Getting back to 1858: Huntsman and Gingrich face off in NH

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By Benjamin Engle

As the students of St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire, were studying for final exams, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman prepared for a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on foreign policy on the small college campus.

The event, entitled The Gingrich-Huntsman Conversation, pitted these two candidates for the Republican Party nomination against each other. While campaigns described the event as similar to one of seven debates of the 1858 election that showcased U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas and former-Congressman Abraham Lincoln, it was far from a traditional debate.

Nick D’Angelo ’14, a participant of the Union College mini-term who is studying the primary, described it in his blog as “an atypical exchange of ideas by the two intellectuals of the 2012 GOP Primary.”

Throughout the hour and a half debate, Huntsman and Gingrich discussed their similar views on Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iran/Israel, the Arab Spring and China/The Pacific Rim.

Below is a recap of each candidate’s perspective as showcased in the discussion.

Newt Gingrich Jon Huntsman
Newt Gingrich introduced himself and said he was excited to have the opportunity to debate, since there is are “serious” questions regarding the world market and America’s role in this marketplace.

“You very seldom have an opportunity to have two people who have a passionate commitment to America’s role in the world and have the experiences that allow them to have the conversation we could potentially have here,” Gingrich said.

Eager to talk about foreign policy, he added, “I think it’s going to be an interesting hour and a half.”

Afghanistan/Pakistan

In framing his statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gingrich recalled a statement by the head of the National Institute of Health in which he stated the significance of the injustices of today’s world.

“We now live in a world where you can have a Four Seasons Hotel in a Third-World country,” Gingrich paraphrased, “and one block away you can have a slum where people come have in from the jungle… We have compressed several hundred years into being neighbors by the differences in developmental rights.”

Gingrich described the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a “much harder problem an official in either party in Washington is willing to deal with.”

However, in order to create solutions for a peaceful future, Gingrich wants to understand the intelligence problems that have plagued the CIA and the American government for centuries. Gingrich criticized Pakistan’s initial reactions to the capture of Osama bin Laden and that the United States relies too much on the intelligence agencies of other nations.

“[This] tells me that across the region, we have a more profound problem,” he said.

While agreeing with Huntsman’s opinions, Gingrich criticized President Barack Obama’s actions over the past three years.

“We don’t have a theory today of what we’re doing. We’re randomly using our forces,” Gingrich stated.

In addition to stating that Obama’s strategy has been random, Gingrich attacked him for not having a specific target in the War on Terror. Furthermore, Gingrich was concerned about Pakistan’s potential for obtaining nuclear weapons, since he described it as a nation that recruits children to blow themselves up to kill others, and is a society that would use a nuclear weapon without hesitation.

“In my judgment, [Pakistan] will use [a nuclear weapon],” Gingrich said. “They would use it in a heartbeat.”

Iran/Israel

Gingrich stressed that there could only be two forms of an Iranian state, one with nuclear weapons and one without nuclear weapons. In order to create a situation in which Iran is nuclear-free, Gingrich believed that a regime change was necessary.

“There’s no practical scenario in which you can take out their weapons without them rebuilding them,” said Gingrich.

Gingrich explained that the Iranians have improved their weapon systems and placed them underground. As a result, Gingrich stated that there would be large civilian casualties by engaging in a traditional bombing of the country.

“The idea you’ll wage a bombing campaign to take all of Iran’s nuclear program is a fantasy,” he said.

He indicated that prior to nuclear warfare, he would use various economic, political and psychological steps to damage the country’s weapon systems and stability.

Gingrich indicated that a primary threat of an Iranian nuclear program is a second Holocaust. He further believed that two or three nuclear weapons hitting Israel would result in another Holocaust. Gingrich stated that he would not tolerate this using a rhetorical question: “Am I going to take the risk of presiding over a second Holocaust, which would mean for all intents and purposes the end of Judaism on the planet?”

“I won’t allow Israel to be subject to the threat of another Holocaust,” Gingrich added. “This is not a very far down the road decision. This is the biggest national security threat of the next ten years.”

He further demonstrated the significance of Iran’s threat as he stated, “Iran is the problem of the near future. We are not going to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.”

Arab Spring

During the discussion regarding the Arab Spring, Gingrich was very critical of the Obama administration’s actions, specifically towards the handling of the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“If you are an ally of the United States, there is some staying power,” Gingrich said. “Mubarak had been our ally for a very long time, he had covered for us under very difficult circumstances.”

Gingrich stated that the Iraq War couldn’t have happened without the former Egyptian leader and, during his time, Israel did not have to worry about an Egyptian threat on its southern boarder or defending Sinai. Gingrich believed that Obama handled the Egyptian conflict poorly because it portrayed the wrong message to other leaders and countries around the world.

“Obama dumped him in an unceremoniously way,” Gingrich added.

He also believed that the United States suffers from a crippled intelligence system that results in the government not knowing who certain people are because the country’s intelligence isn’t good enough.

Gingrich used South Korea as an example of successful American influence, and described it as “an amazing country.“ Since America’s influence there, South Korea is self-governing, has a free press and is the thirteenth wealthiest country, though Gingrich warned that “it didn’t happen overnight.”

China/Pacific Rim

After Huntsman presented his ideas on the Chinese government and economy, Gingrich soon admitted that Huntsman was much more knowledgeable in this area, since Huntsman is the former Ambassador to China.

“Ambassador Huntsman knows far more about China than I do,” Gingrich stated.

