Democracy & Elections

National Security Highlights from the 7th GOP Presidential Debate

Elina Saxena
Monday, February 8, 2016, 12:30 PM

In anticipation of Tuesday’s primaries, Republican presidential candidates took to the debate stage in New Hampshire on Saturday evening. Moderated by David Muir and Martha Raddatz, the debate featured Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), businessman Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), former governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), and Governor John Kasich (R-OH).

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

In anticipation of Tuesday’s primaries, Republican presidential candidates took to the debate stage in New Hampshire on Saturday evening. Moderated by David Muir and Martha Raddatz, the debate featured Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), businessman Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), former governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), and Governor John Kasich (R-OH).

Following reports that North Korea had launched a rocket into space earlier in the evening, the moderators first asked Senator Cruz how he would respond if a similar test were to occur if he was Commander in Chief. Cruz immediately slammed the Clinton administration for leading “the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea,” claiming that the monetary benefit of sanctions relief directly contributed to the development of the country’s nuclear program. He went on to advocate an expansion of U.S. missile defense capabilities and suggested the installation of missile interceptors in South Korea. For his part, Jeb Bush suggested “if a preemptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then [the United States] should do it.” Trump essentially recommended “getting on” with China and letting China “solve the problem.” Rubio stated that “China does have a lot of influence over North Korea” and that the United States “should be leveraging [its] relationship with the Chinese to ensure that North Korea no longer has access to the resources that have allowed them [...] to develop long range missiles already capable of reaching the west coast of the United States potentially.”

On the topic of ISIS, Cruz suggested that the United States needs to set the objective “to be utterly and completely destroying ISIS.” In favor of loosening the rules of engagement, he added that U.S. forces “should use overwhelming force, kill the enemy and then get the heck out. Don't engage in nation-building but instead, allow [U.S.] soldiers to do their jobs instead of risking their lives with politicians making it impossible to accomplish the objective.” Rubio argued that only a Sunni Arab coalition supported by U.S. air power could defeat ISIS, stating that “it will take Sunni Arabs to reject [ISIS] ideologically and defeat them militarily.” Trump suggested that the U.S. forces needed to target the oil contributing to ISIS's revenue as well as the banking systems enabling financial flows from ISIS backers in the Middle East to the terrorist group.

Turning to Libya, Bush criticized the Obama administration for not “dealing with the aftermath” of its actions in the country and added that the United States needs to be more aggressive in its leadership. Carson reminded viewers of Libya’s location on a map and “would support the possibility of renewed airstrikes if in conjunction with [the] Joint Chiefs and [U.S.] military people they felt that was an appropriate strategy.”

When asked about waterboarding, Cruz said that it was not torture, but stated that he “would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use.” He added that he “would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.” Trump, on the other hand, did not hesitate to say that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” For his part, Bush would not bring back waterboarding but advocated for expanding intelligence capabilities. He argued that closing Guantanamo Bay would be a “complete disaster" and pointed out that it has somehow become more acceptable to kill a suspected terrorist than to capture them. Rubio also firmly opposed Guantanamo’s closure.

On the topic of veterans, Kasich advocated recognizing the skills members of the military develop during their service and suggested that college credit and licenses should be given to veterans who display certain skills, adding that no veteran should be unemployed. Bush and Rubio both appeared to agree that more options should be given to veterans seeking treatment with non-V.A. providers.

Featured below are quotes organized by topic that might be particularly relevant to Lawfare readers. Topics include: North Korea, ISIS, Libya, torture, terrorist negotiations, and veterans. The New York Times has a full transcript.

North Korea

RADDATZ: Senator Cruz, you are a first term Senator as well. Your opponents say you, like Senator Rubio, are not prepared to be Commander in Chief. You have talked tough about threats we face in the Mid-East. It was reported just moments ago that the North Koreans test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea has nuclear weapons, and conducted another nuclear test just last month.

The missile that was launched is the kind the North Koreans hope could someday carry a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States. How would you respond if Commander in Chief to that launch?

