Politics & National Security
We Read the Republican Debate Transcripts So You Don’t Have To
Last night, CNN held the second Republican primary debate of the 2016 campaign, moderated by Jake Tapper, Hugh Hewitt, and Dana Bash. As a service, we’ve combed through the debate transcripts and picked out some selections that might be of interest to Lawfare readers.
Those looking for unedited transcripts should head over to the Washington Post, which has posted annotated transcripts of the “undercard” and main debates here and here. Readers might also wish to check out Defense One’s roundup of national security-related topics that came up during the debate.
GRAHAM: All of us are going to say we want to destroy ISIL.
But here's what I'm going to tell you. What we're doing is not working. I have a plan to do it. If I'm president of the United States, we're going to send more ground forces into Iraq because we have to. President Obama made a huge mistake by leaving too soon against sound military advice.
To every candidate tonight, are you willing to commit before the American people that you will destroy ISIL and you understand we need a ground force to do it?
Are you willing -- Jake [Tapper], please ask everybody the following question.
Would you go from 3,500 to 10,000 American boots on the ground in Iraq to destroy ISIL?
Because if you don't, we're going to lose.
Are you willing to send American combat forces into Syria as part of a regional army, because if you don't, we'll never destroy ISIL in Syria.
TAPPER: I want to turn to another pressing immigration issue. Governor Jindal, over the next year, at least 10,000 Syrian refugees will be allowed to enter the United States. Governor Jindal, you've said it's ridiculous for America to let more refugees in from Syria, and you've expressed concerns about security.
Senator Graham says that the United States has a moral obligation to these Syrian refugees. Governor Jindal, does the United States have any obligation to them?
JINDAL: Jake, look, America's the most compassionate country in the entire world. We do more for folks around this world, and that's the nature of the American people.
Two things. One, let us draw line, a direct line, between this refugee crisis, and this president's failed foreign policy. He drew a red line in Syria and did not enforce it and now we're seeing millions of refugees potentially, hundreds of thousands going into Europe.
The answer is not to put a Band-aid on this and allow even more people to come into America. We should not short-circuit; we have got a vetting process, we've got a normal refugee process. Simply allowing more into our country doesn't solve this problem.
The way to solve this problem is for us to be clear to our friends and allies that we're going to replace Assad, we're going to hunt down and destroy ISIS; our friends don't trust us, our enemies don't fear and respect us.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Senator Graham, your response when it comes to Syrian refugees?
GRAHAM: Yes, number one, how does President Obama sleep at night? Look what you [i.e., Obama] let happen on your watch. Your commanders told you, don't withdrawal from Iraq because we'll lose of our gains.
Three years ago your entire national security team, Senator McCain and I begged you to do a no-fly zone and help the Free Syrian Army while it would matter. But you said no.
Now we're in a spot where, if we don't destroy ISIL soon, they are coming here. There are 3,500 American boots on the ground. You would never know it, hearing your president, but we need about 10,000 to turn the tide of battle in Iraq. Then there is nobody left, Dana, to train inside of Syria.
We spent $50 million training 54 people and they are down to four or five. They have been slaughtered. So we're going to need a regional army, the turks, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians get their armies up together and 90 percent of it will be them. They're going to pay for this war because we paid for the last two.
But 10 percent at least will have to be us and we're going in on the ground and we're going to pull the caliphate up by its roots and we're going to kill every one of these bastards we can find because, if we don't, they are coming here.
TAPPER: Russia is sending troops and tanks into Syria right now to prop up a U.S. enemy, Bashar al-Assad. President Obama's incoming top general says, quote, "Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security."
RUBIO: ...I have an understanding of exactly what it is Russia and Putin are doing, and it's pretty straightforward. He wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force.
He himself said that the destruction of the Soviet Union -- the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, and now he's trying to reverse that.
He's trying to destroy NATO. And this is what this is a part of. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East.
Here's what you're gonna see in the next few weeks: the Russians will begin to fly -- fly combat missions in that region, not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad.
He will also, then, turn to other countries in the region and say, "America is no longer a reliable ally, Egypt. America is no longer a reliable ally, Saudi Arabia. Begin to rely on us."
What he is doing is he is trying to replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it. That is what is happening in the Middle East. That's what's happening with Russia…
FIORINA: Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn't talk to him at all. We've talked way too much to him.
