Archive for November, 2011

RED CHINA REMAINS A THREAT

November 30, 2011

Joseph A. Bosco, who served in the office of the secretary of defense as China country desk officer from 2005 to 2006, is the author of this article published by The Weekly Standard on November 26, 2011:

America’s renewed commitment to the Asia region is in response to a series of worrisome Chinese statements and actions in the South China Sea. This is the same area where Chinese actions spurred similar action by President George W. Bush.

Just two months in office, Bush faced his first challenge from Beijing when a Chinese fighter jet harassed and collided with a U.S. unarmed, slow-moving EP-3 reconnaissance plane flying in international air space in the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot was killed and the U.S. plane had to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island. China detained and interrogated the American crew for over a week and, after a couple of humiliating U.S. apologies, only allowed the plane to be dismantled, crated, and moved months later.

With that reality check on Chinese intentions and behavior in the region, President Bush seemed to reflect a toughening American posture when he declared a few months later that the United States would do “whatever it took” to defend democratic Taiwan against Chinese Communist aggression.

But Osama bin Laden’s attack on New York and Washington instantly shifted America’s attention to the emerging danger that administrations of both parties had largely ignored or underestimated over the previous decade. Overnight, China became America’s ostensible ally in the war on terrorism, though its actual contribution to fighting non-Uighur and non-Tibetan “terrorists” was mostly rhetorical.

Nevertheless, Washington policymakers managed to convince themselves that on counter-terrorism, as well as on counter-proliferation and the growing North Korea nuclear threat, China was a committed, reliable, and essential partner—a “responsible stakeholder.” What China was doing to prepare for war against Taiwan, and against the United States should it come to Taiwan’s aid, largely became a back-burner issue. The same was true of China’s complicity in proliferating dangerous weapons and materials to the world’s most dangerous states, including North Korea and Iran.

As China’s own military capabilities grew, so too did its confidence and its regional pushiness. It clashed with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines in their territorial waters, and with the United States in international waters, harassing ship movements, seizing fishing boats, cutting sonar cables, and threatening dire consequences to all who dared resist its dramatically expanding maritime claims to virtually the entire South China Sea.

It seemed that Beijing had made a conscious decision to abandon Deng Xiaoping’s prudential counsel not to alarm others as China built its economic and military power: “Hide your capabilities, bide your time,” Deng had advised. This was China’s “peaceful rise.”

More recently, those in the Chinese military, political, and intellectual establishment, whom Henry Kissinger has called “the triumphalists,” succeeded in advancing a disturbing new strategy for China: flaunt your capabilities, alarm your neighbors, intimidate the small countries, provoke the large powers, and alert the world to the rising China threat.

In response, countries throughout the region have begun to build up their own militaries, especially their naval forces. But they know that China’s foreign minister was right when he brusquely reminded his Asian counterparts that “you are small and China is big.” They cannot resist or challenge China one-on-one, so they are enhancing their multilateral cooperation through joint planning and exercises.

More importantly, other nations have made clear that they earnestly seek a strong American presence in the region, militarily as well as economic. And they complained at a recent Washington conference on maritime security in the South China Sea that government officials should stop referring to China’s “assertiveness” and should call it what it is—“aggressiveness.”

After some initial hesitation, Obama administration officials have responded admirably. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Pacific commander Robert Willard have all called China out and asserted that the United States cannot accept any erosion to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea or other international waters of the region. As former Pacific commander Timothy Keating succinctly put it, “We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Strait.”

The West has reawakened to the growing peril posed by a Chinese government that has grown wealthy and powerful under the benefits of an international system it appears still to resent despite forty years of generous Western engagement. President Obama has discovered what President Bush discovered earlier, then seemed to forget: China’s Communist government remains a threat to the values and interests of the West.

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AMERICA: A GEOPOLITICAL APPROACH BY JEFFREY D. SACHS

November 29, 2011

In October 2011 a new book by Jeffrey D. Sachs was published. For more than three decades he has been at the forefront of international economic problem solving. But Sachs turns his attention back home in The Price of Civilization (Random House, October 2011), a book that is essential reading for all interested in geopolitics. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of America but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity.

As he has done in dozens of countries around the world in the midst of economic crises, Sachs turns his unique diagnostic skills to the American economy. He finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on America.

