The Islamic State and President Obama’s politically correct approach to fighting the jihadi “JV” group has become every Republican presidential candidate’s favorite punching bag.
Bashing on such a universally reviled entity is an easy way to score political points on national security, making oneself look like a tough guy without offending anyone. Everyone agrees ISIS is a threat that needs to be destroyed, but not everyone thinks that starting World War III is such a great idea.
Below, we analyze the candidates’ stances on fighting ISIS.
Sen. Marco Rubio
With Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., dropping out of the race before Christmas, Rubio — who retains many neoconservative thinkers among his foreign policy advisers — remains in a tight race with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to assume the mantle of most hawkish candidate.
Rubio, Florida’s junior U.S. senator, has made a muscular foreign policy one of the focal points of his campaign. He has vowed that U.S. forces will inflict a humiliating defeat upon ISIS via a combination of ground troops, expanded air strikes, enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria and by building a coalition of neighboring Sunni Muslim countries to fight against ISIS.
While Rubio has stated that a “significant” U.S. ground force will be required to defeat ISIS, he has been careful to emphasize that the number would be fewer than 50,000, and that such an endeavor would not be tantamount to an occupation a la Iraq or Afghanistan.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO supports waging war against ISIS through continued air strikes, a no-fly zone over Syria and a multinational military coalition. But she is opposed to sending in U.S. ground troops — for now.
Instead, she prefers a strategy of supplying allies in the region like the Jordanians and the Kurdish Peshmerga with arms, training and air support to lead the fight ISIS — their common enemy.
She has also been a proponent of increasing the effectiveness of U.S. air raids by loosening what she says are overly strict and politically expedient rules of engagement.
Jeb embraced a vastly more hawkish position after the Paris terror attacks in November, bringing him more in line with his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Jeb had suggested earlier that ISIS could be contained without a heavy U.S. commitment, but has since shifted gears and now calls for “overwhelming force” to destroy the group, declaring that air power alone would not be enough to defeat the group.
Bush, like Obama, is also calling for the ouster of Bashar Al-Assad, the Shia Muslim dictator of Syria, though serious questions remain about whether this would actually empower the militants given what happened in Iraq a decade ago. He is also calling for a no-fly zone to be enforced over Syria and that the U.S. lead a coalition of NATO and Arab allies against ISIS.
Trump’s proposal of attacking ISIS’s oil infrastructure, allowing Russia to continue its bombing raids in Syria, and letting ISIS and Assad’s forces duke it out with one another is arguably the most rational, and offers the most bang for buck from the U.S.’s standpoint.
His rhetoric has escalated sharply in recent months. He initially proposed leaving the dirty work to Russia — a strong ally of Assad — and said that ISIS was “not our fight.” But more recently, Trump has taken a much more aggressive approach of dismantling the group’s means of financial sustenance — saying that he would “bomb the s*** out of them” and that the U.S. should take the oil. He has not endorsed the use of ground troops, but has declined to rule out the option.
Trump has also spoken out against arming the Sunni rebel groups fighting against ISIS on the grounds that many of the fighters and their weapons end up defecting to ISIS.
Christie has voiced his support for strengthening the U.S. military and taking on ISIS, but his hawkishness against ISIS has paled in comparison to his stance on Russia.
The New Jersey governor has vowed to attack ISIS with air strikes, has not ruled out the use of ground troops in the region, and fervently supports a no-fly zone in Syria and an international coalition. Like the other Establishment-track candidates, Christie calls for a U.S. supported takedown of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
But Christie raised eyebrows at the Dec. 15 Republican debate when he said he would shoot down Russian planes if they intruded in a U.S. enforced no-fly zone over Syria, prompting Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ly., to accuse him trying to provoke World War III.
Cruz is seeking to forge a “third way” on foreign policy matters that occupies the middle ground between George W. Bush-style interventionism and isolationist approaches advocated by libertarian factions of the party.
The Texas senator has vowed to “utterly destroy ISIS” and “carpet bomb” them “into oblivion” if he is elected president. But he is opposed to sending in U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS and prefers that fighting on the ground be left to a coalition of allies and Sunni Muslim nations.
Unlike the Establishment candidates, he is in favor of supporting tinpot dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as long as they are useful in the fight against ISIS.
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Like with many other issues, it’s not entirely clear what Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, would do in response to ISIS. But he has said the U.S. should use “every resource available to us” in defeating the jihadis group.
Available options he has expressed support for include sending in special forces to Iraq and Syria and trying to consolidate ISIS’s territory into a smaller, more vulnerable region. Like Trump, he supports taking out the oil facilities in the region that is the group’s financial lifeline. He is also in favor of a no-fly zone.
He is wary of allowing Russia to gain influence in the region, yet supports military intervention through an international coalition, as well as arming and supporting Kurdish and Sunni rebel forces to fight ISIS.
Paul’s isolationist foreign policy leanings have been pulled towards the hawkish end of the spectrum since he was elected to the Senate in 2010 — perhaps after being confronted by political and global realities — but he still remains the least interventionist of any candidate in the 2016 Republican field.
He is against the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria and staunchly opposes the deployment of U.S. ground troops or special forces troops without a declaration of war. Instead, he argues for a coalition of neighboring Sunni Muslim countries to take the lead in destroying ISIS.
Paul is in favor of continuing air strikes, but opposes using U.S. military resources to overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, saying that although he is a bad guy, his help is needed to defeat ISIS.