CRUZ: Well, I would note, initially the fact that we're seeing the launch, and we're seeing the launch from a nuclear North Korea is the direct result of the failures of the first Clinton administration. The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. Billions of dollars flowed into North Korea in exchange for promises not to build nuclear weapons.They took those billions and built nuclear weapons.

And, I would note also the lead negotiator in that failed North Korea sanctions deal was a woman named Wendy Sherman who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promptly recruited to come back to be the lead negotiator with Iran. So, what we are seeing with North Korea is foreshadowing of where we will be with Iran.

With respect to North Korea and what we should do now, one of the first things we should do is expand our missile defense capacity. We ought to put missile defense interceptors in South Korea. South Korea wants them. One of the real risks of this launch, North Korea wants to launch a satellite, and one of the greatest risks of the satellite is they would place a nuclear device in the satellite. As it would orbit around the Earth, and as it got over the United States they would detonate that nuclear weapon and set of what's called an EMP, and electromagnetic pulse which could take down the entire electrical grid on the Eastern seaboard, potentially killing millions.

We need to harden the grid to defend ourselves, and we need missile defense to protect ourselves against North Korea.

RADDATZ: Well, let me ask you this, if you were Commander in Chief tonight would you have order the U.S. military to destroy that missile preemptively on the launchpad to prevent North Korea from becoming an even graver threat?

CRUZ: You know, at this point I'm not going to speculate on that without the intelligence briefing that any Commander in Chief would have, knowing what exactly is there.

CRUZ: One of the real problems...

RADDATZ: ... Senator Cruz, let me tell you this, you have talked tough about the Mid-East, you haven't gotten those intelligence briefings about that. Why not tell us whether you would preemptively strike a missile on a launchpad that threatens the U.S...

CRUZ: ... Actually, with respect, I have gotten the intelligence briefings on the Mid-East. Those have been going on for many years. I haven't gotten the intelligence briefing tonight on what North Korea's doing because I'm here in new Hampshire. When you're responding to an immediate incident, you need to know the intelligence of what's occurring.

CRUZ: But what I was saying — look, it is qualitatively different dealing with a country once they have nuclear weapons. It's why you prevent them from getting nuclear weapons in the first place -- because your hands are somewhat tied once they have nukes.

It's why this Iranian nuclear deal is so catastrophic, and it's why I've pledged, on the very first day in office, to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal so we're not sitting here in five years, wondering what to do about an Iranian missile launch when they have nuclear weapons. The stakes are too high for that.

RADDATZ: Okay. Senator Cruz, I will say that missile has been sitting there for quite some time, and they have had eyes on it.

RUBIO: But Martha, just -- Martha, just to clarify on that point, because he's right, and one more thing to point -- it is standard procedure of the United States to shoot down those missiles once launched if they pose a threat to civilians, land and ships (ph).

RADDATZ: Senator Rubio, I'm talking about a preemptive strike on the launch pad.

RUBIO: Well -- no, I understand. And not -- but -- but I think it's important to note that it is -- and Senator Cruz, I think, was alluding to this, as well -- it is the standard procedure of the United States, if those missiles pose a threat to land, civilians, our allies or any of our assets, to shoot down that missile in mid-flight.

I understand your question was about a preemptive strike, but my point is that there is in place now contingencies to avoid any sort of that strike (ph) from going errant and destroying any -- any assets of the United States, or implicating or hurting any of our allies or any of our assets in the region.

RADDATZ: OK. Thank you, Senator Rubio.

Governor Kasich, how would you respond to tonight's launch?

KASICH: Well, we've got to to step up the pressure. And by the way, I've gotta say, after being here, every one of my 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire were a lot more fun than what I saw here today, were so much more positive.

Look, in terms of North Korea, Martha, we have to make sure that we intercept both the ships and their aircraft, because what they're trying to do is to proliferate this very dangerous material, along with the -- with the technology, the instruments that can be used for mass destruction.