Yet Sachs goes deeper than an economic diagnosis. By taking a broad, holistic approach he looks at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well.

Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values.

The Price of Civilization is one road map for American prosperity.

SWEEPING ARAB LEAGUE SANCTIONS AGAINST SYRIA

November 28, 2011

An AP report published by Fox News on November 27, 2011, informed that the Arab League overwhelmingly approved sanctions that day against Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent, an unprecedented move by the League against an Arab state. Some excerpts below:

Before the vote, Damascus slammed the vote as a betrayal of Arab solidarity. Besides punishing an already ailing economy, the sanctions are a huge blow for a Syrian regime that considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League’s 22 member nations approved the sanctions, which include cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank and halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria. Iraq and Lebanon abstained.

The sanctions are the latest in a growing wave of international pressure pushing Syria to end its violent suppression of protests against President Bashar Assad, which the U.N. says has killed more than 3,500 people since March.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes sending observers to the country and pulling tanks from the streets.

“We call on Syria to quickly approve the Arab initiative,” he said.

It is not clear whether Arab sanctions will succeed in pressuring the Syrian regime into ending the violence that has killed dozens of Syrians, week after week. Many fear the violence is pushing the country toward civil war.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. Lately, there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad’s forces — a development that some say plays into the regime’s hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.

On November 27, activists reported fierce clashes in the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria, pitting soldiers against army defectors.

The death toll from violence in Homs and elsewhere across the country was mounting Sunday. The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, put the toll at 26, but the figure was impossible to confirm.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting inside the country.

Many of the attacks against Syrian security forces are believed to be carried out by a group of army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army.

Also Sunday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh acknowledged that 100 Syrian military and police deserters have taken refuge in the kingdom during the uprising. It was the first official public confirmation that Jordan hosts Syrian defectors.

In September, officials said privately that Jordan had received 60 Syrian army and police deserters, who ranged in rank from corporal to colonel.

Judeh told The Associated Press that the Syrian soldiers and policemen, whom he claimed were conscripts rather than officers, had arrived in batches over the last eight months.

Many Syrians fleeing Assad’s crackdown have also sought refuge in neighboring Turkey.

The Gulf nations of Qatar and Bahrain on Sunday warned their citizens to avoid travel to Syria and called on those already there to leave immediately. The foreign affairs ministries of both countries cited concerns about the security situation in issuing the travel alerts. They did not mention the planned Arab League vote.

The embassies of the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were targeted by pro-Assad regime demonstrators in Damascus earlier this month.

FARC KILLED LONGEST-HELD CAPTIVES

November 27, 2011

AP reported on Fox News on November 26, 2011, that Colombia’s president said the four security force members found slain during a military operation were the longest-held captives of the country’s main rebel group:

President Juan Manuel Santos said all four were killed execution-style, three with shots to the head and one with two shots to the back.

Santos said the three police officers and a soldier whose bodies were found Saturday morning after combat in the southern state of Caqueta had been held between 12 and 13 years.

He called the killings “a crime against humanity.”

CHINA CLAIMS SOUTH CHINA SEA

November 26, 2011

Washington Times on November 23, 2011, commented on China’s latest legal move to claim all land in South China Sea:

“There is no international water within the South [China] Sea.” So stated the official news outlets of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, the People’s Daily and its subsidiary the Global Times on Monday. The article was written by Pan Guoping, a law professor at China’s Southwest University of Law and Politics.

Publication of the article appeared timed to coincide with a dramatic strategic shift by the United States toward a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, to deal with an increasingly militant Chinese military presence.

The Chinese are citing what they call the “nine dotted line” theory as the legal basis for claiming the vast majority of the South China Sea as its own maritime area.

According to this theory, which first appeared in vague references in the late 1940s and was reiterated sporadically by the communist government since 1949, nine disconnected dots form a U-shaped area that includes the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea that China now says are its sovereign waters. No international organization or countries on the outer edge of this U-shaped area recognize the nine-dotted line.

China has put forth similar claims in the past, especially in recent years, with increasing inflexibility and bluntness. In response to China’s ambitious claim, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton officially stated in remarks in Hanoi in 2010 that “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”

Monday’s official-sounding article vehemently countered the secretary’s assertion. “The United States is only a passer-by in the South [China] Sea,” Mr. Pan wrote. “As a country that has no sea coast in the region, does the United States have freedom of navigation and flight in the South [China] Sea?”

