experts Rate the GOP Presidential Debaters

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How the Experts Rate the GOP Presidential Debaters

November 12, 2011

Meet the Experts

Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns

Quick Bio: Harvard professor, former diplomat
Key Question: "Are you willing to put your money behind the rhetoric of American exceptionalism?"

William Courtney


William Courtney

Quick Bio: Former ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan
Key Question: "Is Afghanistan another Vietnam?"



Which candidates did the best or sounded the most coherent? 

Huntsman, from my point of view the most thoughtful and realistic. The rest, a lot of it was sloganeering and talking points, they didn’t really answer questions. I thought Huntsman answered the questions in a very thoughtful, very well informed and very nuanced way.


Romney, Huntsman and Gingrich all had good moments, and Ron Paul has a very coherent world view, but I was struck by how Perry, Cain and Bachmann, none of them in my view demonstrated any real knowledge, any sense of nuance or sophistication on these issues. They were like students who’d crammed for exams and only managed to utter soundbites they’d memorized. 

What if anything impressed you as a creative shift or would mark a major change from current US policy?

On Perry and Cain saying they’d consult on major decisions: “You have to have a depth of knowledge and understand these issues in a very detailed way because you’re going to make the call, you get the advice, but you have to make the decision and have the instinct. Huntsman really gave very sophisticated answers that drew on his decades of experience and no one else has that. I thought he was clearly the most informed.

There’s room for real debate on (the assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar) al-Awlaki and Gingrich made a good point, he was a combatant. We went through this during the second world war … I think there’s room for disagreement on those grounds. 

Was there anything that immediately struck you as false or wholly implausible as a policy shift?

I was really struck by how at sea Cain, Bachmann and Perry were. I thought there was a clear difference between them and the rest. I don’t agree with Ron Paul but he’s very well informed. When you have zero experience overseas that’s a terrible disadvantage at this time.  


The criticisms by the candidates of a number of the Obama Administration's national security policies were indirect criticisms of the Administration of Bush 43.  

Both Bush 43 and Obama have relied on multilateral diplomacy to solve the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but sufficient pressure to succeed was never applied. Now it is too late for effective military action at acceptable cost. The Iranian program is dispersed and hardened, world energy prices would skyrocket, and most US allies and most Americans would oppose a large-scale use of force. The calls tonight by several candidates for military force capable of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons lacked credibility.  

Perry's bravado that he might cut off foreign aid for Pakistan would, if carried out, deny the America a valuable tool to influence developments in one of the most troubled and dangerous countries on earth. Loose nukes in the hands of Islamic extremists would pose an exceptionally grave threat to the security of America and its allies and friends. Pakistan is not a country from which America could disengage. Senator Santorum was right to emphasize this.

Romney rightly emphasized China's interest in economic ties with America, and its cyber attacks and theft of intellectual property. But in calling for the US aggressively to call China to account for these practices, and for currency manipulation, might jeopardize US interests in encouraging China to continue to buy and hold U.S. Treasury securities. A balanced policy, sensitive to America's multiple interests, is appropriate. Huntsman properly corrected Romney.


RELATED: What the Experts Want to Ask the GOP Presidential Candidates

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