That's what I worry about the most, frankly, is non-state actors, people who don't have a uniform, people don't have a country, who can spread this, who are not subject to the -- to the mutual assured defense. In other words, you strike us, we strike you.

Some of these radicals, they don't care about that. That's what I worry about, for my children, and for their children, going forward. So, we have to be very tough.

And we should tell the Chinese, look, if you're not going to do this ballistic missile defense to the Koreans, ballistic missile defense to Japan -- and by the way, we should impose the same kind of sanctions on North Korea that we imposed on Iran, because they're able to shift money. They're able to send money and receive money.

KASICH: We've gotta to be very tough on this. And frankly, I think we could have -- I think we could have let the Japanese know that if you want to take action on that -- on that missile that's rising, you want to take action -- you will have our support, if that's what you think is the best thing to do. We cannot continue to be weak in the face of the North Koreans, or, frankly, in the entire rest of the world. [...]

BUSH: This relates to the strategic patience of the Obama administration. They come up with these great marketing terms, and what they do is they pull back, and voids are filled, and they're now filled by asymmetric threats of terror, as well as nation-states on the run.

The next president of the United States is gonna have to get the United States back in the game, and if a preemptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then we should do it.

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, do you have a red line with North Korea? Would you consider military action? And how far would you let them go?

TRUMP: Well, let me say a couple of things. First of all, Marco said earlier on that President Obama knows exactly what he's doing, like we have this president that really knows. I disagree, respectfully, with Marco.

I think we have a president who, as a president, is totally incompetent, and he doesn't know what he's doing.

I think he has no idea what he's doing. And our country is going to hell. So, I just want to say, we disagree on that. Is that okay?

RUBIO: Yeah. I have a -- I got mentioned, can I respond?

TRUMP: Good.

RADDATZ: And I'd like him to finish the question, please.

TRUMP: As to North Korea?

RADDATZ: Specific -- as to North Korea.

TRUMP: We have -- tremendous -- has been just sucked out of our country by China. China says they don't have that good of control over North Korea. They have tremendous control. I deal with the Chinese all of the time. I do tremendous -- the largest bank in the world is in one of my buildings in Manhattan.

I deal with them. They tell me. They have total, absolute control, practically, of North Korea. They are sucking trillions of dollars out of our country -- they're rebuilding China with the money they take out of our country. I would get on with China, let China solve that problem.

They can do it quickly and surgically. That's what we should do with North Korea.

RADDATZ: Senator Rubio, you were mentioned.

RUBIO: Here's the broader point, as well, and then I think it touches on what Donald just mentioned. Barack Obama views America as this arrogant global power that needed to be cut down to size. OK?

RUBIO: This is a president that views this country as a country that's been too powerful in the world and we create problems around the world.

For example, it's one of the reasons why he had betrayed Israel, because he believes that if we create separation from Israel, it will help our relations in the Islamic world. The same is happening in the Asia-Pacific region with accommodations to North Korea. North Korean should be back on that list of terrorist nations, as an example.

And Donald's absolutely right. China does have a lot of influence over North Korea and he should be leveraging our relationship with the Chinese to ensure that North Korea no longer has access to the resources that have allowed them -- a country that has no economy to develop long range missiles already capable of reaching the west coast of the United States potentially.

RADDATZ: Thank you very much, Senator Rubio.

Governor Bush, another problem facing the commander-in-chief right now is that North Korea is currently detaining an American college student. What would you do to get that college student back home?

BUSH: Well, first of all, it's interesting that that happened literally days when this hostage release took place in Iran. A day or two days afterwards, North Korea took a -- held an American student hostage. I think it's when we send a signal of weakness, when we are negotiating to release people that committed crimes in our country for people that didn't commit crimes that are held hostage in Iran.

We saw the shameful treatment of our sailors, that this creates weakness -- sends a signal of weakness around the world. The next president of the United States is going to have to get back in the game. Where the United States' word matters. Where we back up our allies, where we don't send signals of weakness. We need to use every -- every influence possible to get this student back.