“The answer is no! There is no international water in the South [China] Sea!”

What should China do to counter the hegemonic passer-by in its own backyard? The author doesn’t blink: “China should act with stronger force … to resolutely repel [America’s] interference, defend China’s nine-dotted line area that history has bestowed to us.”

The comment was the clearest statement to date indicating the official Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces are specifically denying international freedom of navigation in one of the world’s busiest and most crucial waterways that China claims as its exclusive sovereign water.

THE WORLD ISLAND: A GEOPOLITICAL VIEW

November 26, 2011

Alex Petersen’s The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011. 176 pages) is an excellent recent contribution to Eurasian geopolitics in the early twenty-first century.

Readers of this blog are well aware of the established geopolitical theories of the 20th century, including Sir Halford Mackinder’s ‘World Island’ (being the European and Asian continents) perspective (from which the book takes its name), George Kennan’s strategy of ‘containment’ and Josef Pilsudski’s ‘Prometheism’ approach. Petersen then establishes a number of geostrategic objectives for the major Western powers in Eurasia, not least during a profound period of flux as the People’s Republic of China emerges as a key Eurasian power and Russia re-establishes some of the ground it lost in Central Asia during the 1990s.

Petersen’s aim is to maintain American and European hegemony in terrestrial Eurasia – or at the very least, a balance of power that favors Western interests. This is where the geopolitical theories he favors: Mackinder provides the stage for operations (i.e. Eurasia, from Eastern Europe to the Pacific coast), Kennan the shield to contain potential aggression from foreign powers, and Pilsudski a sword of disaggregation to stir up domestic trouble and break down the power of foreign governments, who might seek to dominate smaller nations.

In the book is argued that the West should seek to maintain – as part of the first step – the independence of smaller countries to prevent larger powers from creating closed spheres of influence, thereby making themselves stronger at the expense of the European Union, the United States and their allies. Step two involves funding and facilitating communications infrastructure like the Modern Silk Road and the Northern Distribution Network, as well as smaller but no less important projects like the Nabucco gas pipeline, to bring the countries in Eurasia together – and preferably through Western-backed or owned projects. The final step involves updating and expanding institutions to make them fit for a new era, especially NATO and the European Union.

‘Intermarium’ – literally, ‘between the seas’ – not least in Central Eurasia, is an important term in the book. The ‘Intermarium’ was part of Pilsudski’s ‘Prometheist’ agenda: he developed it as an idea after the Great War as an innovative geopolitical alliance to house the newly independent countries of Eastern Europe, which were formerly part of the sprawling German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. Poland’s Pilsudski realised that without some degree of unification, the new nations would remain very weak and would be open to future invasion and annexation, especially once Germany and Russia had recovered from defeat. He hoped the ‘Intermarium’ would become a new great power – under Polish leadership – to prevent neighboring countries from either dominating or attacking its member states. For Petersen, a new East European and Central Asian ‘Intermarium’ could prevent future revanchism on Moscow’s part, or expansionism on Beijing’s part, while creating the foundations for greater co-operation.

This review is based on a review by James Rogers (of the Cambridge University, and a founding director of the Group on Grand Strategy) on the European Geostrategy blog. In projects for the European Union Institute for Security Studies and the Egmont Institute, Rogers argued that the key geographic zone for the European Union in the twenty-first century would be the maritime region from the Suez Canal to the city of Shanghai (and perhaps as far as Seoul), a region I later described as the European Union’s ‘grand area’. It is there, around the Indian Ocean, where the major powers have the greatest stakes and interests, due to overlapping maritime communication lines from numerous energy and raw material suppliers, which pass through almost all the world’s most volatile shock zones and choke points.

Further Rogers believes maritime Eurasia will matter the most. Nevertheless, and crucially, this does not render Petersen’s perspective any less relevant; to some extent, the two approaches are coterminous with one another. Even if the biggest stakes are in the maritime littorals of Eurasia, the terrestrial dimension cannot be ignored. After all, China and India are pushing to integrate their landward interiors to large ports on the Indian Ocean’s coast with roads, railways and energy transmission pipelines, while Russia continues to eye the steppes keenly from the north.

