Republican candidates Saturday delivered cautious answers on the question of how they would respond to this weekend’s provocative rocket launch by North Korea — all except one.
Asked at a nationally televised debate hosted by ABC News if they would consider a preemptive strike against the rocket as it sat on its launchpad in North Korea, candidates largely demurred — but Jeb Bush said he would approve a strike.
“If a preemptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then we should do it,” Bush said.
The remarks are noteworthy because the former Florida governor has struggled throughout his campaign to defend his brother former President George W. Bush's decision to launch 2003 invasion of Iraq. That war, based in part on the faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction which never turned up, defined the Bush administration and came to represent the risks of preemptive war.
Other candidates took care to avoid committing on the question.
"At this point, I¹m not going to speculate on that without the intelligence briefing that any commander in chief would have knowing what exactly is there,” Sen. Ted Cruz said, answering first.
Pushed by ABC News moderators on the fact that he had talked tough on Middle East policy without the benefit of the latest intelligence reports, Cruz said that while he regularly receives intelligence as a U.S. senator, he has not seen intelligence reports on Saturday’s rocket launch because he had been in New Hampshire campaigning.
Reports of the rocket launch came only minutes before candidates took the stage Saturday. North Korea had been warning for several days that it was planning the launch. The country also claimed it had tested a hydrogen bomb last month.
Cruz later added that dealing with countries that are already nuclear powers is “qualitatively different” than dealing with countries that are not. Syria, in which ISIS makes its headquarters and which Cruz has vowed to "carpet bomb," is not a nuclear power.
Sen. Marco Rubio also declined to say whether he’d launch a preemptive strike against the North Korean rocket, though he said as a matter of policy the U.S. government has contingency plans to shoot down missiles in mid-flight which are threatening the US.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that the U.S. should have given Japan assurances that it would have American support were it to take its own action to stop the rocket.
Donald Trump avoided answering the question of a preemptive strike and said instead that China has “tremendous control” over events inside its ally North Korea.
“I would get on with China,” Trump said. “Let China solve that problem. They can do it quickly and surgically.”