And I think John is right about this, there are crippling sanctions that are available, as it relates to the two or three banks that North Korea uses to -- to -- use it -- illicit trade. We ought to re-establish sanctions, not just because of the student, but because of their actions that they're taking right now, as it relates to building this missile capability.

RADDATZ: Governor Christie, I want to go to you on the same question.

CHRISTIE: Let's get something...

RADDATZ: Would you negotiate with North Korea to...

CHRISTIE: No. Let's make something very clear. I learned seven years as a federal prosecutor in dealing with types of situations like we're talking about in North Korea, where criminals take people hostage. You never pay ransom to the criminals. Ever. You never pay ransom to the criminals. Everyone out at home watching tonight understands that principle.

And so, what you need to do is to engage in a much different way with these folks. They do not understand anything but toughness and strength, and we need to engage the Chinese to deal with the North Koreans, but we also need to make sure that they understand there's a commander-in-chief who will not pay ransom for any hostage.

This president and his former secretary of State are for paying ransom for hostages. When do that, you endanger even more Americans around the world to be the subject of this type of hostage taking and illegal detention. You need a strong commander-in-chief who will look these folks in the eye and say, we will not put up with this and we will take whatever actions we need to take, not only to get our people home safely, but to swiftly and surely punish those who believe they can violate the law and violate American's sovereign rights to travel the world freely and safely.

This is unacceptable. And this is why this president is so weak and why the secretary of State, who is embracing a third Barack Obama term, would be even weaker.


RADDATZ: Senator Cruz, you advocate what you call carpet bombing, or saturation bombing, to defeat ISIS, citing the more than 1,100 air attacks that the U.S. carried out during the first Gulf War in 1991.

Explain how a strategy to defeat a standing army would work against an unconventional terrorist group that is now hiding amongst the population.

CRUZ: Well, sure. It starts with a commander-in-chief that sets the objective. And the objective has to be utterly and completely destroying ISIS. Obama hasn't started with that objective and everything else flows from there.

Once you set that objective, we have the tools to carry that out. The first tool is overwhelming air power. It is one of the blessings of the United States of America, having the greatest military on the face of the earth, is we have the ability to use that air power.

As you know, in the first Persian Gulf War, it was 1,100 air attacks a day. Obama is launching between 15 and 30. Now, when I say saturation carpet bombing, that is not indiscriminate.

That is targeted at oil facilities. It's targeted at the oil tankers. It's targeted at command and control locations. It's targeted at infrastructure. It's targeted at communications. It's targeted at bombing all of the roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa. It's using overwhelming air power.

You know, couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a facility is open called Jihadist University. Now, the question I wonder, why is that building still standing? It should be rubble. And if you had a president […] all though I will say this. I would be willing to wait until freshman orientation before launching those bombs.

RADDATZ: Senator Cruz, would you like to expand or loosen the rules of engagement? I was just over in a command center in Erbil and they said they thought the rules of engagement worked. Because you have so many civilians in those populated areas, they don't want to hit civilians.

CRUZ: Martha, I will tell you, I have visited with active duty military, with veterans over and over and over again in town halls all over the state of New Hampshire. What we are doing to our sons and daughters, it is immoral. We are sending them into fight with their arms tied behind their back. They cannot defend themselves. And it is wrong.

And I will tell you this. Look. America has always been reluctant to use military force. It's the last step we take. But if and when we use it when it comes to defeating ISIS, we should use it. We should use overwhelming force, kill the enemy and then get the heck out. Don't engage in nation-building but instead, allow our soldiers to do their jobs instead of risking their lives with politicians making it impossible to accomplish the objective.

RADDATZ: So, loosen the rules of engagement?

CRUZ: Absolutely, yes.

RADDATZ: Senator Rubio, you said in the last debate that ISIS is the most dangerous, jihadist group in the history of mankind And that will it take overwhelming U.S. force to defeat them. Can you specifically tell us what you mean by overwhelming force?

