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John Kasich's surprisingly fierce attack on Saudi Arabia

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich gestures during the Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox Business and the Republican National Committee in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 14, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich gestures during the Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox Business and the Republican National Committee in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 14, 2016.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

In Thursday night's Republican president debate, Fox Business moderator Neil Cavuto asked a question that doesn't get asked a lot in US presidential debates: Is Saudi Arabia a liability to American interests? Gov. John Kasich, in responding, didn't hold back in his criticism of the country, which is a close US partner in the Middle East:

In terms of Saudi Arabia, look, my biggest problem with them is funding radical clerics through their madrassas, that is a bad deal. Whether I'm president or not, make it clear to the Saudis, we're going to support you, we're in relation with you just like the first gulf war, but you got to knock off the funding and teaching of radical clerics who are the very people who try to destroy us and will turn around and destroy them.

It is rare for an American presidential candidate, much less a Republican, to criticize Saudi Arabia so harshly. Saudi Arabia has long been a critical partner for the United States, and every president going back decades has seen keeping it close and happy as important to US interests in the region — even though Saudi actions in the region do indeed pose real problems for the US. For Kasich to so boldly attack Saudi Arabia is quite surprising.