U.S. SHOULD PROVIDE ARMS AND TRAINING FOR THE FREE SYRIAN ARMY

November 26, 2011

On November 24, 2011, The Weekly Standard published an article by Max Boot on Syria:

The Assads, we were told, were all that stood between Syria and chaos. If that was ever true, it definitely is not true now. Assad’s heavy-handed attempt to repress a revolution is not cowing the protesters. Instead it is leading growing numbers of them to take up arms. Soldiers are defecting to the Free Syrian Army, which in recent days has reportedly attacked an intelligence headquarters outside of Damascus and a Baath party headquarters inside the capital.

Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, is descending into civil war with, in the words of a New York Times correspondent, “supporters and opponents of the government blamed for beheadings, rival gangs carrying out tit-for-tat kidnappings, minorities fleeing for their native villages, and taxi drivers too fearful of drive-by shootings to ply the streets.” This could be a vision of what all of Syria might become if Assad continues to cling to power—as he shows every sign of trying to do.

Indeed, Assad recently vowed defiance to the Sunday Times of London, telling a reporter he “will not bow down” despite growing international pressure, such as the European Union’s decision to stop buying Syrian oil and the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria from membership. It is not only Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, and other Westerners who are telling Assad to step down. The same message is coming from the leaders of neighboring Turkey and Jordan. Even Hamas, long headquartered in Damascus, is backing away from Assad. His actions are beyond the pale for a terrorist group—that tells you something.

The tough economic sanctions imposed by Europe—the major buyer of Syrian oil—will reduce Assad’s revenues and, over time, undermine his hold on power. But Assad retains the support of the Iranian regime, which is assisting and advising him in his war against his own people. He also has the backing of much of the Alawite minority, which dominates Syria’s military and government. With such backing, he could try to cling to power indefinitely even as the country collapses around him and the death toll—already at 4,000 or more—continues to climb.

The West could just sit back and watch this slow-motion catastrophe unfold. But doing so runs the risk of deepening fissures, in particular between Alawites (a Shiite offshoot) and the majority Sunnis, that could take decades to heal. We also run the risk that regional players will become more deeply embroiled in backing competing sides in what is fast becoming a Syrian civil war. If parts of Syria slip outside anyone’s control (as occurred in Iraq from 2003 to 2007), they could become havens for Sunni extremists such as al Qaeda.

On the other hand, if Assad goes, it will be a historic opportunity for a strategic realignment that takes Syria out of the Iranian camp and denies Hezbollah its main source of supply. It is almost certain that any Sunni regime that succeeds Assad will not be as close to Tehran as he has been. And, if we help bring about Assad’s downfall, we will have leverage with his successors that we would otherwise lack.

In some ways the current moment recalls the Balkans of the early 1990s—another situation where the West (and in particular the United States) tried to ignore a human-rights catastrophe but eventually intervened. That intervention stopped the killing and produced a delicate but durable peace accord. Might outside intervention be equally successful in Syria? It very well could be, which is why, despite the understandable reluctance in Washington to mount another Libya-style operation, it is time to start thinking seriously about what can be done to hasten Assad’s downfall. Obama has done a good job so far of isolating and sanctioning Syria, but more action is necessary.

For a start, we should abandon the rhetoric and mindset of moral equivalence reflected in statements such as the one issued by State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner after reports of the Free Syrian Army’s attack on the Baathist party headquarters. While placing the bulk of blame on the Assad regime, Toner also said that “we are very concerned” about the attack and “we certainly don’t condone this kind of violence .  .  . in any way, shape, or form.” We don’t? Why not? Isn’t the use of force legitimate to overthrow a regime that has time and again shown its willingness to slaughter civilians in the street? It certainly was in Libya. Why not in Syria?

We and our allies should signal our support not only for nonviolent demonstrations but also for armed action to bring down the Assad clique. More than that, we should provide arms and training to the Free Syrian Army, which is based in Turkey, so that they can fight the regime on more equal terms. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done directly by the United States. In Libya the Qataris took the lead in arming the rebels, although if we outsource the supply of military help we also risk giving the Qataris an outsized say in Syria’s future.

