11/15/2011 03:35 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2012

GOP Field Unveils Disturbing Foreign Policy Platforms

If you thought their economic plans were disastrous, wait until you get a load of the foreign policy doctrines Republican presidential candidates bandied about during their most recent primary debate. Bombing Iran, abating foreign aid to zero, intimidating China and torturing people are just a few examples of what GOP contenders are calling diplomacy nowadays.

Their propositions ranged from the utterly incoherent to the existentially threatening -- prescriptions so over-seasoned with bombast and hubris they were difficult to take seriously. Unfortunately, this was no SNL skit and the cast that took the stage in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Saturday did not consist of comedic actors (at least, not in any professional sense).

Some displayed maniacal cunning while others exposed worldviews so naïve and imbecilic they make Palin's foreign policy foibles seem Kissingeresque. Fear-mongering was a featured tactic exercised none more effectively than by frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who collaborated to construct an Iranian nuclear bogeyman that would destroy America if Obama were to secure a second term. Both advocated the same approach John McCain (and the Beach Boys) proffered during the 2008 presidential campaign when McCain so famously cantillated: "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb... Bomb, Bomb Iran".

To avoid cataclysm the world will need Mitt to save it, according to Mr. Romney, as he so mechanically put it: "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

John le Carré couldn't have dreamed up Gingrich's solution to the Persian crisis. At least Newt wouldn't simply rush in and bomb Iran immediately. Gingrich said the U.S. should first employ covert means such as "taking out" Iranian scientists and disrupting their systems in a way that would allow the U.S. to claim plausible deniability. If such cloak-and-dagger methods failed, then the U.S. would bomb Iran.

Although Republicans constantly decry Democrats for defying the recommendations of military leaders, the current and previous secretaries of defense both agree taking military action against Iran would be counter-productive. Leon Panetta recently told reporters: "You've got to be careful of unintended consequences". Besides, bombing Iran would simply delay its nuclear program, it would not halt it. Not to mention the fact Iran could retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 40% of all traded oil passes.

Romney proposed a not-so-diplomatic approach to superpower rival China which entailed dragging them in front of the World Trade Organization and accusing them of currency manipulation. Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, ripped Romney's strategy apart during an interview on Bloomberg Television. Huntsman explained that confronting the world's second-largest economy per Mitt's genius scheme would ignite a trade war that would kill U.S. small businesses and exporters.

One candidate we definitely shouldn't trust on China is Herman Cain, who is slipping in the polls not because of sexual harassment charges but because he is wholly ignorant on world affairs. Bill Clinton, like Cain, was accused of a number of sexual transgressions and Clinton was able to bounce back and win the presidency, which perhaps offers Cain some hope. However, unlike Cain, Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar who understood a thing or two about geopolitics, such as knowing China was a nuclear power -- a capability Beijing acquired circa 1964 and a fact Cain acquired just two weeks ago.

Cain threw himself in with the pro-torture crowd on Saturday and defended waterboarding, claiming it was nothing more than an "enhanced interrogation technique". Texas Governor Rick Perry concurred, saying, "...for us not to have the ability to try to extract information from [terrorists] to save our young peoples' lives is a travesty. This is war. That is what happens in war."

The brain trust's positions on dealing with Pakistan were fairly unimaginative. When asked if the Pakistanis were friend or foe most placed them in the latter category and recommended cutting off aid. Perry went further by suggesting the U.S. should reduce foreign aid to zero across the board to all countries until each proves it's worthy of our dollars (which would make America "exceptional" for all the wrong reasons).

Even more concerning than Perry's dullness of mind is his evangelicalism, considering what happened the last time a Texan whose national security strategy was informed by God occupied the White House. Let's just say the Almighty's foreign policy record is a bit shaky. Most Americans will likely want their next president to have the wherewithal to resist Iraqi-style military crusades -- no matter what God tells him or her.

While Romney's poll numbers have flatlined in the 20s, seeming as immovable as his hairdo, the cigar store Indian has flip-flopped on Afghanistan more than John Kerry had on Iraq. Romney lambasted Obama for setting a withdrawal date yet essentially agreed with the President's timetable to extract all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

Huntsman and Ron Paul were the only candidates unconditionally in favor of bringing all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. Neither seemed eager to bomb Iran and neither seemed keen on torturing people. In fact, both seemed like the only sane participants on the dais. However, both are also considerably down in the polls, which might actually be good news for Democrats because a sane candidate might be able to defeat Obama given his vulnerability due to poor economic conditions.

Meanwhile, Romney and Gingrich surge as they attempt to brand Obama as weak on defense, a charge they will be hard-pressed to convince the electorate of considering Osama bin Laden was captured and killed on Obama's watch while Bush couldn't find him in two terms. Plus, by authorizing nearly four times as many drone strikes as Bush as well as authorizing the execution of an American citizen living abroad without due process, Obama has proven he's willing to suspend the constitution and violate international law to achieve U.S. national security objectives as much as any neocon worth his or her salt.

More articles by Michael Hughes can be found at

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