More Questionable Things The Republicans Said About Defense At Last Night's Debate

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Last night’s Republican Presidential Debate was focused mainly on the economy, although there was a segment in the middle when the moderators turned to foreign policy and military affairs. As always, Foxtrot Alpha dissected the candidate’s statements where they were either lacking in specifics or were just flat-out wrong when it came to defense issues.


The transcript of this section of the debate is laid out below, with Foxtrot Alpha’s annotations starting with FA :

BARTIROMO: Americans face security threats at home and abroad. Last year, terrorist attacks rose 61 percent, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, with the most deaths occurring in just five countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria.

Dr. Carson, you were against putting troops on the ground in Iraq and against a large military force in Afghanistan. Do you support the president’s decision to now put 50 special ops forces in Syria and leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

CARSON: Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they — that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.


FA: When it comes to military tactics and strategy, just putting any military components into a conflict is not better than none. In fact, it can be quite worse. Very small teams forward deployed into an area many miles from any sort of force protection, especially for prolonged periods of time, can be a recipe for disaster. Doing so could also complicate the conflict and invite severe escalation between Russia and the U.S., especially if mistakes are made, such as a Russian strike on a position where U.S. operators are active. Applying capabilities to a conflict like this should be in response to clear goals, and those goals should dictate the force size and make-up, not the other way around.

And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.


FA: There is no evidence whatsoever that the Chinese have any interest in getting involved in Syria militarily. Rumors of direct Chinese involvement in the conflict come from totally inaccurate reports, mainly the constant fiction being reported by the Israeli site This site has claimed downright childish things, like China’s only aircraft carrier was in port in Syria and that Russia’s only Typhoon Class ballistic missile submarine was deployed to Syria’s coast via the Black Sea. Popular news websites that seem to have zero critical analysis capabilities pick these ridiculous reports up and float them as credible. Apparently, whoever is Ben Carson’s military mind is has no clue what they are doing as they would have thrown these stupid reports out long before he would have been fed them.

What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.

And I think in order to make them look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. And if — outside of Anbar in Iraq, there’s a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.

But you have to continue to face them, because our goal is not to contain them, but to destroy them before they destroy us.


BARTIROMO: We asked Facebook to take a look at some of the major issues we’re talking about, and tackling in this debate tonight. This word cloud shows what people are focusing on the most. The bigger the word, the more the talk. One of the most discussed issues in the last month, homeland security. Governor Bush, what is the biggest threat facing America today?

BUSH: It is — I’d say it is Islamic terrorism, and, back to the question of what we are dealing with in Iraq, when we pull back voids are filled. That’s the lesson of history, and, sadly, this president does not believe in American leadership. He does not believe it, and the net result is that we have a caliphate the size of Indiana that gains energy each and everyday to recruit Americans in our own country, and the threat to the homeland relates to the fact that we have not dealt with this threat of terror in the Middle East.

We should have a no fly zone in Syria. We should have a support for the remnants of the Syrian Free Army, and create safe zones. If you want to deal with the four million refugees that are leaving Syria because of the devastation there, then we ‘ought to create safe zones for them to stay in the region rather than go to Europe. And, that requires American leadership.


FA: Aside from possibly a small no fly zone in Northeast Syria, where our own special forces are operating and an area Russia has little interest in as nothing there threatens the survival of the Assad Regime, setting up a large no fly zone over Syria would be akin to challenging Russia to a fight. As for safe zones for the Syrian Free Army, I doubt Russia would agree to that, quite the opposite actually.

Basically a no fly zone over greater Syria, or any part of western Syria for that matter, is inviting a military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, which is a very dangerous thing. I doubt few would agree Syria is worth a potential conflict with a country armed with thousands of nuclear weapons.

Without American leadership every other country in the neighborhood beings to change their priorities. It is tragic that you see Iraq, and other countries now talking to Russia. It wasn’t that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all. And, so, the United States needs to lead across the board.

This president, and Hillary Clinton both do not believe the United States has a leadership role to play, and we’re now paying a price, and it will have a huge impact on the economy of this country if we don’t deal with this.


BARTIROMO: Thank you, sir.

Mr. Trump, in 2012 debate, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s assertion that Russia was the top geopolitical challenge facing the United States, saying he was a Cold War dinosaur. Now, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and has put troops in Syria. You have said you will have a good relationship with Mr. Putin. So, what does President Trump do in response to Russia’s aggression?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, it’s not only Russia. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it’s a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don’t talk about that. That’s a problem.

China is a problem, both economically in what they’re doing in the South China Sea, I mean, they are becoming a very, very major force. So, we have more than just Russia. But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria — as far as Syria, I like — if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night.


FA: Putin and Trump never met during the taping of
the 60 Minutes episode he Trump refers to. They were in two entirely different places. Even if they had met, I doubt a short meeting with Putin would allow anyone to ascertain how well they would work with him or what his true intentions are.

