By David Usborne
Rick Santorum, a former senator, called Africa a country.
Herman Cain, a businessman, said a strike by Israel against Iran might fail because it has mountains.
Rick Perry, the Texas governor, spoke of the "absolute failure" of intelligence gathering under President Barack Obama, the killing of Osama bin Laden notwithstanding.
But while experts would have been horrified by some of the exchanges at the Republican presidential foreign affairs debate, they played out well for Newt Gingrich, who is riding high in the polls and flaunted the relative depth of his national security experience.
In the grand environs of Constitution Hall, the eight candidates' conversation was predictably hawkish but also fractured by significant differences of view.
At no point did anyone think to raise Russia or Europe and its problems.
The candidates clashed on topics ranging from Iran and Pakistan and drawing down troops in Afghanistan.
That some of them might still need training wheels – Mr Perry got limited support when he proposed a no-fly zone over Syria – may do little to burnish the image of the party of Reagan.
"This is early and it takes time," said retired General Wesley Clark about their grasp of security affairs. He was in the Washington audience despite being a Democrat. Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor, showed no great nervousness toward Mr Gingrich, who has caught up with him in the polls.
As for Mr Perry's no-fly zone, Mr Romney suggested a "no-drive zone" might work better in Syria, where tanks are the main tools of repression.