RUBIO: Well, first, we need to understand who they are. ISIS is not just a jihadist group, they're an apocalyptic group. They want to trigger a showdown in a city named Tibet between the west and themselves which they believe will trigger the arrival of their messianic figure.

And I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. The reason why it's important to understand that is because these are not groups that are just going to go away on their own. They are going to have to be defeated. And I believe they need to be defeated on the ground, by a ground force, made up primarily of Sunni Arabs.

It will take Sunni Arabs to reject them ideologically and defeat them militarily. That will require a coalition of Iraqis and Syrians, that are also Sunnis, but it will also require the cooperation of Jordanians, Egyptians. We should ask more of the Saudis.

That will need to be backed up with more U.S. special operation forces alongside them. And it will have to be backed up with increased air strikes. And we are going to have to strike them, not just in Iraq and in Syria, but in every other part of the world where they have now created hubs of operation. They have affiliates in over a dozen countries across this planet. They have a sophisticated network of radicalizing people here in the homeland and around the world.

But it all begins by taking away their their safe operating spaces with a ground force that a U.S.-led coalition takes on.

RADDATZ: Again, Senator Rubio, you've already said ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind. So, that would make it more dangerous than Al Qaida, the insurgents we fought in Iraq. We committed hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to fight those groups. So if ISIS is the most dangerous group in history, why not commit a large U.S. ground force?

RUBIO: Because they currently occupy Sunni cities and villages. Sunni cities and villages can only truly be liberated and held by Sunnis themselves. If they are held by Shias it will trigger sectarian violence. The Kurds are incredible fighters and they will liberate the Kurdish areas, but Kurds can not and do not want to liberate and hold Sunni villages and towns.

RUBIO: It will take Sunni fighters themselves in that region to take those villages and cities, and then to hold them and avoid the sort of sectarian violence that follows in the past.

And why that is important is because if Sunnis are not able to govern themselves in these areas, you are going to have a successor group to ISIS. ISIS is a successor group of Al Qaida. In fact, they broke away [...] from Al Qaida, because as horrible as Al Qaida is, ISIS thought Al Qaida was not radical enough. This is who we're dealing with, and they have more money than Al Qaida ever had. […]

RADDATZ: Well, what would you do -- what would you do differently to try to get those Sunni forces? They have not been coming forward.

RUBIO: Well, the problem with the Sunni forces in the region is they don't trust this administration. This administration cut a deal with their mortal enemies, the Shia, in Iran. It poisoned the well with these countries. It makes it very difficult to cooperate with them as a result.

They also, by the way, understand what real U.S. air power looks like. They saw the Iraq war. They saw, up close, also Afghanistan. They know what air power looks like when the United States is committed to the cause. And they see the airstrikes that are being conducted now, and they say to themselves, that's not real (ph) commitment. We know what real commitment looks like.

The -- the Jordanian king was in Washington three weeks ago. He told everyone who would listen that they have begged for permission from the coalition to target caravans. And the coalition -- meaning U.S. leadership on the ground […] would not allow them to proceed with those airstrikes.

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump – […] You have said you will vigorously bomb ISIS. You've said, "we've got to get rid of ISIS, quickly, quickly." How would you get rid of them so quickly? And please give us specifics.

TRUMP: Well, four years ago, I said, bomb the oil and take the oil. And if we did that, they wouldn't have the wealth they have right now. Now, I still say the same thing, because we're doing little pinpricks. We're not even bombing -- if somebody's driving a truck, they give notice to the person driving the truck, "we're going to bomb." If they don't get out of the truck, the truck sails away with the oil.

We actually have a case where we don't want to bomb the oil, because we don't want to hurt -- pollute the atmosphere. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton saying we can't bomb because we're gonna hurt the atmosphere?

You have to knock the hell out of the oil. You have to take the oil. And you have also back channels of banking. You have people that you think are our great allies, our friends, in the Middle East, that are paying tremendous numbers of -- tremendous amounts of money to ISIS.

