8 p.m. ET on CNN. This was supposed to be the last debate until December 10 but this afternoon the word came down that Fox News will be hosting a candidate forum on December 3. Your moderator: Mike Huckabee, along with three Republican state attorneys general who are challenging ObamaCare in court. Mitt Romney will attend. What could go wrong?
The topics tonight are the same as the topics for the last foreign-policy debate 10 days ago, albeit with a few wrinkles. One: Because Heritage and AEI are involved, there’s a greater chance of some thoughtful follow-ups in lieu of the usual “30 seconds and done” format. Maybe Cain will get a chance to expand on that Libya/Taliban answer for which he took so much heat (a bit unfairly) last week. Two: Gingrich’s polls have continued to climb since the last debate so the pressure on Romney and Perry to take him on is even greater tonight. New from Gallup:
Cain led in this metric for most of the past six months, peaking at +34 in October before the harassment charges and the gaffe parade brought him down. Romney can probably afford to lose Iowa to anyone except Gingrich, since Gingrich is already on the rise in New Hampshire and faces no major regional or ideological obstacles to doing well there. If he wins the caucuses, he can springboard and place Romney’s strategy in dire peril — which, of course, is why Romney’s now finally ramping up in Iowa, to head him off at the pass. Will he get a jump on that by taking a shot at him in this format, notwithstanding that it plays to Gingrich’s strengths?
The third wrinkle is that events have overtaken the usual foreign-policy agenda since the last debate on November 12, so expect questions on the budding second revolution in Egypt and the likelihood of civil war in Syria after they dispense with the evergreen topic of Iran. Specifically, should we try to ingratiate ourselves with the Egyptian public by leaning on Tantawi and the military to relinquish power more quickly, knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood stands to benefit most from that? If not, okay, but then you’re on the wrong side of the Arab Spring with the outcome of all this still very much in doubt. And should we take Perry’s advice and impose a no-fly zone in Syria, unilaterally if need be? Read Moe Lane’s post from this afternoon arguing that I was unfair to him last night and that the case for a NFZ is stronger than it appears. If Turkey intervenes to try to remove Assad — which is possible — and asks for U.S. assistance, what do we do? Tell them no and risk Turkey moving further out of the west’s orbit at a moment when we’re already losing influence over an increasingly Islamist region? Or be a good “ally” and commit U.S. military assets to the project? And if we go the latter route, what happens when Assad is gone and bad actors start to react elsewhere? How long are we prepared to keep this commitment and on what scale?
Condi Rice seems to agree with Perry, but whether he wants that endorsement given the baggage he already carries for his superficial similarities with Bush, I don’t know. Stay tuned to find out. Here’s your handy dandy Twitter widget for live updates as things get rolling.