WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Republican presidential candidates negotiated a minefield of national security and foreign policy concerns and dilemmas in their latest debate Tuesday night.
But it was rocky terrain for several as they slipped, slid and suffered stubbed toes in their encounters with the facts.
Foreign policy and national security issues dominated the two-hour CNN debate. Throughout, the nine Republicans presidential candidates made claims and statements worthy of re-examination.
CRUZ AND SYRIAN REFUGEES: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asserted that President Barack Obama wants to bring in “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees. His administration only began moving toward mass resettlement after increased pressure from the European and Middle Eastern nations bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. The administration has pledged to admit at least 10,000 Syrians in the fiscal year that began in October. Advocacy groups called the figure a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of displaced Syrians seeking refuge. And these are not new cases — they’ll come from 18,000 cases already referred by the United Nations and that are at varying stages of the screening process, which typically takes around two years to complete.
RUBIO AND U.S. ALLIES: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s claim that U.S. allies have lost trust in the United States is vague. Certainly, U.S. allies such as France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have made clear their displeasure with Obama’s policy toward Syria, but they are still part of the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State and cooperate closely on a number of other counterterrorism and diplomatic initiatives.
TRUMP AND THE NUCLEAR DEAL WITH IRAN: Donald Trump called the nuclear deal forged between Iran, the United States and five other world powers “disgusting” and complained that the Tehran government would “get $150 billion.”
According to Politifact.com, Iran does gain significantly under the nuclear deal, but the $150 billion figure is actually the ‘dollar value of Iran’s foreign assets that the U.S can unfreeze’ as part of the nuclear deal.
RUBIO AND DEFENSE CUTS: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lamented the declining strength in both force and funding of the Navy and the Air Force. That looked past the fact that he and two other candidates on the stage — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — were in office when Republicans signed off in recent years on the so-called budget sequester that slashed government spending across the board to reduce debt and deficits.
“If you listen to folks up here you’d think they weren’t even there,” complained New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, touting his executive branch experience.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for automatic across-the-board spending cuts, beginning in 2013, as a disincentive. They would occur only if lawmakers couldn’t find their own compromise on cuts. They didn’t.
In Feb. 26, 2015, testimony before Congress, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus warned that three years of sequestration have meant a “continued decline of our relative warfighting advantages in many areas.” Rubio and Paul were in the Senate when the Budget Control Act passed. Cruz was elected in 2012, but has been in office for three “sequester” budgets.
FIORINA AND OBAMA’S GENERALS: Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina said that she would bring back a series of knowledgeable retired generals, including David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who retired early because they told Obama things he didn’t want to hear.
Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation in 2010 after he and his aides mocked civilian government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. McChrystal was not directly critical of the president or the president’s policies.
Petraeus retired from the military to become CIA director after he was passed up for the job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Chief of Staff of the Army, as many had expected. (He later resigned from his position at the CIA after his extramarital affair became public).
FIORINA AND PUTIN: Fiorina said she “knows” Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s not the first time she has said that in a debate and on the stump. Fiorina did meet the Russian leader before the two spoke at the APEC CEO Summit in China in 2001, according to Factcheck.org. The two met for 45 minutes, according to the Daily Beast.
CRUZ AND ‘RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM’: Cruz accused Obama of not uttering the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s a frequent criticism of the president by Republicans, who say it’s emblematic of his alleged failure to understand the real threat to the United States.
“America is at war,” Cruz said. “Our enemy is not violent extremism. It is not some unnamed malevolent force. It is radical Islamic terrorist. We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name.”
This has been rated true by the fact-checking website Politifact, which says Obama tends to use ISIL for the Islamic State and calls its members “thugs” and “killers.” The president has said that he does this to isolate the group. Earlier this year, Obama said its members were “desperate for legitimacy.”
“They try to portray themselves as religious leaders … holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said during a summit on violent extremism Feb. 22. “That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’ And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.”
Obama also likes to stress that the United States is “not at war with Islam,” similar to what former President George W. Bush said after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“This great nation of many religions understands, our war is not against Islam, or against faith practiced by the Muslim people. Our war is a war against evil,” Bush said in January 2002.
FIORINA, THE INTERNET AND TERRORISM: Fiorina said she would ask Internet companies to monitor social media to protect against terrorists. But companies have already been asked to do that and say they already cooperate with law enforcement and that any messages that promote terrorism violate their usage rules, according to NPR.
Obama referred to the issue again in his speech to the nation Dec. 6.
“I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice,” he said.
Congress is also considering a proposal that would require companies to report knowledge of terrorist activities to the government. But one major problem is that companies often rely on users to flag possible inappropriate content in part because of the amount of content they have. It’s true they could do more by using programs to identify images of terrorism as they do with child pornography.
Hannah Allam, Anita Kumar, Kevin G. Hall, Javaria Khan, Anna Douglas, Sean Cockerham and Maria Recio contributed to this article.
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