So we have to stop those circuits. Nobody knows banking better than I do. They have back circuits, back channels. Tremendous amounts of money is coming in through the banking system. So between the oil and the banking, you will dry them up. But it should have been done four years ago, not now.

RADDATZ: And -- and what would you do in those cities, where there are people who we are trying to help, who ISIS is essentially holding hostage?

TRUMP: You have to go in -- first of all, when you take away their money, when you take away their wealth, that'll very much weaken -- and it will happen fairly fast.

They'll last for about a year, based on all of the wealth they've accumulated. But when you stop the banking channels and when you stop the oil and take the oil -- not just bomb it, take it -- when you do that, it's going to dry up very quickly. They're going to become a very weakened power, quickly. Thank you.


RADDATZ: Let's turn to Libya. Governor Bush, it is a country in chaos. There is no government. This week, defense officials said there are now 5,000 ISIS fighters there, roughly doubling previous estimates. We know you and others have been critical of the administration's handling of Libya after the initial air strikes that you supported.

But this is a problem you would stand to inherit if you're the next president. Reports this week said the administration is considering new air strikes, possible special operations raids. Would you support renewed air strikes or any U.S. involvement on the ground?

BUSH: I would. And I would do it in concert, again, with our Arab allies and with Europe, most particularly in this case. This is the lesson learned: in history, if you bomb something and not do anything as it relates to deal with the aftermath of this, if you don't have a stable government, you get what we have in Libya.

And this is not -- leading from behind is not an effective policy. We have to lead. Without the United States, nothing seems to work. Europe doesn't have the ability to -- to -- to lead -- forward lean (ph) in this regard.

And so dealing with the caliphate is important, because it now has spawned other areas. There have been 70-plus attacks in 17 countries, either inspired by ISIS or organized by ISIS, Libya being the most important one now.

We have to deal with the caliphate, with building a Sunni army there, but we also have to deal with it in Libya. And I think the United States, ultimately, is going to play -- play a significant role in this.

The problem with the Obama administration is that they see this incrementally. They're reluctant. They don't lead. No one knows whether we're serious, and when we do it, we do it in increments you can barely see. The United States has to lead in a much more aggressive way than we're doing right now.

RADDATZ: Thank you very much, Governor Bush. Dr. Carson?

CARSON: I want to say something about this, because I'm not here just to add beauty to the stage. (LAUGHTER)

You know, I've been talking about Libya for quite a long time. I think I was the first one to start talking about it because I say we have to have a proactive foreign policy strategy. And of course, the next place that ISIS is going to attack to is Libya.

If you want to expand your caliphate and increase your influence, then you're going to go to a place that's strategically located. You go north, across the Mediterranean. You're into southern Europe. You go south, you're into Chad and Sudan and Niger. Not to mention the fact that you have much more oil than you do in Iraq. That's the kind of place that they're going to go to, therefore, we need to be thinking about how do we prevent them from tacking over there. They're already sending their fighters there, we need to be consulting with our military experts and asking them what do they need in order to prevent ISIS from being able to take over Libya. That's going to have enormous concede for us.

RADDATZ: And would you support renewed airstrikes?

CARSON: I would support the possibility of renewed airstrikes if in conjunction with our Joint Chiefs and our military people they felt that was an appropriate strategy.

The fact of the matter is none of us up here is a military expert, and we sometimes act like we are, but we're not. And if we actually sit down and talk with them and get them to understand our plan and their impression of what needs to be done, I think we're going to make a lot more progress.

Torture (and a mention of the closure of Guantanamo Bay)

MUIR: We're going to stay on ISIS here and the war on terror, because as you know, there's been a debate in this country about how to deal with the enemy and about enhanced interrogation techniques ever since 9/11.

So Senator Cruz, you have said, quote, "torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture." Some of the other candidates say they don't think waterboarding is torture. Mr. Trump has said, I would bring it back. Senator Cruz, is waterboarding torture?

CRUZ: Well, under the definition of torture, no, it's not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.

MUIR: If elected president, would you bring it back?

