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'When I'm president': GOP hopefuls share military thoughts during debate

Donald Trump speaks with the media in the spin room after the Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.

BRIAN CAHN/ZUMA PRESS/TNS

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 7, 2015

WASHINGTON — Thursday was a big night for Republican presidential candidates staking out their platforms on military issues, with opinions on everything from “stupid wars” to a president “who doesn’t have a clue.”

The 10 hopefuls who gathered in Cleveland for a televised debate slammed President Barack Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton — former secretary of state in the administration — as being soft on the Islamic State, Russia and Iran, while overseeing an erosion in U.S. might.

Several called for bulking up the services. But for all the talk of defense, veteran issues did not clock nearly as much debate time. The sole mention came from Sen. Marco Rubio in a brief criticism of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The debate is the beginning of yearlong campaign to determine the Republican nominee who will square off with the Democratic pick in the 2016 presidential election, which will mark the end of Obama’s two-term run as commander-in-chief.

Here are what the contenders said about the military:

“ISIS rides around in a billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Humvees. It is a disgrace; we ought to stop it. We shouldn’t fund our enemies for goodness' sakes.”
— Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul

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“We’ve gotten into this mindset of fighting politically correct wars. There is no such thing as a politically correct war. The left will of course say, ‘Carson doesn’t believe in the Geneva Conventions. Carson doesn’t believe in fighting stupid wars.’”
— Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon from Florida

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“When I asked Gen. [Martin] Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs, what would be required militarily to destroy ISIS, he said, ‘There is no military solution. We need to change the conditions on the ground so that young men are not in poverty and susceptible to radicalization.’ That, with all due respect, is nonsense. It’s the same answer the State Department gave, that we need to give them jobs. What we need is a commander-in-chief who makes it clear if you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant.”
— Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

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“I was a military reformer.”
— Ohio Gov. John Kasich, on his 18 years of House experience, including a seat on the Armed Services Committee

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“We changed the law to give the power to the VA secretary, the ability to fire any executive that isn’t doing their job, and it is outrageous that they [the Department of Veterans Affairs] have only fired one person to date. When I’m president of the United States, we’re going to have a VA that cares more about our veterans than the bureaucrats who work at the VA.”
— Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

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“We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he is incompetent but I don’t want to do that because that’s not nice. … You look at Sgt. [Bowe] Bergdahl. We get Bergdahl, a traitor, and they get five of the big great killers, leaders that they want.”
— Donald Trump, New York businessman

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“Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence and not having security be the first priority when we invaded, it [the Iraq war] was a mistake. I wouldn’t have gone in. However, for the people who did lose their lives and the families that suffer because of it, I know this full well because as governor of the state of Florida I called every one of them – every one of them – that I could find to tell them I was praying for them, that I cared about them, and it was very hard to do. Every one of them said that their child did not die in vain or their wife or husband did not die in vain.”
— Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and brother of former President George W. Bush

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“You know, Putin believes in the old Lenin adage: ‘You probe with bayonets, when you find mush you push, when you find steel you stop.’ Under Obama and Clinton, we found a lot of mush over the last few years. We need to have a national security that puts steel in front of our enemies.”
— Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

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“The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things … I’m not sure how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines makes our country safer.”
— Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

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“The first thing we need to do to make America stronger is to strengthen our military, and I put out a really specific plan. No less than 500,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army, no less than 185,000 active-duty Marines in the Marine Corps. Bring us to a 350-ship Navy again and modernize the Ohio class of submarines, and bring our Air Force back to 2,600 aircraft that are ready to go.”
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten