GOP HOPEFULS SHOW NEW SAVVY ON IMMIGRATION, FOREIGN POLICY

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- In 1984, when I was a questioner at the presidential debates in Kansas City, I asked a simple question about Ronald Reagan's and Walter Mondale's ideas on immigration. It was, I thought, a "nothing" question, but I was way before my time. There was a kind of hush when I asked it, and quite a number of people turned their backs on me afterward.

Mrs. Mondale kindly came up to me afterward and complimented me. I, meanwhile, didn't have much of an idea why I was being so all-but-isolated. Immigration? A daring question? I covered it because I thought then, and I think now, that it was of enormous importance to America. But others certainly did not view it that way.

So I was both surprised and gratified Tuesday night when almost all the Republican candidates at the debate here treated immigration, and particularly the massive illegal immigration we suffer, as one of the major issues America faces. And leading the pack, as indeed he led the entire evening, was none other than the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, looking dapper for his 68 years and, to his great benefit, smiling more than usual, went into depth on immigration, kicking it off about two-thirds of the way through the discussion by noting Ronald Reagan's big mistake: his 1986 "amnesty" that was supposed to legitimize more than 2 million illegals, but then close the door tight except to legal immigrants.

The problem was nobody managed to close the door, so now, between 11 million and 20 million illegal aliens are here waiting for another "temporary" amnesty.

The dominant quality of Gingrich's thinking Tuesday was thoughtfulness. On immigration, he repeated several times, Americans were not going to take a man who originally came here illegally, had children and perhaps grandchildren and attended church, and throw him and his family out. That just wasn't "American."

On the other hand, he went on, Americans were not going to put up with endless illegal access to this country. So people who had come recently and had few ties would have to go, no more illegals would be allowed to stay, and legal immigrants would be accepted on the basis of education and need for their talents. Mathematicians, engineers, IT workers -- these would get privileged sanctuary.

Amazingly, it seemed there was virtually no disagreement this time around with Newt's beliefs. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said we need to control illegal immigration so we can have legal immigration. And everyone seemed to agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry when he said we've got to secure the border first, and do it with boots on the ground and aviation.

The second issue that seemed to raise a lot of concern -- and thanks be to God! -- was the ongoing question of our disastrous "small wars." At the moment, that's Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen -- and God only knows what others are incubating.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, one of the most original politicians in America, remains against any American intervention, and I am getting closer to his beliefs, as we make more and more mistakes. "Why don't we mind our own business?" he cried out once, in obvious despair.

Paul several times pointed out that America's financial problems were in great part due to our wars, something seldom mentioned among the rest. It now costs $2 billion a week for Afghanistan, a war very few Americans actually believe we will ever "win" in any traditional way.

Mitt Romney mentioned that we had spent $450 billion so far for Afghanistan, in an effort to stop it from becoming a launching pad against the U.S. And while several candidates recommended a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan -- so as not to make useless the sacrifices we have already made -- there was more of a feeling that time was drawing down and decisions must be made soon.

Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China and Singapore, who has arguably the best foreign policy mind in addition to Newt Gingrich, felt strongly that our 100,000 troops in Afghanistan should be drawn down to 10,000 to 15,000 special forces, nation-builders, AID people, etc., as soon as possible.

At the same time, virtually everyone believed that we were in for the continuation of the war against terrorism for a long, long time, perhaps the rest of this century. So one could certainly not say that the Republicans were against ongoing wars in the world.

Still, there seemed to be a new sophistication among the Republican candidates in regards to foreign policy. When you study the points they made, most of them were not really so different from Obama's. And that is good news indeed.

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