A GOP Debate Preview
The experts weigh in on tonight’s event.


Tonight’s GOP debate, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and CNN, will focus on foreign policy. NRO asked the experts what viewers should look for from the candidates.

Peter Brookes
Foreign policy and national security have gotten pretty short shrift so far in the Republican presidential-candidate debates.While domestic issues are pressing, it’s downright dangerous not to have those who would be commander-in-chief talk of international affairs.

Since the U.S.’s rise to global power, American presidents have faced their share of world problems: Wilson had World War I; FDR had World War II; Ike had Korea; JFK had Cuba; LBJ had Vietnam; Bush had 9/11.

In a dangerous and uncertain world, American interests are under constant threat. There are the troubles of terrorism, the mess in Mexico, the problems of Pakistan, North Korean nukes, atomic Ayatollahs, the vagaries of Venezuela, the China challenge, global economic emergencies, and a resurgent Russia, among others.

Plus, America still has some 100,000 brave young men and women in harm’s way in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention all those in uniform ready to answer the next call from the commander-in-chief.

We ignore world trends and events at our peril. What happens abroad will affect us here. Presidential fitness for addressing these challenges is critically important.

Thankfully, Tuesday night’s debate will focus on how the Republican presidential candidates would sail our ship of state in stormy international waters.

Let’s hope it ignites a serious, thoughtful national conversation on keeping America safe and strong in this decade — and beyond.

— Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

John F. Cullinan
Dismal debate performances alone have already eliminated two otherwise plausible candidates, Tim Pawlenty and (most likely) Rick Perry. And for all the urgency to get our own house in order, the remaining candidates cannot afford to ignore foreign policy.

The setting for tonight’s debate — the imposing neo-classical vastness of Constitution Hall, just a stone’s throw from the White House complex — poses its own particular risks and opportunities. Demonstrable ignorance and lack of preparation (such as Herman Cain’s utter befuddlement with all things Libyan last week) will make a candidate appear small on a very big stage. So too will pretending that pressing international challenges can simply be set to one side while we focus exclusively on matters closer to home. 

If the candidates can avoid these unforced errors, Constitution Hall offers an appropriately spacious and resonant backdrop for a serious exploration of how American exceptionalism translates into specific policy objectives and outcomes. For example, how exactly does the U.S., with its interests and values in mind, set and pursue goals regarding Egypt’s deepening political crisis? What should the U.S. be saying, both publicly and privately, to the Egyptian military junta, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other actors? What exactly are the specific red lines in this unsettled relationship that cannot be crossed with impunity — and what are the precise consequences for doing so? For instance, should these red lines demarcate acceptable treatment of religious minorities such as Coptic Christians, who constitute some 10 percent of Egypt’s population? If not, why not?