But, you know that.

But, if Putin wants to go and knocked the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it...


FA: Russia is not really focusing on attacking ISIS in Syria, they are focusing on attacking any anti-Assad rebel elements, many of which we supposedly support, and other factions, of which ISIS is just one. Additionally, ISIS is not very active anywhere near where Russia is concentrating its strikes.

BUSH: ...They’re not doing that...

TRUMP: ...They blew up — hold it....


TRUMP: ...They blew up, wait a minute...


TRUMP: ...They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people, and a group of countries, including Germany — tremendous economic behemoth — why are we always doing the work?

We are — I’m all for protecting Ukraine and working — but, we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren’t doing anything. They say, “Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us...”


TRUMP: ...And we have to get smart. We can’t continue to be the policeman of the world. We are $19 trillion dollars, we have a country that’s going to hell, we have an infrastructure that’s falling apart. Our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports, and we have to start investing money in our country.


BARTIROMO: Thank you, sir.

BUSH: Donald — Donald’s wrong on this. He is absolutely wrong on this. We’re not going to be the world’s policeman, but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader. That’s — there’s a huge difference where, without us leading...


BUSH: ...voids are filled, and the idea that it’s a good idea for Putin to be in Syria, let ISIS take out Assad, and then Putin will take out ISIS? I mean, that’s like a board game, that’s like playing Monopoly or something. That’s not how the real world works.


FA: Well, it may be a horrible policy choice in some people’s opinion, but that is how the world works. Maybe not how the world works under his brother’s administration or his theoretical one, but removing the American variable from the Syrian equation would change the situation considerably. An empowered ISIS is a threat to Russia and Assad, the problem is that without the US and its coalition, if Assad loses and Russia decides to leave, ISIS could end up controlling Syria as a whole.

We have to lead, we have to be involved. We should have a no fly zone in Syria. There are — they are barrel bombing the innocents in that country. If you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Syria, you’re going to be beheaded. And, if you’re a moderate Islamist, you’re not going to be able to survive either.


FA: Assad is barrel bombing his people. Russia supports Assad. Declaring a no fly zone to stymie such attacks means Russia’s combat aircraft in Syria would be grounded. The result of which is at best a military standoff with Russia, and at worst a military exchange that could and probably would, escalate very quickly. This is reckless and unrealistic policy. The old days when everything could be solved with a no fly zone are over.

We have to play a role in this be able to bring the rest of the world to this issue before it’s too late.

TRUMP: Assad is a bad guy, but we have no idea who the so-called rebels — I read about the rebels, nobody even knows who they are. I spoke to a general two weeks ago, he said — he was very up on exactly what we’re talking about. He said, “You know, Mr. Trump? We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment to these people, we have no idea who they are.”

So, I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people, and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place — who I love, OK? All over.

We have nothing. And, I said, keep the oil. And we should have kept the oil, believe me. We should have kept the oil. And, you know what? We should have given the oil...


...We should’ve given big chunks to the people that lost their arms, their legs, and their families, and their sons, and daughters, because right now, you know who has a lot of that oil? Iran, and ISIS.


FA: Going in and seizing a country’s oil reserves is an act of war. We got ourselves into Iraq, you can’t seize the country’s natural resources that you invaded in order to supposedly liberate it and expect that country to ever be a sovereign state. It is a nice fantasy, but the damage done just on a international relations level by doing such a thing would be immense, not to mention how it would fuel anti-American hatred and jihadist sentiment. It would also be very bloody, as Iraqis would not view America as just occupiers but as hostile raiders. Then there is the legal implications of doing so. It is just a fantastical idea that plays off the sour taste in America’s mouth from knowing we fought a useless and very expensive war.

FIORINA: You know, Mr. Trump fancies himself a very good negotiator. And, I accept that he’s done a lot of good deals, so, Mr. Trump ‘ought to know that we should not speak to people from a position of weakness. Senator Paul should know that as well.

One of the reasons I’ve said that I would not be talking to Vladimir Putin right now, although I have met him as well, not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting.


FIORINA: One of the reasons I’ve said I wouldn’t be talking to Vladimir Putin right now is because we are speaking to him from a position of weakness brought on by this administration, so, I wouldn’t talk to him for awhile, but, I would do this. I would start rebuilding the Sixth Fleet right under his nose, rebuilding the military — the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose. I would conduct very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States so that he understood we would protect our NATO allies...


...and I might also put in a few more thousand troops into Germany, not to start a war, but to make sure that Putin understand that the United States of America will stand with our allies. That is why Governor Bush is correct. We must have a no fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes. We also have a set of allies...