CRUZ: I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed, I joined with Senator McCain in legislation that would prohibit line officers from employing it because I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels.

But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander in chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe. And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. Mr. Trump, you said not only does it work, but that you'd bring it back.

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what. In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before -- as a group, we have never seen before, what's happening right now.

The medieval times -- I mean, we studied medieval times -- not since medieval times have people seen what's going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

MUIR: Mr. Trump, thank you. Governor Bush, you have said that you won't rule waterboarding out. Congress has passed laws banning the use of waterboarding by the military and the CIA, as you know. Would you want Congress to change that if you're elected president?

BUSH: No, no, I wouldn't. No, I wouldn't. And it was used sparingly, Congress has changed the laws and I -- and I think where we stand is the appropriate place. But what we need to do is to make sure that we expand our intelligence capabilities.

The idea that we're going to solve this fight with predator drones, killing people somehow is a -- is more acceptable than capturing them, securing the information. This is why closing Guantanamo is a complete disaster. What we need to do is make sure that we are kept safe...

... by having intelligence capabilities, both human and technological intelligence capabilities far superior than what we have today. That's how you get a more safe place is by making sure that we're fully engaged. And right now, this administration doesn't do that.

BUSH: Governor Bush, thank you.

Senator Rubio, I do want to ask you, you have said that you do not want to telegraph to the enemy what you would do as commander in chief. But for the American people watching tonight who want to know where the next president will stand, do you believe waterboarding is torture?

RUBIO: Well, when people talk about interrogating terrorists, they're acting like this is some sort of law enforcement function. Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial, and convict them. Anti-terrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack so the same tactics do not apply.

And, it is true, we should not be discussing in a wide spread way the exact tactics that we're going to use because that allows terrorist to know to practice how to evade us.

But, here's the bigger problem with all this, we're not interrogating anybody right now. Guantanamo's being emptied by this president. We should be putting people into Guantanamo, not emptying it out, and we shouldn't be releasing these killers who are rejoining the battlefield against the United States.

Terrorist negotiations

MUIR: Josh, thank you. I want to turn to a family that New Hampshire voters know quite well, and Senator Cruz, the issue of hostages has been a very real and painful one here in this state.

As we all know, James Foley was killed. His mother, Diane, said our government should be willing to negotiate, arguing that families should also be allowed to raise money for ransom. What would you say to Diane Foley tonight? Should families be allowed to raise money for ransom for their loved ones?

CRUZ: Well, look, I recognize it is an agonizing experience when anyone is facing a loved -- loved member who's been kidnapped. But at the same time, putting in place legal regimes that encourage the payment of ransom has the effect of putting a bounty on other Americans. There is a reason it has been longstanding U.S. policy that we don't negotiate with terrorists, we don't pay ransoms.

If you look at what President Obama has done over and over again, whether it was the James Bergdahl deal, which was absolutely shameful, releasing five senior Taliban terrorists to bring Bergdahl back, or whether it was this recent deal with Iran, where, again, up to 21 terrorists or potential terrorists were -- were released or not prosecuted in order to bring back four Americans, what that does -- does is it effectively puts a bounty on American servicemen and women serving abroad, on American tourists traveling abroad.

And the proper approach is a president and commander in chief that defends this country and that goes after -- goes after the terrorists, rather than showing them weakness and encouraging them to target more Americans.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. Mr. Trump, what would you say to Diane Foley? Should families be allowed to raise money for ransom?

TRUMP: Well, I -- I know Diane Foley very well. Her husband and -- these are tremendous people. I spoke for them, I raised a lot of money for the foundation. I fully understand, James, one of -- that was really the first that we saw, really visually saw -- it was so horrible.

And I will tell you, though, with all of that being said, you can not negotiate this way with terrorists. If you do, you are going to have many, many more James Foleys.

James Foley was a great young man. His parents are incredible people. They've done such a good job, since his -- since his death. But you just cannot negotiate that way with terrorists, or you're gonna have so many other James Foleys.

