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Special Editorial: A Flock of Hawks

The GOP's encouraging debate.

12:05 PM, Nov 23, 2011 • By ​WILLIAM KRISTOL
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“GOP rivals differ sharply on security issues.” This was the page one headline for the Washington Post's coverage of the pre-Thanksgiving Republican presidential debate focused on foreign and defense policy.

cnn debate

The Post has missed the forest for the trees. The most important fact to emerge from the debate—and from the GOP campaign so far—is that the 1980 to 2008, Reagan-Bush-Dole-Bush-McCain GOP foreign policy center has held. The two candidates who have positioned themselves as challengers of that core Republican tradition, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, together have the support of about 10 percent of Republican primary voters in polls. Paul, the paleoconservative favorite, doesn't seem to have been able to rally any more support than he had in 2008, and Huntsman, the liberal media darling, has flopped. The notion that going isolationist is the way to appeal to Tea Party supporters in particular, or conservatives and Republicans in general, is being falsified.

So we have a race in which the two frontrunners, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, along with the second tier candidates, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum, are in basic agreement about foreign policy fundamentals. They are hawkish and exceptionalist, neo-Reaganite and "neoconservative," pro-defense and pro-Israel, and they're skeptical of the U.N., the State Department, and the squishy N.Y.-D.C. foreign policy establishment. What's not to like? The truth is, Tuesday's foreign policy debate was one which we at THE WEEKLY STANDARD could watch with pleasure, and even, at times, with profit.

There's plenty to worry about over the next months and years with respect to the GOP field and the GOP message. But standing for a sensible and strong American foreign policy may turn out to be the least of our concerns.

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