The Syrian opposition itself is asking for even more help. They would like to see the imposition of a no-fly zone over their country. Such a step is certainly feasible, even though Pentagon planners will remind us that Syria’s antiaircraft defenses are much more robust than Libya’s. (Keep in mind, though, that Israeli warplanes had no trouble penetrating Syrian airspace undetected to bomb a suspected nuclear site in 2007.)

But a no-fly zone would have only a symbolic impact because there is not much evidence of Assad using aircraft to target protesters. The work of repression is being carried out by thugs, troops, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. All of them could be targeted from the air, but that would require more than a no-fly zone—it would require a no-drive zone as well. That, again, is feasible and should be under serious discussion in Washington, even though accurate targeting would require the insertion of foreign Special Operations forces, a role played in Libya by the British, French, and Qataris.

Even if we are not yet prepared to launch airstrikes against regime targets, we can back another option: the creation of “buffer zones” along the Syrian border with Turkey. These would be places where refugees come to escape Assad’s tyranny and where the Free Syrian Army trains and operates. The creation of such zones could speed the unraveling of the Assad regime by encouraging more defections and by making possible the creation of a Free Syrian government on Syrian soil. Setting up buffer zones would require Turkish military intervention, something that the United States should encourage and offer to support with logistics, intelligence, airpower, and other “enablers.”

It will not be as easy to get U.N. Security Council authorization for military action in Syria as it was in Libya, because the Russians and Chinese are unhappy with the NATO-led regime change that toppled Muammar Qaddafi. But the Chinese are unlikely to stand alone to resist a resolution, and the Russians may be susceptible to pressure from Turkey and the Gulf states, which have also broken with Assad. Even if a Security Council resolution isn’t forthcoming, NATO, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council could still provide multilateral cover for intervention. In Kosovo, recall, there was no Security Council approval—and Bill Clinton still intervened.

Although America should not act alone against Syria, U.S. leadership is needed to galvanize a coalition for effective action. That means President Obama will need to put away any lingering illusions about the desirability of maintaining Assad in power and do whatever is needed to help topple him swiftly, thereby limiting the physical and psychological damage to the Syrian people and easing the work of rebuilding a free Syria.

WILL CHINA COLLAPSE?: CHINESE BANKS ‘BUILT ON QUICKSAND’, CHANOS SAYS

November 24, 2011

Jim Chanos, founder of hedge fund Kynikos Associates Ltd., on November 23, 2011, talked on Bloomberg about China’s banking system and outlook for the nation’s economy and real estate market:

Chinese banks are “extremely fragile” because the lenders don’t have enough capital to offset bad loans, said Jim Chanos, president and founder of the $6 billion hedge fund Kynikos Associates Ltd.

Chinese lenders are saddled with non-performing loans accumulated in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Chanos, the short seller who predicted the collapse of Enron Corp. in 2001, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television yesterday. The banks are failing to recognize the losses on the bad loans and have carried out a lending binge since 2008, said Chanos.

“The Chinese banking system is built on quicksand and that’s the one thing a lot of people don’t realize,” said Chanos, who is shorting the shares of Agricultural Bank ofChina. “Everybody seems to think it is a free and clear open checkbook. It’s not. The banking system in China is extremely fragile.”

The MSCI China Financials Index of bank stocks has declined 32 percent this year on concern the quality of loans to local governments and the housing market will deteriorate as economic growth slows. State-run Central Huijin Investment Ltd., an arm of China’s sovereign wealth fund, said on Oct. 10 that it started buying stock in the four biggest Chinese lenders after their shares tumbled this year.

China spent 3.5 trillion yuan ($550 billion), equal to a fifth of its 2005 gross domestic product, bailing out and recapitalizing state-owned banks since 1998 as their lending to unprofitable state-owned businesses turned sour, according to an estimate by Moody’s Investors Service in 2007. Since September 2008, Chinese banks doled out $3.8 trillion in new loans to offset the impact of the global financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Chanos said that he’ll keep his short positions until the government recapitalizes the banking system again.

In short selling, investors sell borrowed shares in anticipation that the securities will decline and they can buy them back at a profit.

CHINESE NAVY TO CONDUCT PACIFIC DRILL

November 24, 2011

UPI on November 24, 2011, reported that the Chinese navy will hold exercises in the Pacific Ocean this month, the defense ministry said:

The ministry’s brief announcement, carried by the official Xinhua news agency, described the event in the western Pacific by the People’s Liberation Army naval fleet as “routine training” in accordance with relevant international laws and practice and “not directed toward any particular country or goal.”

