WASHINGTON — Last night’s Republican presidential national-security debate covered a topic overlooked this presidential election season: As candidates have keyed in on the Obama administration’s handling of the economy, they’ve largely side-stepped foreign policy.
A couple of candidates have previously broached the issue, including Michele Bachmann, who laid out her national security platform two weeks ago in a South Carolina speech. Last night’s debate covered a bit of what she talked about that day — and asked the candidates for policy positions on an even wider range of issues.
Bachmann, for example, was asked about foreign aid for Pakistan. The country is an American ally, but relations have strained in recent years.
Bachmann said she supported continuing foreign aid payments and used a new phrase — “too nuclear to fail” — in advocating a policy along the lines of, keep your friends close and your less-friendly friends closer.
“We need to demand more,” she said, adding that U.S. aid to Pakistan is commonly tied to intelligence gathering. “Whatever our action is, it must ultimately be about helping the United States and our sovereignty our safety and our security.”
The candidates were also asked to address Iran, specifically if they’d support Israel in a preemptive strike against the country. Bachmann, who has championed herself as the strongest defender of Israel in a field of candidates largely fully committed to the country, said any such military action would be because of Iranian aggression in the region.
“It’s because Iran has announced they plan to strike Israel,” she said. “This isn’t just an idle threat. This is a reality. And that’s why President Obama has failed the American people because for two and a half years he gave the Iran the luxury of time.”
Bachmann was involved in some of the night’s more confrontational moments, too, hitting Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Pakistan (he had advocated cutting foreign aid to the country. Bachmann called such an approach “highly naive”) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on immigration policy.
Gingrich advocated for granting a path to permanent residency to illegal immigrants if they’d put down roots in the United States.
“If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out,” Gingrich said.
Bachmann called such a policy “amnesty.”
“I don’t agree that we should make 11 million workers who are here illegally legal,” she said. “We need to move away from magnets, not offer more.”
After the debate, her campaign indicated Bachmann will use immigration as a key line of attack against Gingrich, who polls have shown emerging as the newest Republican front-runner.
“His immigration policy effectively equates to amnesty for foreigners residing in the United States unlawfully,” a spokeswoman said in an email titled, “Newt Gingrich’s open door to illegal immigration amnesty.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry