GOP Plans To Crush ISIS Sound A Lot Like Hillary’s

The Republican candidates echoed their biggest rival as they staked out positions on how they would beat back the Islamic State

Dec 16, 2015 at 12:04 AM ET

Airstrikes alone won’t take out ISIS, argued Sen. Marco Rubio during Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate. A ground force made up primarily of Sunnis and embedded with U.S. special forces, he insisted, is the solution to defeat the terror group on the ground.

His words virtually echoed a speech Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations last month when she laid out her own strategy to defeat ISIS.

“If we’ve learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities,” she said. “One thing that I believe we haven’t done yet is make it clear to Baghdad that we are going to be arming Sunni tribes and Kurds if they don’t, because at some point they have to be in the fight.”

Arming the Kurds separately from Baghdad was a tactic former Florida Governor Jeb Bush touted on Tuesday night, along with sending in more U.S. advisors to help local forces on the ground.

That’s something Clinton mentioned in her November remarks too. “As part of that process we may have to give our own troops advising and training the Iraqis greater freedom of movement and flexibility, including embedding in local units and helping target airstrikes,” she said.

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Throughout the evening on Tuesday, Republican candidates staking out their positions on how they would defeat ISIS listed strategies that their main rival on the Democratic side was championing, and which President Barack Obama’s administration was already carrying out.

Sen. Ted Cruz doubled-down on remarks he made last week that the U.S. needed to aggressively bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the Texas senator also claimed that “carpet bombing ISIS into oblivion” would avoid heavy civilian casualties. “The object isn’t to level a city,” said Cruz, insisting instead that the airstrikes would need to focus exclusively on ISIS targets.

That’s what the Obama administration has been doing since it began its air campaign against the Islamic State in August 2014. To date, U.S. and allied warplanes have launched nearly 9,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, killing more than 23,000 militants, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. has acknowledged that six civilians have been killed, although Airwars, an independent monitoring group, puts the number in the hundreds.

Just yesterday President Obama addressed reporters at the Pentagon after meeting with his national security team to go over the campaign. “We are hitting ISIL harder than ever,” he said, using another name for ISIS, which is also called the Islamic State. “Coalition aircraft — our fighters, bombers and drones — have been increasing the pace of airstrikes — nearly 9,000 as of today.  Last month, in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.”

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Other candidates veered sharply from not only the administration’s position, but also their fellow Republicans. Businessman Donald Trump said it was better to ignore Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and focus solely on defeating ISIS, rather than attempt a solution to the Syrian crisis, in large part exacerbated by Assad, which has allowed ISIS to flourish and fill its ranks with fighters. Trump also suggested having experts from Silicon Valley work to disrupt ISIS’ activities online, something Hillary Clinton called for earlier this month.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson did not balk at the prospect of carpet bombing heavily-populated areas if that meant striking ISIS targets. The Obama administration has so far resisted hitting such areas because of the high number of civilians who live there. Carson disagreed, saying: “It’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by a thousand pricks.” Debate moderator Hugh Hewitt pressed him, asking: “So you are ok with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?”

Carson responded: “You got it. You got it.”