Nonetheless, he said that the United States will need to be domestically smart to compete with the Chinese economy. If the United States is able to accomplish this, the country will become competitive in manufacturing goods.

“The most important relationship of the next 50 years is the American people and the Chinese people,” Gingrich said.

Conclusion

“We’re a country in enormous trouble. And we need leaders who are willing to talk to people at a sophisticated level,” Gingrich stated at the conclusion of the debate. “This is not a Hollywood game. This is not a reality show. This is reality.”

Gingrich also thanked St. Anselm College for hosting the event and believed that it was a success in comparison to previous traditional debates. Gingrich has previously stated that if he wins the nomination, he would challenge Obama to seven three-hour debates.

“This is what we should have a lot more of ,because this is substantive. There weren’t any ‘gotcha’ moments,” Gingrich explained. “There weren’t any efforts to trap each other. But I think people who look at the totality of this dialogue will agree that it’s probably as sophisticated and as candid a discussion of America and the world as you’ve seen in any recent presidential campaign.”

Huntsman opened his debate performance by reminding the audience about his focus on New Hampshire. To date, Huntsman has held 120 public events in New Hampshire, which is more than any other Republican candidate.He also focused on delivering four main points about his foreign policy. The first point was a fix of America’s core and the necessity to project the values that the United States is famous for in the world. Second, Huntsman pushed a foreign policy view that focused on leading through a strong American economy. Third, the governor discussed the need to engage terrorists realistically. Finally, Huntsman mentioned that it is necessary for the United States to remind the world what it means to be an ally of our country.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Huntsman presented first on the Afghanistan/Pakistan question. He began by discussing the current situation in Afghanistan, and commented that the United States has given its full effort throughout the last ten years that it has been involved in Afghanistan. Huntsman’s view is that the Taliban has been kicked out; there have been free elections in Afghanistan; al-Qaeda has been uprooted; and Osama Bin Laden is dead. He declared that it is time “to bring our men and women home” and establish a well-outfitted Special Forces unit on the ground that can continue to train the Afghan Army.

“We have done the best that we can do,” said Huntsman.

Huntsman’s view on Pakistan came across much stronger. The setting in Pakistan is very complex, according to Huntsman, as there are numerous factors that come into play when discussing the American-Pakistani relationship. He argued that in order for any relationship to exist between the United States and the Pakistani government, there is a need for cooperation in counter terror as well as a need for an open conversation in regards to nuclear weapons.

“Pakistan, sadly, is nothing more than a transactional relationship with the United States,” Huntsman said. “For all the money we put into Pakistan, are we in a better situation? The answer is no.”

Iran/Israel

After Gingrich’s presentation on Iran, Huntsman opened by agreeing with what had been already said. Huntsman believes that “Iran is the transcendent issue of foreign policy.” Huntsman reiterated that Iran is getting extremely close to developing nuclear weapons and its government has made it clear that they want to become a nuclear country.

“The question we must confront,” he said, is, “Can we live with a nuclear Iran?”

The conversation about Iran quickly turned toward a discussion of what to do with Israel.

Huntsman immediately made it clear that he stands with Israel by commenting that he wants to remind the world what the United States-Israel alliance actually means. Huntsman focused on the “economic, security and value component” of the relationship. He also mentioned a regional stability component that the United States needs to be ready to stand up and address. The governor’s position on Israel was very strong, as he clarified that “all options are on the table…and that there are no blue skies in terms of where we stand with Israel.”

Arab Spring

Huntsman’s discussion of the Arab Spring focused on two components: long-standing dictators and real pockets of discontent.

Huntsman argued that “no economic growth, no opportunity and no possibility for jobs in parts of the North of Africa and the Middle East” ultimately caused people to rise up.

Huntsman’s solution to the Arab spring involves the United States “pulling the levers of economic power.” According to Huntsman, more investing and more free trade agreements will provide an opportunity to put the pieces of the Arab Spring back together. Finally, he touched on the phenomenon of U.S. assistance during times of unrest in other parts of the world.

The governor said that this is a “period of great uncertainty in the Middle East and…we [the United States] can not force history, force these events and they have to play out.”

China and the Pacific Ring

“The relationship of the 21st century will be the U.S.-China relationship,” he began.

Huntsman’s expertise on China showed through when he discussed that it is important for an American president to understand, both militarily and economically, the complexity of this relationship.

“There are a couple of things we need to be mindful of when we think about China that will inform us as we develop a relationship that is workable over time,” he argued.

The topics that Huntsman discussed at this point in the debate were leadership changes in the Chinese government; political uncertainty due to unemployment; and the necessity to bring manufacturing home. Huntsman also emphasized the need to have an open dialogue on all issues with the Chinese.

“After [the Chinese] have leadership changes wrapped up in 2012 they’ll need one year to consolidate power,” said Huntsman. “By 2013, 2014 we will have some running room, by 2014 to 2016, 2017 we can actually begin to put a relationship with the Chinese together…we will have politics playing out.”

Closing

In closing, Huntsman again focused on his time spent in New Hampshire. He then described New Hampshire as the “window for the country to see, analyze and assess the candidates running for the highest office in the land.” Huntsman also poked fun at Donald Trump by saying that “he cannot wait to compare and contrast this to the Trump debate.”

Huntsman closed by reminding the audience not to “ever underestimate the extent that the light emanates from the United States effects the rest of the world.”

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