Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Sep. 17, 2015:
American voters’ concern about Islamist extremism is at the highest level since 2002, with 66% of Republicans, 56% of Independents and 48% of Democrats describing it as a “critical threat.” National security is a major issue that received significant attention at last night’s Republican presidential debate.
The following is Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s compilation of the candidates’ expressed stances on fighting Islamist extremism at the debate and his personal assessment of the contest’s winners and losers among national security voters.
Carly Fiorina is widely considered the biggest winner of the debate overall. Her performance included details on national security policy.
She criticized rivals who oppose the nuclear deal with Iran without presenting a broader strategy. She said she’d inform Iran that the regime would be prevented from moving money through the global financial system until it agrees to anytime-anywhere inspections.
Fiorina said the U.S. should not negotiate with Russia because it is on the side of Iran. She said she’d provide intelligence to Egypt and armaments to Jordan to fight the Islamic State, in addition to arming the Kurds.
She advocated a military buildup that includes increasing the 6thFleet, military exercises in the Baltic States, installing anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland, modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad, increasing the Navy to 300-350 ships and adding 50 Army brigades and 36 Marine battalions.
Graham is the winner of the undercard debate that featured the bottom four candidates and virtually every answer of his related to national security. Of all the candidates, he was the most impressive on dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). He explicitly said he is running for president to “destroy radical Islam.” Graham said he would “rip the caliphate up by its roots” and “will kill every one of these [ISIS] bastards we can find.”
Graham’s standout moment was challenging every candidate to state whether they support increasing troop levels in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000 to fight the Islamic State, asserting that anyone who refuses to do so lacks the seriousness to be commander-in-chief. Graham’s overall plan calls for increasing U.S. troop levels to 20,000, split between Iraq and Syria.
He argued that the Islamic State grew in Syria and then propelled into Iraq because the Obama Administration rejected his recommendation that the U.S. military establish a no-fly zone in Syria and support the Free Syrian Army rebel force before it became too late.
Graham said there is no one left to train inside Syria, so the only option is a U.S.-backed regional army that includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. He said the only solution to the refugee crisis is the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
He pointed out that he’s the only candidate who has served in the military (he was in the Air Force for 33 years). Graham has spent 140 days on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of 35 trips to those countries.
Graham is currently in 14th place nationally (0.3%). He is in 14thplace in Iowa (0.3%); 12th place in New Hampshire (0.8%) and 7thplace in South Carolina (4%).
Rubio gave the most detailed and articulate answers about foreign policy during the debate. He argued for a more interventionist U.S. policy that includes supporting democratic activists, such as by meeting with opponents of Putin in Russia.
He argued that the Syrian revolution began as a popular uprising and the Islamist terrorist presence could have been minimized if the U.S. had armed moderate rebels in the beginning of the conflict.
Rubio said that the Russian military movement into Syria is part of an overall strategy to “destroy NATO,” save the Syrian dictatorship and convince countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to ditch the U.S. for Russia.
He is currently in 5th place nationally (5%). He is in 5th place in Iowa (5%); 8th place in New Hampshire (3%) and 5th place in South Carolina (4%).
Rubio explained that he opposed giving President Obama authority to launch airstrikes on the Syrian regime after it used chemical weapons because the plan involved “pinprick” airstrikes. He said that he would only support military action that has victory as an objective.
Christie struck a chord when he spoke about his experience on 9/11 and prosecuting terrorists after the attack when he was the U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey. He defended the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks when Carson’s opposition was brought up. He also pledged not to have deals with or meet with leaders like those in Iran who chant “Death to America.”
He is currently in 11th place nationally (2%). He is in 11th place in Iowa (2%), 9th place in New Hampshire (3%) and 12th place in South Carolina (2%).
Trump failed to show any grasp on foreign policy or to outline a strategy towards Islamist extremists when pressed. When he was asked about an embarrassing interview where he appeared not to know what the Iran-linked Al-Quds Force are and the names of prominent terrorist leaders, he simply stated that he’d hire a strong team that would keep him informed on national security.
He boasted of opposing the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. He said the U.S. should stay out of the Syrian civil war and criticized President Obama for declaring that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would be an intolerable “red line.” Trump said that Rubio, Paul and Cruz should have supported President Obama’s request for authority to militarily enforce the “red line.”
Trump also expressed confidence that he could work well with Russian President Putin. Fiorina, on the other hand, said the U.S. should not negotiate with Russia.
He is currently in 1st place nationally (31%). He is in 1st place in Iowa (28%), 1st place in New Hampshire (30%) and 1st place in South Carolina (34%).
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