FA: Not talking to your enemies is a petty horrible idea. Reagan, who is often praised at length by all the candidates on stage, talked to Gorbachev, and in doing so, helped end the Cold War. As for all the military actions she mentions, these are the same things she listed in the second debate. This was my response-

Considering the candidates were at the Reagan Library for this debate, there is no evidence that not talking with potential foes and established foes alike improves the geopolitical or strategic situation. Reagan himself engaged with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, which was a strategy that worked.


As for rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, a point Fiorina came back to multiple times in the evening, there is some truth to the fact that America’s large capital ships, those being amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers, have not spent the time in the Mediterranean and around Europe that they did during the Cold War. As such, there aren’t anywhere as many ships temporarily within the Sixth Fleet’s purview as there once were. But capabilities and the overall size of the force have changed since the Reagan era. Most importantly, the Sixth Fleet has gotten a dramatic boost in resources recently, with no less than four destroyers now being based in Rota, Spain. These are in addition to rotational assets. You can get a good idea of what the Commander of U.S. Naval forces in Europe thinks about his own force levels here.

So while there is some truth to Fiorina’s Sixth Fleet comment, it’s not as if the Sixth Fleet is not getting anymore high-end resources, and it’s not the only place one could argue the Navy could use more assets and presence. Also, air assets can be forward deployed at a fraction of the cost of a Carrier Strike Group or a Marine Expeditionary Strike Group, but have a similar persistent effect. This strategy has been realized on the Horn of Africa and could be realized in the Mediterranean, especially in regards to Libya’s descent into civil war and Islamic extremism.


Right now America is experiencing a “carrier gap” where even having two Carrier Strike Groups deployed at one time is becoming problematic, due to the retirement of the USS Enterprise without a direct replacement.

If Fiorina wants to return to the days of task forces regularly prowling the Mediterranean we would likely have to expand our carrier fleet, which could include building smaller aircraft carriers.


When it comes to missile defense, yes, the type of systems that are to be deployed to Europe have changed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. AEGIS ashore, based on the same anti-ballistic missile systems aboard many U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers, are being deployed to Romania, and soon also to Poland. These are the most reliable anti-ballistic missile systems we have today and are more suited at countering medium-range ballistic missiles which are the real threat to the region, especially from rogue states like Iran.

The idea of creating a missile shield that could intercept Russia’s massive stockpile of ballistic missiles is not realistic, so it isn’t clear exactly what she intends to rebuild.


She also said that she would conduct aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. This is exactly what we have been doing as part of Atlantic Resolve for the last year. I don’t know how much more aggressive she wants to be, but so far we have thrown everything we have at some point into the region.

As for Russia supposedly telling us where we can fly our combat aircraft, this is totally inaccurate. Russia has not told the U.S. it cannot fly over Syria. In fact, a bilateral set of rules, agreed to by Russia and the U.S., have been put into place to de-conflict airspace in which U.S. and Russian aircraft are operating in close proximity. A no fly zone would actually be us dictating that Russia cannot fly over Syria and it would be a horribly dangerous and counterproductive idea as we have already discussed.

FIORINA: ...We also have a set of allies in the Arab Middle East that know that ISIS is their fight. They have asked us specifically over, and over again to support them. King Abdullah of Jordan, a man I’ve known for a very long time, has asked us for bombs and material, we have not provided it.


FA: We have provided bombs and material to Jordan, but some think we should back Jordan’s anti-ISIS fight, and enhance their military capabilities for that matter, to a much larger degree.

The Egyptians are asking us to share intelligence, we are not, I will. The Kurds have asked us to arm them for three years, we are not, I would. The Egyptians, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Bahrain’s, the Emirati, the Kurds...


FA: We have armed the Kurds. Once again it depends on the level of capability and on which Kurdish faction she is referencing.


...all of these, I know, by the way, understand ISIS is their fight, but they must see leadership support and resolve from the United States of America...

MALE: ...let me follow up that...

FIORINA: ...we have the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it.

CAVUTO: Senator Paul...


CAVUTO: Senator Paul, you have already said, sir, that that would be a mistake in not talking to Vladimir Putin, or to rule it out. You’ve argued that it’s never a good idea to close down communication. With that in mind, do you think the same applies to administration efforts right now to include the Iranians in talks on Syria?

PAUL: I’d like first to respond to the acquisition, we should — I think it’s particularly naive, particularly foolish to think that we’re not going to talk to Russia. The idea of a no fly zone, realize that this is also something that Hillary Clinton agrees with several on our side with, you’re asking for a no fly zone in an area in which Russia already flies.

Russia flies in that zone at the invitation of Iraq. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but you better know at least what we’re getting into. So, when you think it’s going to be a good idea to have a no fly zone over Iraq, realize that means you are saying we are going to shoot down Russian planes. If you’re ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq.

I don’t want to see that happen. I think the first war in Iraq was a mistake...


PAUL: You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the war...


CAVUTO: ...Well, then how would you respond?

