The Rachel Maddow Show | November 23, 2011
>>> us for the next hour. i'm melissa harris perry. rachel has the night off. if you were watching the republican party 's foreign policy debate in washington last night, you may have caught what happened at the very end of the evening. the last question of the night was, which national security issue do you wish we'd ask you about. what's the thing that worries you the most that hasn't been discussed tonight? the responses given by the candidates to that question were sort of weird. rick perry , for instance, reelly wanted to talk about the pressing issue of abortions in china. newt gingrich wanted to talk about the dangers of electromagnetic pulse attacks. herman cain wanted to discuss his former career as a ballistics analyst. mitt romney and rick santorum both wanted to talk about the prospect of radical islamists invading latin america . we sort of found those answers a little puzzling, because if you asked us that question, there are all sorts of foreign policy issues that we here at the ma dough show would have had on the agenda that weren't touched during last night's debate, things like the current debt crisis in europe that threatens the underlying security. or how about the 100 u.s. combat troops that president obama just deployed to africa . instead of wanting to talk about those issues, this group of republican presidential candidates appeared to want to focus their night on things like radical islamists invading mexico and pressing issues like this one.
>> the most significant threat is iran become nuclear.
>> our interest is to ensure iran does not go nuclear.
>> iran has announced they plan to strike israel.
>> when you talk about attacking iran , it is a very mountainous region.
>> we need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current iranian regime . we could break the iranian regime within a year.
>> the right course in america is to stand up to iran .
>> last night it was all iran all the time for the republican presidential field. it was basically a battle among the republican candidates about who could sound tougher about the dangers of iran and who would be best at defeating iran . this singular fok cuss on taking out iran , on getting the united states involved in yet another conflict in the middle east was sort of a notable takeaway from last night's debate. it didn't really make much sense until you realized who was in the crowd they were speaking to. previous republican debates this year have featured crowds filled with likely republican voters and tea party activities and conservative movement activists. last night tftsz a little different. last night it was guys like this who were asking the question.
>> my name is wolfowitz a visiting scholar at the american enterprise institute .
>> yes, that would be former george w. bush deputy defense secretary wolfowitz . one of the guys that brought us the war in iraq . wolfowitz before becoming a public debate questioner was a guy that said the united states could do iraq with a small force, we'd be greeted as liberators and the whole thing wouldn't cost us a time. last night he was grilling them on american foreign policy . wolfowitz wasn't alone.
>> i'm david adding ton, vice president with the heritage foundation .
>> if the name david addington sounds familiar to you, it's because his old job is legal counsel to steef of chaf to dick cheney . he was a mysterious shadowy guy behind the scenes who was advocating things like torture were actually legal and the executive branch had the right to do anything it wanted in the name of national security . like wolfowitz , david addington picked by cnn to scrutinize the republican field on foreign policy since he is so distinguished himself in that field. also featured prom meantly during last night's debate was famed bush administration ' rah neo conservative fred kagan one of the driving intellectual forces behind the u.s. war in iraq. following mr. kagan a little later was former bush administration speech writer mark thiessen. last night was like a reunion of george w. bush neo conservative foreign policy team members. if those are the guys who are still setting the agenda in the republican party when it comes to foreign policy , you apparently end up with getting republican presidential candidates who sound like this.
>> this is one thing we know about barack obama . he has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the aclu.
>> senator santorum , under certain circumstances in the past you've supported profiling, is that correct?
>> i have. obviously muslims would be someone you would look at. absolutely.
>> we need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current iranian regime with minimum use of force .
>> the right course in america is to stand up to iran .
>> if we were serious we could break the iranian regime within a year.
>> if we're serious about iran , we have to be serious about syria as well.
>> this is the time for us to use not only sanctions but covert actions within syria to get regime change there. president obama apologizes for america . it's time for us to be strong as a nation.
>> i guess this is sort of like when you put republican candidates in front of guys like pat robertson and they start weeping about finding jesus. maybe this is how republicans react when you put them in front of wolfowitz and dick cheney 's secret lawyer.
>>> joining us is lick magazine editor at large steve clemons , he also writes "the washington note," senior fellow at the new america foundation. this was a fascinating moment. for all the invocations of ronald reagan we've heard in these republican debates , we have really rarely heard the name george w. bush invoked. when you listen last night that those republican candidates, it sure sounded to me like george w. bush foreign policy strategy. of course, with the exception of ron paul . did you hear a return to a neo con vision last night?
>> to see david addington , his name didn't appear in the book because he never wanted to be known. until jane mayor's book, the dark side , america didn't know this guy. to walk out and see him in the cameras was amazing. these are the people who hatched and were the architects of the iraq war on the whole. i'd say jon huntsman is a bit different. the henry kissinger , richard lugar , the chuck kagel wing of the republican foreign policy establishment is basically an endangered species . you've seen the neocons failing in some of their policies but have done a brilliant job of taking over and it being very, very strong in the major think tank institutions in washington , d.c. that is the crowd that basically sets the terms, if you will, for foreign policy debates now.
>> so you're framing this as a kind of lack within the current republican party of this particular sort of republican statesman model that we've once seen. does this mean there's a real ideological commitment to the neo conservative foreign policy values on behalf of these republican candidates? or is this just kind of a fear tactic that's employed in the context of a campaign. in other words, should i be actually afraid or should i just be irritated by this?
>> it's a little bit of both. the fact is that old style nixonian was about cost benefits. we're at an age where anger and sentiment and trying to do good and striking back are now the terms that drive foreign policy . so what you see is a little bit of fear mongering that we learned from dick cheney that works well in the political playbook, combined with what i think is something happening in both the democratic party and the republican party , a sense that you have to change the way that the inside workings of other states operate if they are seen to be a threat to the united states . it's sort of like the boring in star trek , you either assimilate them or an nye late them.
>> let me ask the question asked to the candidates at the end, let me ask it of you. what wasn't discussed last night as we talk about our foreign policy and national security that you think is of critical importance? is it the european debt crisis? is it the situation in yemen? what should we be talking about here?
>> there should be an organized hierarchy. all these issues matter. the drought in africa matters. the debt crisis could be a blow and shrink america 's ambitions in the world. the largest national security issue for the united states today is the profound doubt in america 's abilities to achieve the things it says it's going to do. that perception by other countries translates into weakness, allies behave differently, foes behave differently. so you need a serious discussion about how you creatively approach the world and opportunities and try to figure out a way to build momentum and reinvent american leadership and leverage in the world. we didn't hear that. we heard assertions of american power, and we heard mitt romney and others basically saying we need to kind of be bold. this is not a recipe for return to american leadership in the world. whether it's china, europe, africa , what's happening in the global economy , it needs to fit within a plan, an equation for america to reinvent its plays.
>> steve clemons , the atlantic magazine's washington editor at large. i appreciate you taking us to this place of reminding us what a big foreign policy looks like.
>> thank you.