What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I'd probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message. By the way, the reason it is so critically important that every one of us know General [Qasem] Suleimani's name is because Russia is in Syria right now, because the head of the Quds force traveled to Russia and talked Vladimir Putin into aligning themselves with Iran and Syria to prop up Bashar al- Assad.
Russia is a bad actor, but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side, and we have all of that within our control.
We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven't. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven't. I will. We could also, to Senator Rubio's point, give the Egyptians what they've asked for, which is intelligence. We could give the Jordanians what they've asked for...bombs and materiel. We have not supplied it… I will. We could arm the Kurds. They've been asking us for three years. All of this is within our control.
TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you, Ms. Fiorina. While you're -- while you brought up the subject of General Suleimani of the Quds forces from Iran, the next president, no matter who he or she may be, will inherit President Obama's Iran deal.
Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich says that anyone who is promising to rip up the Iran deal on day one, as you have promised to do, is, quote, "inexperienced," and, quote, "playing to a crowd." Respond to Governor Kasich, please.
CRUZ: Well, let me tell you, Jake, the single biggest national security threat facing America right now is the threat of a nuclear Iran. We've seen six and a half years of President Obama leading from behind. Weakness is provocative, and this Iranian nuclear deal is nothing short of catastrophic.
This deal, on its face, will send over $100 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, making the Obama administration the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.
This deal abandons four American hostages in Iran, and this deal will only accelerate Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons. You'd better believe it. If I am elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.
KASICH: Well, let me just say this. First of all, I think it's a bad agreement, I would never have done it. But, you know, a lot of our problems in the world today is that we don't have the relationship with our allies. If we want to go everywhere alone, we will not have the strength as (ph) if we could rebuild with our allies.
Now, this agreement, we don't know what's going to happen in 18 months. I served on the Defense Committee [meaning the House Armed Services Committee] for 18 years. I've seen lots of issues in foreign affairs, and foreign -- in terms of global politics, you have to be steady.
Now, here's the -- if they cheat, we slap the sanctions back on. If they help Hamas, and Hezbollah, we slap the sanctions back on. And, if we find out that they may be developing a nuclear weapon, than the military option is on the table. We are stronger when we work with the Western civilization, our friends in Europe, and just doing it on our own I don't think is the right policy.
PAUL: ... Carly Fiorina also said we're not going to talk with Putin. Well, think if Reagan had said that during the Cold War? We continued to talk with the Russians throughout the Cold War which is much more significant that where we are now.
Should we continue to talk with Iran? Yes. Should we cut up the agreement immediately? That's absurd. Wouldn't you want to know if they complied? Now, I'm going to vote against the agreement because I don't think there's significant leverage, but it doesn't mean that I would immediately not look at the agreement, and cut it up without looking to see if whether or not Iran has complied.
The same goes with China. I don't think we need to be rash, I don't think we need to be reckless, and I think need to leave lines of communication open. Often we talk about whether we should be engaged in the world, or disengaged in the world, and I think this is an example of some who want to isolate us, actually, and not be engaged.
We do need to be engaged with Russia. It doesn't mean we give them a free pass, or China a free pass, but, to be engaged, to continue to talk. We did throughout the Cold War, and it would be a big mistake not to do it here.
BUSH: …We need to be strong against China. We should use offensive tactics as it relates to cyber security, send a deterrent signal to China. There should be super sanctions in what President Obama has proposed. There's many other tools that we have without canceling a dinner. That's not going to change anything, but we can be much stronger as it relates to that.
As it relates to Iran, it's not a strategy to tear up an agreement. A strategy would be how do we confront Iran? And, the first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel's back. If we do that, it's going to create a healthier deterrent effect than anything else I can think of.
HEWITT: Mr. Trump, two years ago, President Obama drew a red line that the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad crossed, President Obama threatened to strike. He did not, his knees buckled.
We now have 4 million refugees, Syria is a living hell, and he turned to the Congress for the authority to back him up. You have three senators to your right that said, no. Do they bear responsibility for this refugee crisis...?
RUBIO: Let me tell you -- I will tell you we have zero responsibility, because let's remember what the president said. He said the attack he would conduct would be a pinprick. Well, the United States military was not build to conduct pinprick attacks.
If the United States military is going to be engaged by a commander-in-chief, it should only be engaged in an endeavor to win. And we're [i.e., Congress] not going to authorize use of force if you're not put in a position where they can win.And quite frankly, people don't trust this president as commander-in-chief because of that.
HEWITT: Senator Paul?