Veterans and the V.A.

MCELVEEN: Thank you, Martha. None of you on stage tonight have ever worn a uniform as a member of the armed services. That's the reality of it. But as commander-in-chief, you'll also be charged with the care of 23 million active duty service members and veterans in this country.

Some have suggested privatizing the V.A. as a way to enhance care and increase the quality of the care and access. Others say that veterans should carry I.D. cards that allow them access to any hospital or health care provider. Governor Bush, what specifically would you do to ensure that those who have sacrificed for us are cared for?

BUSH: I totally agree that we need to give veterans more choices. A veterans card to be able to go to a private provider will enhance the quality of the service inside the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need career civil service reform. Only three people were fired after waiting lists were dropped where veterans didn't get care and people died. It is outrageous. And Hillary Clinton says that that's acceptable? Because she is captive of the public service uniforms.

Career civil service reform would allow the next president to fire people that are -- that are showing sheer incompetence. At a town hall meeting today, someone came -- told a story of their father who looked like he was 85. He had -- he got a bill eight years later from an operation he had, eight years it took. They couldn't resolve the dispute and then he was told that he died. Literally, the Veterans Administration sent a death certificate to this guy and it took nine months to clarify the guy -- I met him. He's voting for me. And he is -- likely to be alive.

This is -- this is outrageous. It is completely outrageous. So, giving veterans more choices, creating centers of excellence, focusing on the true problems that exist. Dr. Carson is completely right. We need to start focusing on this earlier, before they become veterans so that there's a customized plan so people don't fall through the cracks. We can do this, but it's going to require someone who has proven leadership skills to make it happen.


MCELVEEN: Governor Kasich, do you have a favored approach?

KASICH: Josh, I mean, clearly, when a veteran comes home, they should get health care anywhere they want to go. In our state, which is what we should do in the country, you know, if they drive a truck from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan, we say, you can drive a truck from Columbus to Cleveland, and you don't have to go get a license. We're going to hand you one.

And if you've got expertise in the military, we're going to give you college credit or community college credit for the things that you did for our country. And in addition to that, I'll tell you, one of the biggest things I think has to be done -- and I would do it as president -- the Pentagon has got to work with the returning soldier, sailor, along with the family, and we -- they're the most valuable employees in the country. I call them golden employees.

Everybody wants to hire a veteran. But there is a disconnect between the job openings and the veteran when the veteran comes back. The veteran is a leader. The veteran is strong. The veteran is drug free. There should be no unemployment among veterans.

And if the Pentagon will work with the veterans' services agencies all across this country, Josh, we can get people jobs and we can get them jobs quickly, get them their health care [...] get them their college education. Let's lift them. They're the greatest people defending the United States of America and we need to take care of them, and we will. We will.

MCELVEEN: Senator Rubio, go ahead?

RUBIO: Well, my brother's a veteran. We're very proud of him in our family. He served as a green beret in the 7th Special Forces from 1968 through 1971. And as part of his training, he jumped out of an airplane and he lost his two front teeth.

And for years, he's had to go to get these dental claims. And every times he goes to get one of these dental claims filled, the V.A. asks him, "well, how do we know you lost your teeth in the Army?" And he says, "well, it's the only time I ever jumped out of a plane."

(LAUGHTER) But he's had to fight through this process, and I've watched it firsthand. That's why I'm proud that I worked in a bipartisan way. We passed the V.A. Accountability bill that, for the first time, allows us to fire -- allows the V.A. secretary to fire someone who's not doing a good job, who's a senior executive.

And the governor's right. They've only fired three people up to now. More people will be fired if I'm president. But the portability part of it is incredibly important.

Veterans should be able to take their V.A. benefits to any hospital or any doctor they want to go to. When I am president of the United States, veterans will be able to take their benefits to any hospital or doctor that they choose.

Elina Saxena was a National Security Intern at The Brookings Institution. She is currently a senior at Georgetown University where she majors in International Politics with a concentration in Security Studies.

Subscribe to Lawfare