GOP Candidates Butt Heads on National Security

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WASHINGTON -- The latest GOP presidential debate, held Tuesday in Washington, D.C. just blocks from the White House, focused squarely on national security.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a serious frontrunner thanks to strong debate performances, weighed in on what he would do with a nuclear Iran.

"Mr. Speaker, would you, if you were president of the United States, bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power?" CNN debate moderator Wolf Blitzer asked.
 
"Only as a last recourse and only as a step toward replacing the regime," Gingrich responded.

Herman Cain, another frontrunner who is now dropping in the polls after some recent foreign policy slip-ups, was asked about whether he would help Israel attack Iran.

"Depending upon how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that, if it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was," Cain said.

Texas Sen. Ron Paul begged to differ.

"No, I wouldn't do that," he said. "But there would be good reasons because I don't expect it to happen."

Once the topic of Israel was raised, Mitt Romney used the opportunity to make a promise.

"If I'm president of the United States, my first trip -- my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region," the former Massachusetts governor vowed.

Foreign Aid
 
As the evening progressed, differences among the candidates became evident.

On Pakistan, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann disagreed about whether that country should receive U.S. financial assistance even though they haven't been a reliable partner.
 
"They've showed us time after time they can't be trusted. And until Pakistan clearly shows they have America's best interests in mind, I would not send them one penny, period," Perry asserted.

"With all due respect to the governor, I think that's highly naive because, again, we have to recognize what's happening on the ground," Bachmann rejoined. 

"There are nuclear weapons all across this nation, and, potentially, al Qaeda could get hold of these weapons," she said.

War on Terror

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Romney did not see eye to eye over the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan.

"We haven't done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan," Huntsman said. "And I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today."

"If we pull out on a precipitous basis, as Governor Huntsman suggests, that we could well see that nation and Pakistan get pulled into terror and become another launching point to go after America," Romney said.

On the matter of domestic terrorism, specifically as it related to airport screening by the Transportation Security Administration, Rick Santorum was asked directly who should be profiled?

"Well, the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes," he answered. 

"I mean, obviously … Muslims would be -- would be someone you'd look at, absolutely," he added.
 
Illegal Immigration

Part of the national security debate dealt with illegal immigration, exposing a major gap between frontrunners Gingrich and Romney.

Should law-abiding people who arrived in the U.S. illegally decades ago be allowed to stay in the country?

"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.

Romney disagreed.

"That we're going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you're all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing," he said.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Republican candidates are undoubtedly thankful they won't be on the debate stage for a while.

After 11 GOP debates so far, it's become evident these events do matter and the polls fluctuate accordingly.

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