PAUL: I think this gets to the point of wisdom on when to intervene and when we shouldn't. Had we bombed Assad at the time, like President Obama wanted, and like Hillary Clinton wanted and many Republicans wanted, I think ISIS would be in Damascus today. I think ISIS would be in charge of Syria had we bombed Assad.
Sometimes both sides of the civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East.
Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we're more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us…The No. 1 test for use of military force should be the vital national security interest of the United States. The reason why I opposed President Obama bombing Syria, is because he couldn't answer the question what do you do if chemical weapons end up in the hands of radical Islamic terrorists like al-Nusra, like Al Qaida, like ISIS?
Now, I also want to respond to several folks up here who said we should trust this Iranian deal, see if the Iranians will comply.
Anyone who is paying attention to what Khamenei says knows that they will not comply. There is a reason Khamenei refers to Israel as the little Satan, and America as the great Satan.
KASICH: No one is -- no -- let me -- let me suggest to you we believe that we operate better in the world when our allies work with us. President Bush did it in the Gulf War. We work better when we are unified.
Secondly, nobody's trusting Iran. They violate the deal, we put on the sanctions, and we have the high moral ground to talk to our allies in Europe to get them to go with us.
If they don't go with us, we slap the sanctions on anyway. If they fund these radical groups that threaten Israel and all of the West, then we should rip up the deal and put the sanctions back on.
…We can have it, and we can have our allies, and we can be strong as a country, and we can project across this globe with unity, not just doing it alone. That is not what gets us where we want to get as a nation.
HEWITT: Thank you, Jake. I've done a lot of great interviews with all of you, but, Governor Bush, I talked to you in February about the biggest elephant in a room full of elephants, which is your last name. And you said you would not be burdened either by your brother or your father's legacy in the Middle East.
And then, a week later, you rolled out your list of foreign policy advisers, and it was a lot of the band getting back together again. So on behalf of the military that is watching…
HEWITT: ...OK, the active duty military that are at the end of the sphere (ph), what kind of a commander in chief is Jeb Bush going to be, and who are the advisers that are new to your team?
BUSH: Well, first of all, Hugh, if you're looking at Republican advisers, you have to go to the last two administrations. That happened to be 41 and 43. So just by definition, if you're -- and many of the people here that are seeking advice from the foreign policy experts in the Republican side, they -- they served in my dad's administration, my brother's administration. Of course that's the case.
But I'm my own man. I'm going to create a strategy that is based on the simple fact that the United States needs to lead the world. The first thing that we need to do is to stop the craziness of the sequester.
Rebuild our military so that our -- so that we don't deploy people over and over again without the necessary equipment to keep them safe, to send a signal to the world that we're serious. If we're going to lead the world, then we need to have the strongest military possible.
We need to rebuild our counterintelligence and intelligence capabilities. We need to focus on the fact that the next president is going to start in 2017, not in 1990 -- you know, 30 years ago, or when my brother started. The world is dramatically different. And I believe that we need to restore America's presence and leadership in the world. Name a country where our relationship is better today than it was the -- the day that Barack Obama got elected president.
TAPPER: Senator Paul?
PAUL: The remark was made that there hadn't been anyone else on the podium opposed to the Iraq War. I've made my career as being an opponent of the Iraq War. I was opposed to the Syria war. I was opposed to arming people who are our enemies.
Iran is now stronger because Hussein is gone. Hussein was the great bulwark and counterbalance to the Iranians. So when we complain about the Iranians, you need to remember that the Iraq War made it worse.
Originally, Governor Bush was asked, was the Iraq War a mistake, and he said, "No. We'd do it again."
We have to learn sometimes the interventions backfire. The Iraq War backfired and did not help us. We're still paying the repercussions of a bad decision.
BUSH: Here's the lessons of history: When we -- we pull back, voids are created. We left Iraq. We should've had a -- a forces agreement to stay there with a small force, and instead of that, we politically and militarily pulled back, and now we have the creation of ISIS.
36 days ago in this very library, I gave a speech with a comprehensive strategy how to take out ISIS, and it requires American leadership and engagement. We don't have to be the world's policemen. But we certainly have to be the world's leader.
We need to have -- make sure that the world knows that we're serious, that we're engaged, that we're not going to pull back, that -- that our -- that our word matters. And if we do that, we can create a force that will take out ISIS both in Iraq and in Syria, which will take a lot longer time now... because of what President Obama's done by pulling back.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Senator Rubio?
RUBIO: I want to go even deeper -- and I want to go even deeper in that direction, because I think the belief that somehow by retreating, America makes the world safer has been disproven every single time it's ever been tried.