PAUL: Ronald Reagan was strong, but Ronald Reagan didn’t...

FIORINA: ...Ronald Reagan walked away at Reykjavik.

PAUL: ...send troops into the Middle East...

FIORINA: ...he walked away, he quit talks...

PAUL: ...Can I finish...

FIORINA: ...when it was time to quit talking...

PAUL: ...Can I finish my time?

TRUMP: Why does she keep interrupting everybody?


TRUMP: Terrible.


PAUL: Yes, I would like to finish my response, basically.

RUBIO: You know, if I may respond...

PAUL: This is an important question. This is an incredibly important question. And the question goes to be, who do we want to be our commander-in-chief? Do you want a commander-in-chief who says something that we never did throughout the entire Cold War, to discontinue having conversations with the Russians?

I am not happy about them flying over there. But I’m not naive enough to say, well, Iraq has them flying over their airspace, we’re just going to announce that we’re shooting them down?

That is naive to the point of being something you might hear in junior high. But it’s scary...


CAVUTO: But if you’re not going to respond in a no-fly zone strategy, what would yours be?

PAUL: The first thing I would do is I wouldn’t arm our enemies. I wouldn’t arm ISIS.


Most of the people who want to the no-fly zone also favored arming the allies of al Qaeda, which became ISIS. That was the dumbest, most foolhardy notion. And most of the people up here supported it. They wanted to arm the allies of al Qaeda. Some of them still do.

That’s how ISIS grew. We pushed back Assad, and ISIS was allowed to grow in the vacuum. So the first thing you do is don’t arm your enemies. (CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: I need to add a couple of points to this. The first is, I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster. He is basically an organized crime figure that runs a country, controls a $2 trillion economy. And is using to build up his military in a rapid way despite the fact his economy is a disaster.

He understands only geopolitical strength. And every time he has acted anywhere in the world, whether it’s in Ukraine or Georgia before that, or now in the Middle East, it’s because he is trusting in weakness.

His calculation in the Middle East is that he has seen what this president has done, which is nothing, the president has no strategy, our allies in the region do not trust us. For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East, it is the state of Israel.

And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us.


Vladimir Putin is exploiting that weakness, for purposes of edging the Americans out as the most important geopolitical power broker in the region. And we do have a vested interest. And here’s why.

Because all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States.

Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.


FA: This is a grand generalization of the ISIS situation and it does not detail how the Senator plans to “win” against ISIS on a global scale. In other words, this is stating a problem not a solution.


BAKER: Thank you, Senator.

Governor Kasich, I want to ask you about China, in particular hundreds of American companies have been subjected to cyber attacks from the Chinese military, yet state-backed Chinese companies, growing their presence in the United States, Chinese investments in U.S., which were nearly nonexistent a few years ago, are now over $50 billion. And as my newspaper recently reported, Chinese companies are planning to bid for one of the largest hotel chains in the United States, what would be the largest ever Chinese takeover of a U.S. company. Would you stop them?

KASICH: Let me tell you this, Mr. Baker, in terms of the cyber attacks, we have the capability to not only have a defensive posture, but it also to make it clear to people that if you attack us with cyber attacks, we will destroy the mechanisms that you are using to attack us.

I want to give you a little trip around the world. I served on the Defense Committee for 18 years. In the Ukraine, arm the people there so they can fight for themselves. In the eastern part of Europe, make sure that Finland and the Baltics know that if the Russians move, we move.


FA: Arming Ukraine can mean many different things. To keep Russian-backed rebel territory from growing is one thing, taking on the Russian military in an potential invasion is another. As such, some elaboration here would have been nice.

In Syria, yes, a no-fly zone in the north on the Turkish border, a no-fly zone on the south on the Jordanian border. Anybody flies in the first time, maybe they can fly out. They fly in there a second time, they will not fly out.

And it also becomes a sanctuary for the people to be. And it also sends many messages in the Middle East that we’re still involved.


FA: Even a north/south no fly zone would be challenged by Russia, especially along the northwestern border where anti-Assad forces are very activ and so are Russia’s jets.

Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.

In the groups — in the countries of the Gulf states of Bahrain, the Cleveland Clinic is opening an operation. Clearly we see the same with them. And in Israel, we have no better ally in the world, and no more criticizing them in public, we should support them.

And finally China, China doesn’t own the South China Sea, and I give the president some credit for being able to move a naval force in there to let the Chinese know that we’re not going to put up with it any more...


And there you have it folks. You would think the candidates would be showing improvement when it comes to their defense and foreign policy knowelege base, but that does not seem to be the case.

The next Presidential debate will be with the Democrats in Iowa on November 14. Foxtrot Alpha will have our analysis ready the next morning so make sure to check back and by all means share your opinions in the comments section below.


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Credits: Top and bottom shot via AP, transcript via the Washington Post