At Reagan Library, GOP Candidates Debate Foreign Policy, U.S. Troops

GOP presidential hopefuls touched on foreign policy and the role of the U.S. military at Wednesday evening’s debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, perhaps providing clues as to where they’d stand as president.

Huntsman: Strengthen Core and Bring Troops Home

Former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman criticized former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s proposal to label China a currency manipulator — a move the Wall Street Journal said could spark a trade war between the two countries.

“I’d have to say, Mitt, now is not the time in a recession to enter a trade war,” Huntsman said, mentioning a 1984 trip to China he accompanied then-president Ronald Reagan on. He said Reagan had spoken to the Chinese people in “optimistic, glowing terms.”

Huntsman also said he wanted to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.

“10 years later, we look at the situation and we say, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. This is not about nation-building in Afghanistan. This is about nation-building at home,” he said. ”Our core is broken.  We are weak.  We have got to strengthen ourselves.  I say we’ve got to bring those troops home.”

However, he added, “In Afghanistan, the reality is, it is an asymmetrical counter-terror effort.  We need intelligence.  We need Special Forces.  And we need some training [of Afghan troops] on the ground.”

Romney on Energy, Tax, Regulatory, and Trade Policies

Romney did not comment on any specific policy or conflict, but instead focused on economic national security.

“We need to have an individual lead this country who not only loves America, but has the experience to get us back on track of being competitive globally,” he said.

“I put together an outline of what it takes to get America back on the right track.  It’s a whole series of changes that have to occur, from energy policy, to tax policy, regulatory policy, changes in our trade policies.”

Perry Explains Views on ‘Military Adventurism’

Texas governor Rick Perry was asked to explain a previous comment — that he did “not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism,” and therefore, whether he thought former president George W. Bush was too quick to launch a military intervention without thinking through the risks.

“That was a philosophical statement that Americans don’t want to see their young men and women going into foreign countries without a clear reason that American interests are at stake. And they want to see not only a clear entrance; they want to see a clear exit strategy, as well.”

“We should never put our young men and women’s lives at risk when American interests are not clearly defined by the president of the United States, and that’s one of the problems this president is doing today,” Perry said.

However, Perry did have a few positive words for the president, for chasing and taking out Osama bin Laden (but, he added, he gave “more props to those Navy SEALs that did the job”).

“I might add that he kept Gitmo open against the will of his base, and I’m glad he did that.  America’s safer for it,” he said.

Bachmann: Obama Has Taken His Eyes Off ‘Nuclear Iran’

Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann said the president had weakened the U.S. militarily, and criticized the reductions in military spending.

“We have, for many years, maintained global order in the world with our United States military. We have the finest military. But in this last debt ceiling debate, one of the alternatives that came forward that we’re going to be looking at with this new super committee of 12 different members of Congress is to see that our military could be hit with a huge reduction in resources,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, “The president has not done what he needs to do to keep the United States safe. If you look at the biggest issue in the Middle East, it’s a nuclear Iran, and the president has taken his eyes off that prize.”

“As a matter of fact, what he’s done is he’s said, in fact, to Israel that, they need to shrink back to their indefensible 1967 borders. I sit on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation’s classified secrets. And I firmly believe that the president of the United States has weakened us militarily and put us more at risk than at any time.”

Bachmann was asked why she opposed President Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya, and whether it meant she also disagreed with former president George W. Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ of removing dictators and promoting human rights.

“I believe that it was wrong for the president to go into Libya. Number one, his own secretary of defense, Gates, said that there was no American vital interest in Libya. If there is no vital interest, that doesn’t even meet the threshold of the first test for military involvement.”

“The other thing is, we didn’t know who the rebel forces were in Libya. Take a look at where we’re at in Libya today,” she said. “Take a look at the oil revenues. We don’t know if they will get in the hands of people who will have designs on radical Islam and the implication of a global caliphate. These are very serious issues, and I think it was wrong for the president of the United States to go into Libya.”

Santorum: U.S. Military a Force for Good

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s views contrasted with with Huntsman, Bachmann, and Perry’s, saying it was not time for the U.S. to become “isolationist”, and that the U.S. military was a “force for good”, including in Libya.

“I’m hearing from at least a couple of people on this panel a very isolationist view of where the Republican Party should be headed, about pulling troops out with Governor Huntsman and with Ron Paul,” Santorum said.

“The bottom line is, Ronald Reagan was committed to America being a force for good around the world. We were a society that believed in ourselves and believed that we can spread our vision to the rest of the world and make this country a safer country as a result of it,” he said.

“We didn’t have missions where we put exit strategies saying this date is when we’re going to leave. We didn’t say that we are the problem and the cause of the problems that confront us around the world,” he continued.

“We are a force for good. We could have been a force for good from the very get-go in Libya, but this president was indecisive and confused from the very beginning. He only went along with the Libyan mission because the United Nations told him to, which is something that Ronald Reagan would have melted like the old Wicked Witch of the West before he would have allowed that to happen,” he said.