Gingrich, Huntsman Debate in New Hampshire

Gingrich, Huntsman Debate in New Hampshire

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 12, 2011

Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman met in New Hampshire Monday afternoon for a foreign policy debate that was marked by a wonkiness not on display during the sound-bite-rich group debates held thus far.

Gingrich, who is currently leading the GOP nomination race, and Huntsman, who is banking his candidacy on a strong performance in New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary, flexed their intellectual muscles and discussed at length the threat of Iran's future nuclear capabilities, U.S.-Pakistan relations, China and defense spending.

Huntsman acknowledged U.S. counterterrorism victories and achievements in Afghanistan but said it was time to remove ourselves from that county.

"We've been able to run the Taliban from power, we've been able to have free elections . . . and finally, we've been able to kill Osama Bin Laden," he said. "We should be proud of what we've done. . . . Now it's time to go home." He called terrorism an "ongoing" threat but said the U.S. does not need to have thousands troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Huntsman called the current relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan a "transactional relationship at best" and suggested the United States re-evaluate its financial aide to that nation.

"For all the aide money we've put into Pakistan, are we seen in a better light? No," he said.

Gingrich said that across the region, "we have a much deeper, much more profound problem than we think we do."

"It's hard for me to argue we are any safer than we were 10 years ago," he went on to say, and expressed concern about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Both candidates described Iran as an even bigger worry, however.

"The Iran thing is very simple" Gingrich said. "Are you willing to accept them having nuclear weapons, or are you not willing to accept them having nuclear weapons?" The Obama administration, he said, should make clear to Iran: "You dismantle your program or we will start down the road to steps that will stop you." He added that the United States would ideally do so without using military force.

Huntsman described Iran as "the transcendent threat of this decade" and said that "all options must be on the table" in addressing its nuclear weapons development program. He asserted that sanctions are useless because "the mullahs in Tehran" have made clear their nuclear intentions.

The pair met at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., for the Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, which lasted 90 minutes. Each man was given several minutes to respond to questions posed by the moderator. The academic atmosphere of the debate was ideal for Gingrich, a former history professor who has said if he were to score the GOP nod, he would challenge President Obama to seven three-hour debates. Huntsman too seemed to revel in the atmosphere, as he was given much more time than usual to explain his stump talking points and to tout his expertise on China, where he most recently served as the U.S. ambassador. Huntsman even broke into Mandarin at one point, recalling a Chinese idiom about politics.

The candidates managed to get through only half of the 10 questions that were planned. Huntsman joked that he saw his daughter "nodding off" in the audience. (Gingrich offered to take the blame: "In her defense, she was nodding off while I was speaking," he said.)

Both candidates commented on the civility of the discussion. "This is what we should have a lot more of," said Gingrich. "We're not going to solve our problems in 30 seconds. . . . This is not a reality show; this is reality." Huntsman agreed and touted his campaign's volunteer organization in the Granite State.

Soon after the debate commenced, Huntsman's camp published an invitation to debate with Mitt Romney in a similar fashion, proposing dates later this month or in the days before the New Hampshire primary.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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