Erika Johnsen

Just last Wednesday night, we heard the GOP presidential candidates face off in a debate geared specifically toward economic issues. Our sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rates have been at the forefront of most Americans' minds of late, but of arguably equal practical importance are issues of national security and the goings-on of the international arena. Tonight's foreign policy-focused fare should be a treat, as we haven't yet had the chance to hear the candidates get too in-depth on foreign policy in a debate setting.

Focusing on the country as-seen through an economic lens has provided the candidates ample opportunity to hit upon the many leadership failures of President Obama, but the Obama camp believes that foreign policy is a platform of relative strength for the president (mainly because, as we're often reminded, OBL was brought to justice under his watch). It will be interesting to hear how the candidates approach the president's other foreign policy (mis)adventures - Libya, the imminent withdrawal from Iraq, Pakistan, China's economic perfidy, and of course, the impending Israel-Iran blowout.

For this debate, we're still looking at the now-familiar eight contenders:

Newt Gingrich: Gingrich has come out of the past few debates looking pretty darn good - he consistently calls out the media's manipulation and his wonkish, old-guard, been-there intelligence has served him well. So well, in fact, that he's recently had the most upward momentum in the polls, tying with Mitt Romney for second place beneath Herman Cain in a CBS poll. Gingrich is quite comfortable with foreign policy issues - he has agreed with President Obama on the need for a timely end to the war in Iraq, but has blasted him for his weak approaches to safeguarding U.S. interests around the world. Just yesterday, Newt told an audience that he'd like to have someone like the famously neoconservative John Bolton as his Secretary of State - so it's safe to say that Newt is very much in favor of the U.S. having a reputation for strength abroad.

Ricky Perry: Several days later, I still can't think about Rick Perry's last debate performance without experiencing a touch of mental agony - the moment was just too painful. While Perry is an old pro at giving great speeches, debating is just not his forte. He's managed pretty well in the days since with some self-deprecating damage control, but I can't say I'm confident we'll see a smooth performance tonight. Unlike most of his competitors on the stage, Rick Perry has military experience, having served five years as an Air Force pilot, and he has openly criticized the president for his politically-motivated timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. He tends toward hawkishness, and is an unabashed and outspoken proponent of the Christian directive to support Israel.

Mitt Romney: The fact that Mitt Romney usually manages to escape these debates unfrazzled both vexes and comforts me - I try to resist his pull, but he just keeps doing so well! Certainly one of the more fluid, intelligent, and confident debaters on stage, Romney's go-to foreign policy line is that he 'will not apologize for America.' He has called for cutting foreign aid to unreliable allies, stronger border defense, and tougher international economic policies. His exact position on the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan has been a bit iffy, though, so I'm hoping he'll elucidate on this tonight.

Herman Cain: Still embroiled in the scandal of possible sexual harassment charges, Herman Cain seemed undaunted on Wednesday evening, although his lack of specific policy-knowledge was sometimes uncomfortably apparent. Cain won't be able to use his 9-9-9 plan as a fallback answer tonight (leastaways, I hope he won't), and he has personally acknowledged that foreign policy is not his strong suit. He's made a number of foreign-policy flubs, and his insistence that a president can learn about foreign policy on-the-job by surrounding himself with the right people, might not provide the assurance Americans want from a potential president. Cain has, however, garnered widespread applause from denouncing President Obama's "kumbaya" foreign policy decisions.

Michele Bachmann: Bachmann has maintained admirable and consistent focus in hammering away at President Obama instead of her fellow Republicans, but otherwise, her presence is feeling less and less relevant - I can barely recall anything specific she said from last Wednesday's debate. Bachmann has often hailed herself as well-versed in foreign policy and privy to classified information because of her position on the House Intelligence Committee, is a steadfast supporter of Israel, and has called on nations like Libya and Iraq to pay the United States back for our military intervention there.

Rick Santorum: Like Bachmann, Santorum just hasn't broken through as a very relevant candidate, and in my mind, he sometimes seems a little unctuous. However, he did spend eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and seems fairly confident in his foreign policy dexterity. Santorum leans pretty hawkish and anti-isolationist, is against starting a trade war with China, stands with Israel, and has called for the defunding of the United Nations.

Jon Huntsman: Huntsman served as the U.S. Ambassador the China, and yes, as I suspect he'll remind us tonight, he speaks Chinese. Admittedly, I actually like a good deal of what he has to say on our relationship with China (standing up for the atrocious human-rights situation there and whatnot) , so I'll be listening for his answers if/when China comes up. But then, he's also for reductions in defense spending, a global-warming-is-a-worldwide-threat guy, and is in favor of pulling most of our troops out of Afghanistan ASAP. These are not popular positions with the conservative base, so I severely doubt tonight's debate will help him to pull himself out of his dead-last position in the polls.

Ron Paul: I saved Ron Paul for last, not because his foreign policy is the best (in my opinion, his foreign policy errs on the side of crazy); but because his foreign policy is certainly the most unique, and his dissenting voice will probably provide the most interesting spice to tonight's debate. A libertarian to his core, Ron Paul doesn't shy away from insisting that the United States often acts like an empire, and that we hurt ourselves abroad more than we help ourselves. Paul constantly harkens back to the Constitution, and sees most of our international actions as unnecessary entanglements.

The debate starts at 8 PM eastern, hosted by CBS, National Journal, and the South Carolina Republican Party, and will stream live on CBSNews.com. At least a few members of the Townhall/HotAir team will be tuning in and live-tweeting our thoughts in an open thread, so tune in!


Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.