The Republican presidential candidates on Thursday offered full-throated vows to stop ISIS. But in a nationally televised debate on Fox News, they also laid out clear differences in how to do so.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been criticized for vowing on the campaign trail to “carpet bomb” ISIS, said Thursday that he will “apologize to nobody” for that promise.
“It is not tough talk, it is a different fundamental military strategy than what we’ve seen from Barack Obama,” Cruz said. Cruz appealed to the example of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which he said featured a higher rate of air strikes. He also criticized President Obama for not arming the Kurds in Iraq – an incorrect claim, as the administration has sent significant arms to Kurdish forces to help them fight the Islamic State.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the threat from ISIS “extraordinary and unprecedented” and said the group “needs to be confronted.” Although he did not offer specifics, Rubio has said he would embed US forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria alongside native fighters.
Rubio on Thursday also vowed to send captured ISIS soldiers to Guantanamo Bay, where the US has kept a battlefield prisoners since the period immediately after 9/11. ” We’re going to find out everything they know,” Rubio said.
President Obama has long vowed to shutter Guantanamo Bay, and reiterated his plan to do so during his State of the Union address earlier this month.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called again on Thursday to embed US ground troops inside the Iraqi military. Bush also called for a no-fly zone in Syria, arming Kurdish fighters, and creating a Sunni Arab force in Syria to confront ISIS. ”We need to deal with ISIS in the caliphate,” Bush said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich took issue with Cruz’s calling on the example of the 1991 Gulf War, adding that in addition to launching an air campaign, the US created a broad coalition of forces to confront the Saddam Hussein regime. “If we want to destroy ISIS, it has to be in the air and on the ground,” Kasich said.
Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian who has called for less military intervention overseas, warned that toppling Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad was the wrong approach to confronting ISIS. A civil war has raged in that country for nearly five years.
“What we really need to do is defeat ISIS, but if you defeat Assad, what you will wind up with is a larger and more powerful ISIS that will occupy that space,” Paul said.
ISIS has made its headquarters inside Syria, though affiliate groups continue establishing themselves in other countries.
Asked about the rise of ISIS in Libya, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blamed Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State during the air war that removed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
“This is another one of those places where Hillary Clinton has so much to answer for,” Christie said.
When discussion turned later to the Iran, Rubio vowed once more to cancel the recently-implemented nuclear deal, despite renewed business between that country and European economies.
“Nations will have a choice,” Rubio said. “They can do business with Iran, or they can do business with America.”
The tough talk also extended to US-Russian relations.
Asked if he would agree to defend the eastern European country of Estonia against a Russian invasion, Ben Carson said yes.
“We have to face him down,” Carson said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Yes, I absolutely would go in if he attacked,” Carson added.
Estonia, a former Soviet country, is a member of NATO, whose article five enshrines the idea that an attack against a member state is an attack against all of its members.