“China’s lawful rights, including free navigation in relevant waters, should not be hindered,” the ministry added.

During a visit last week to Australia and Asian nations, U.S. President Barack Obama stressed America’s commitments as a Pacific power.

“The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” Obama had said.

The United States plans greater military and trade involvement in the Asia-Pacific as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

China’s military expansion has become a source of concern to its Asian neighbors. In this context, China’s insistence of sovereignty over all of the South China Sea is raising their concerns as some of them have rival claims in the resource-rich seas.

GOP CANDIDATES FAULT WASHINGTON FOR DEBT AND NATIONAL SECURITY THREATS

November 23, 2011

Fox News on November 22, 2011, commented on the GOP presidential candidate debate on CNN. It mainly highlighted Iran, Pakistan and the U.S. ability to protect itself in the face of harrowing debt, with the hopefuls directing several of their punches at Washington’s inability to govern:

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Congress is being forced to cut billions from the defense budget and is going about it by cutting weapons, cruisers, airplanes and troops at the expense of security.

“The list goes on. They’re cutting programs that are cutting the capacity of America to defend itself,” he said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was harshly critical of the magnitude of potential cuts saying the Obama administration’s Pentagon chief, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, had called them irresponsible.

“If he’s a man of honor he should resign in protest,” Perry said.

The eight Republican candidates disagreed about the role of immigration as well, with Gingrich, the former House speaker who has shot up in the polls since the last debate, saying that illegal immigrants who’ve set down ties in the U.S. and lived in the country for decades are not going to be deported even if those who have not set down roots are sent away.

“The party that says it’s the party of family is going to adopt a policy that separates families,” he said.
Perry pledged as president he would shut down the border within 12 months of taking office.

His approach to a secure border includes “strategic fencing, with the boots on the ground, with the aviation assets,” and then “putting sanctions against the banks,” he said.

The lawmakers also supported the anti-terror Patriot Act, saying it should be extended or perhaps strengthened to help identify and capture those who would attack the United States.

Tuesday’s debate, which focused on national security was taking place just a few blocks from the building the candidates are hoping to take up residence — the White House. The event at DAR Constitution Hall was co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. It comes six weeks to the day before the Iowa caucuses begin the countdown to choosing a nominee to challenge President Obama.

On other topics, Huntsman, the former Utah governor and a U.S. ambassador to China, said he would leave behind as many as 15,000 forces to help Afghans maintain their security. But his views led Romney to argue that the U.S. has to finish what it started, and make sure the country isn’t lost to terrorists.

“We spent about $450 billion so far, 1,700 or so service men and women have lost their lives there, and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against the United States. We can’t just write off a major part of the world,” he said.

“We are fighting a war against radical Islam,” added Rick Santorum, who was a member of the Senate’s foreign relations panel when he represented Pennsylvania in the chamber. “And what radical Islam is telling — all of the radical Islamist leaders are saying is that just wait America out, America is weak, they will not stand for the fight, they cannot maintain this, they’ll set time limits, politics will interfere, and we will tell the people in Afghanistan, we will tell the people in Iraq and other places that we will be the strong horse in the region.”

Romney added that his first foreign trip as president, if elected, would be to Israel to show that country and the rest of the world that the two nations still stand together.

Most Republican presidential hopefuls agreed that sanctions on Iran are a good first step. But they disagreed over whether to protect Israel from Iran. Paul said that country can take care of itself, and should, since the U.S. can neither afford new wars nor create situations that cause further international discord.

Gingrich, however, disagreed saying if he had a choice of using a conventional campaign with Israel or letting that country go it alone and possibly see a nuclear war in the region, he would choose the conventional campaign.

“That would be a future none of us would want to live through,” Gingrich said, adding that he would not permit a bombing campaign that leaves the regime in place.

Businessman Herman Cain said Iran must be contained not only for Israel’s stake.

“If we pull out of Afghanistan too soon, Iran is going to help to fulfill that power vacuum in Afghanistan. And so it is in our best interests, the United States of America, to prevent them from being able to help fill that power vacuum in Afghanistan,” he said