Herman Cain - Reuters - 13112011
Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain (R) answers a question with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX,) listening at a South Carolina Republican party presidential debate. Photo by Reuters
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With the dismal state of the U.S. economy, the foreign policy seems far away from the list of top priorities of the Republican presidential hopefuls (except for cutting the foreign aid). The biggest question left by the previous debate on MSNBC last week was "would Texas Governor Rick Perry survive another debate after his epic "oops" moment, after his embarrassing freezing in the middle of his answer.

Saturday night's CBS "commander in-chief" debate was meant to return the foreign policy - even briefly - to the front. And, not surprisingly, the first verbal spears were thrown in Iran's direction - and President Obama's, that, according to the participants, led to the current debacle with Teheran's nuclear program.

Herman Cain promised to assist as a president the opposition to promote regime change, to put a pressure on Iran by lowering the US dependence on oil - and deploy ballistic missiles carriers to the region.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney called the current situation with Iran "president Obama's greatest failure", saying that if the US citizens reelect Obama - " Iran will get nuclear weapon. If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama's administration "skipped all the ways to be smart", neglecting covert operations and cooperation with Israel.

Former senator Rick Santorum took pretty practical stand: "We should be working with Israel now on what they did in Syria, Iraq to take out the nuclear capability", he said, expressing hope that "we are doing everything we can covertly to make sure Iran nuclear program does not go forward".

Rep. Michele Bachmann said that "next commander in chief has to understand from day intricacies in the Middle East. Iran working through proxies. The stage is set for world-wide nuclear war against Israel".

The topic of torture became quite controversial on the stage when candidates each stated how they'd deal with the "enhanced interrogation techniques", such as "waterboarding" of the terrorism suspects, forbidden by President Obama.

"I do not agree with torture, period", Herman Cain said, adding immediately: "But I'll trust the judgement of military what is torture. Waterboarding is not a torture, it's enhanced interrogation".

Rep. Bachmann noted that "waterboarding" was actually very effective, citing difficulties of dealing with terrorists during war.

The tide shifted when Rep. Ron Paul who frequently plays the role of minority opinion at the debates, slapped: "Waterboarding is immoral, illegal, not practical", wondering how many people should be subjected to torture to find the one who has the useful intelligence.

Former governor of Utah John Huntsman, who was also the US Ambassador to China (plus previous diplomatic experience), supported Paul's position, saying "we have a brand name in the world, we diminish our standing in the world when we torture. Waterboarding is torture. We shouldn't torture".

The foreign aid came in with some potential for trouble for Gov. Perry - first, he promised "zero dollars" for countries who do not support the US and are "not honest with us" (Pakistan), and, asked later whether his plan to cancel the foreign aid includes Israel, said: "Every country would start at zero", adding that "Israel is a special ally", and some funding may apply after all.

Massachussets Governor Mitt Romney agreed with gov. Perry about the foreign aid concept of "Start everything at zero" - however, his campaign quickly clarified he didn't mean Israel.

This small Romney sentence actually became the focal point of the pro-Israeli activists following the debate, because Romney (despite lagging or being tied recently with Cain) is still seen as an almost "default" winner in this race.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sharply challenged the Republican field this evening, including Mitt Romney, for pledging to zero out the foreign aid budget, including resources the U.S. provides to Israel to aid in its security.

“I’m aghast that the leading Republican contenders for President tonight, including Mitt Romney, pledged to zero out the foreign aid budget including the traditional and vital support the U.S. has provided the Jewish state of Israel for its security. I cannot think of a more irresponsible, risky or deplorable position towards our most important friend and ally. That Mitt Romney and these candidates would sacrifice the security of the state of Israel for an applause line at a debate and to appeal to the far right wing Tea Party faction of the Republican base, shows that not a single one of them has what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief.

“It is a moral and security imperative for the U.S. to aid in the security of the state of Israel and to defend it from those who would do it harm. Barack Obama understands that and has made Israel's security a priority.”

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul asked to clarify Governor's position: "Mitt Romney firmly believes that the United States must continue supporting Israel and increase military aid to our strongest friend and ally".

Until now, it was only Ron Paul who insisted on cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel, out of principle, ignoring the Jewish Republicans criticism. Therefore, it seems that in the next few days we might hear some more conciliatory explanations from Romney and Perry's campaigns about "start from zero" position. But in the elections as in the elections - the one phrase becomes catchy and will be replayed by the rival camp as long as it is politically useful.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: המועמדים דנו בגרעין האיראני, פרי שוב הסתבך