A party in search of a message on ISIS

Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014.
Likely Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appeared on Fox News last night and  boasted he knows exactly what to do to "defeat ISIS very quickly." He quickly added, however, "I'm not going to tell what you it is."
When host Greta Van Susteren suggested he should share his secret plan, Trump replied, "If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing." He added, however, that there really is "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory."
He just doesn't want to tell anyone what this method is.
It's obviously easy to laugh at buffoonery, but there's a larger significance to exchanges like these: Republican presidential candidates are eager to talk about ISIS and U.S. foreign policy in the region. They're just not sure what to say.
On msnbc yesterday morning, for example,Joe Scarborough asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the ISIS threat. The Republican senator has apparently come up with a plan:

"You know, I think the ultimate answer is getting Arab coalitions and boots on the ground that will stop them. You need Turks fighting. The Turks need to have their army up on the board and they need to fight. [...] "I would recognize the Kurds, I would give them weapons, I would take all the weapons in Iran and Afghanistan and give them to the Kurds. But I would do simultaneously is, I would get a peace treaty between the Kurds and the Turks and I would say, 'Look,' the Kurds, 'you've got to give up any pretensions to any territory in Turkey. Turkey, let's go ahead and get along and together wipe out ISIS."

He neglected to mention his intention to rely on magical unicorns to help establish peace throughout the land.
I mean, really. Paul is going to defeat ISIS, right after establishing peace between the Kurds and the Turks? Does he realize they don't quite see eye to eye? There's some history there? As a rule, telling a country like Turkey, "Let's go ahead and get along" -- because Rand Paul says so -- isn't a sure-fire plan for a diplomatic solution.
But this goes beyond Paul and Trump.
One of my favorite examples of the problem came up in February, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) insisted the United States must "aggressively ... take the fight to ISIS" and demonstrate that "we're willing to take appropriate action" against terrorist targets. When ABC's Martha Raddatz asked Walker, "You don't think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?" the governor had no idea how to respond.
The New York Times added last week on the familiar dynamic:

Based on recent interviews with several declared and likely candidates, as well as their foreign policy speeches and off-the-cuff remarks, a picture emerges of a Republican field that sounds both hawkish and hesitant about fighting the Islamic State -- especially before its warriors find ways to bring the fight to American soil, a threat that Mr. Bush, Mr. Walker and Mr. Graham foresee. [...] Yet most of the Republicans are also reluctant and even evasive when it comes to laying out detailed plans, preferring instead to criticize Mr. Obama's war strategy.

Yes, that's where they excel. President Obama has launched thousands of airstrikes against ISIS target, and he's helped assemble an international coalition, but Republicans are absolutely certain that the White House's approach is wholly inadequate.
If elected, they would instead pursue a totally different policy, consisting of ... well, that's where things get a little hazy. The Guardian's Trevor Timm added this week:

The vague, bulls****-y statements made by Republican candidates would be hilarious if it wasn't possible that they'll lead to more American soldiers dying in the coming years. "Restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy" is Jeb Bush's hot take on Isis. Thanks, Jeb -- I can't believe the Obama administration hasn't thought of that! Marco Rubio's "solution" is even more embarrassing: according to The Times, he responded to a question about what he would do differently - and this is real - by quoting from the movie Taken: "We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you."

Yep, that was dumb, though I suppose it's marginally better than last night's Trump special: "I'm not going to tell what you it is."