Syria's a perfect example of it. The uprising in Syria was not started by the United States; it was started by the Syrian people. And I warned at the time -- this was three and a half years ago -- I openly and repeatedly warned that if we did not find moderate elements on the ground that we could equip and arm, that void would be filled by radical jihadists.
Well, the president didn't listen, the administration didn't follow through, and that's exactly what happened. That is why ISIS grew. That is why ISIS then came over the border from Syria and back into Iraq.
What is happening in that region is the direct consequence of the inability to lead and of disengagement. And the more we disengage, the more airplanes from Moscow you're going to see flying out of Damascus and out of Syria.
RUBIO: Radical terrorism cannot be solved by intellect. It cannot -- they require -- what they need, is they need an operating space. That's what Afghanistan was for Al Qaida. It was a vacuum that they filled, and they created an operating space.
That's why they had to be drawn out of there. That's why they had to be destroyed. It is the reason why ISIS has grown as well. We allowed them -- we allowed a vacuum to emerge in Syria. They used it as an operating space to grow; and today they're not just in Iraq and Syria anymore, they're now in Libya, conducting operations in the Sinai.
They're now in Afghanistan, trying to supplant the Taliban as the most powerful radical jihadist group on the ground there, as well. You cannot allow radical jihadists to have an operating safe haven anywhere in the world.
TAPPER: Governor Walker, there is a big debate now, we have been talking about ISIS here and there in this discussion, there a big debate right now about whether or not to send more U.S. troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
In the first debate earlier this evening, Senator Lindsey Graham argued that candidates are only serious about fighting ISIS if they're willing to send 10,000 U.S. troops to Iraq, 10,000 U.S. troops as part of a coalition to Syria.
Governor Walker, you say, you just told me a few days ago that the 3,000 U.S. troops there right now are enough, as long as the rules of engagement are changed.
What do you know that Senator Graham doesn't know?
WALKER: To be clear, what I said the other day was that we need to lift the political restrictions that are already in play. Barack Obama's administration has put political restrictions on the military personnel already in Iraq.
We need to lift those and then we need to listen to our military experts, not the political forces in the White House, but our military experts about how many more we sent in. And we certainly shouldn't have a commander-in-chief who sends a message to our adversaries as to how far we're going to go, and how far we're willing to fight, so I'm not putting a troop number.
What I'm saying is lift the political restrictions. When you do that, you empower our military personnel already there to work with the Kurd and the Sunni allies, to reclaim the territory taken by ISIS. And to do so in a way that allows that ISIS doesn't go back in Syria, as we were just talking about here.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
Senator Paul, I want to go to you, because you have said that the boots on the ground to fight ISIS need to be Arab boots. We just learned today that despite the Obama administration spending $500 million to help create those Arab boots, there are only four or five U.S. trained fighters in Syria fighting ISIS.
What does that say to you about the effectiveness of the idea of the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots?
PAUL: If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you got 14 other choices. There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you, if you want to go back to war in Iraq.
But the thing is, the first war was a mistake. And I'm not sending our sons and our daughters back to Iraq. The war didn't work. We can amplify those who live there.
The Kurds deserve to be armed and I'll arm them. We can use our Air Force to amplify the forces there. But the boots on the ground need to be the people who live there.
My goodness, I'm still upset with the Saudi Arabians for everything they do over there. They've funded the arms that went to the jihadists. They're not accepting any of the people, any of the migrants that have been -- the refugees that are being pushed out of Syria. Saudi Arabia is not accepting one.
Why are we always the world's patsies that we have to go over there and fight their wars for them? They need to fight their wars, we need to defend American interests, but it is not in America's national security interests to have another war in Iraq.
KASICH: I called for boots on the ground many months ago in a coalition with our friends who share our interest. You know, you win a battle with the military, and when we go somewhere, we need to be mobile, and lethal. We need to take care of business, and we need to come home.
But, we face, also, a bigger war -- and you win the bigger war with the battle of ideas. You wonder why young people, and educated people, rich people, schooled people, have tried to join ISIS.
Western civilization, all of us, need to wake up to the fact that those murderers and rapists need to be called out, and in Western civilization we need to make it clear that our faith in the Jewish and Christian principals force us to live a life bigger than ourselves… to make (ph) centers (ph) of justice so that we can battle the radicals, call them out for what they are, and make sure that all of our people feel fulfilled in living in Western civilization.