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CHART: GOP Presidential Candidates Spend Little Time Debating Foreign Policy

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"CHART: GOP Presidential Candidates Spend Little Time Debating Foreign Policy"

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The Iraq war made its way back in to the headlines this week after Fox News reported that the Obama administration has decided that the U.S. will keep only 3,000 troops in Iraq past 2011 (administration officials have denied that any decision has been made). The news reverberated when Iraq war cheerleaders then attacked President Obama for not pledging to keep more troops there (an effort that seemed to ignore what the Iraqis might want). “[The] U.S. troop presence in Iraq is last shred of justification for war boosters,” CAP’s Matt Duss observed on Twitter, “so of course they’ll fight for it.”

But despite the news this week, the Republican presidential candidates mentioned Iraq a grand total of once during last night’s debate, and the reference had nothing to do with the war itself. “We’re spending — believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this — $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning,” Rep. Ron Paul said.

In fact, the GOP candidates spent just 9 minutes of last night’s one hour and 40 minute debate discussing foreign policy, a data point that establishes a trend in this election cycle’s Republican presidential debates:

Why are the Republicans — supposedly the party of national security — not talking about national security? A myriad of reasons, of course, one primarily being that jobs and the economy are the topics du jour. But also, it could be that Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and co. don’t really have much to criticize. Indeed both Perry and Romney praised Obama for nabbing Osama bin Laden and Michele Bachmann had an awkward moment last night when she continued to attack Obama on Libya even though Muammar Qaddafi is no longer its leader — thanks in part to Obama’s foreign policy. “If President Obama had taken the same view [as Bachmann],” debate co-moderator John Harris said, “Qaddafi would, in all likelihood, still be in power today.”

And as Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted last weekend, Obama got elected in part because he pledged to change the course of President Bush’s disastrous foreign policy. “So what’s happened over the past 32 months?” Ignatius asks, “if you step back from the daily squawk box, some trends are clear: Alliances are stronger, the United States is (somewhat) less bogged down in foreign wars, Iran is weaker, the Arab world is less hostile and al-Qaeda is on the run.”

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