Democracy & Elections

National Security Highlights from Last Week's Democratic and Republican Presidential Debates

Elina Saxena
Tuesday, February 16, 2016, 10:45 AM

Earlier this week, the Democratic and GOP presidential candidates took to stage for their sixth and eighth respective debates.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Earlier this week, the Democratic and GOP presidential candidates took to stage for their sixth and eighth respective debates.

The Democratic debate took place on Thursday evening at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Moderated by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, the debate featured former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in their second one-on-one debate. In addition to discussing the usual array of national security issues, the candidates also addressed their foreign policy influences and discussed their varying opinions on Henry Kissinger.

On Saturday evening, Republican candidates former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Mr. Donald Trump met in South Carolina in a debate moderated by John Dickerson, Major Garrett, and Kimberly Strassel. Following a moment of silence for and subsequent discussion of the death of Justice Scalia, Dickerson sought to address concerns expressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “that the solutions being offered [in the campaign] are so simplistic and so at odds with the way the world really works," amid significant bickering between the candidates.

Between the two debates, the candidates discussed threats to the United States, regime change, Henry Kissinger, Russia, humanitarian effects of Syria and Libya, the fight against ISIS, the candidates’ foreign policy influences, and the death of Justice Scalia. Highlighted below are the candidates’ positions organized by topic.

The Washington Post provides the full transcript for both the Democratic and GOP debates.

Threats to America

IFILL: Americans are becoming increasingly worried that attacks abroad are coming home, that they already are, in fact, here. According to exit polls from last week, from earlier this week, more than two- thirds of Democrats in New Hampshire are concerned about sending their children to fight in wars they can't win. They fret that the next attack is just around the corner and we are not ready. Are we?

CLINTON: Look, I think we are readier than we used to be, but it's a constant effort that has to be undertaken to make sure we are as ready as we need to be. We have made a lot of improvements in our domestic security since 9/11, and we have been able to foil and prevent attacks, yet we see the terrible attack in San Bernardino and know that we haven't done enough.

So we have to go after this both abroad and at home. We have to go after terrorist networks, predominantly ISIS -- that's not the only one, but let's focus on that for a minute. We have to lead a coalition that will take back territory from ISIS. That is principally an American-led air campaign that we are now engaged in.

We have to support the fighters on the ground, principally the Arabs and the Kurds who are willing to stand up and take territory back from Raqqa to Ramadi. We have to continue to work with the Iraqi army so that they are better prepared to advance on some of the other strongholds inside Iraq, like Mosul, when they are able to do so. And we have to cut off the flow of foreign funding and foreign fighters.

And we have to take on ISIS online. They are a sophisticated purveyor of propaganda, a celebrator of violence, an instigator of attacks using their online presence.

Here at home, we've got to do a better job coordinating between federal, state, and local law enforcement. We need the best possible intelligence not only from our own sources, but from sources overseas, that can be a real-time fusion effort to get information where it's needed.

But the final thing I want to say about this is the following. You know, after 9/11, one of the efforts that we did in New York was if you see something or hear something suspicious, report it. And we need to do that throughout the country.

But we need to understand that American Muslims are on the front line of our defense. They are more likely to know what's happening in their families and their communities, and they need to feel not just invited, but welcomed within the American society. So when somebody like Donald Trump and others... stirs up the demagoguery against American Muslims, that hurts us at home. It's not only offensive; it's dangerous. And the same goes for overseas, where we have to put together a coalition of Muslim nations. I know how to do that. I put together the coalition that imposed the sanctions on Iran that got us to the negotiating table to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program.

And you don't go tell Muslim nations you want them to be part of a coalition when you have a leading candidate for president of the United States who insults their religion.

So this has to be looked at overall, and we have to go at it from every possible angle.


TRUMP: What we want to do, when we want to do it, and how hard do we want to hit? Because we are going to have to hit very, very hard to knock out ISIS.

We're going to also have to learn who our allies are. We have allies, so-called allies, we're spending billions and billions of dollars supporting people -- we have no idea who they are in Syria. Do we want to stay that route, or do we want to go and make something with Russia?

I hate to say Iran, but with Russia, because we -- and the Iran deal is one of the worst deals I have ever seen negotiated in my entire life. It's a disgrace that this country negotiated that deal. But very important...

Not only a disgrace, it's a disgrace and an embarrassment. But very important, who are we fighting with? Who are we fighting for? What are we doing? We have to rebuild our country. But we have to -- I'm the only one on this stage that said, "Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq." Nobody else on this stage said that. And I said it loud and strong. And I was in the private sector. I wasn't a politician, fortunately.

But I said it, and I said it loud and clear, "You'll destabilize the Middle East." That's exactly what happened.

I also said, by the way, four years ago, three years ago, attack the oil, take the wealth away, attack the oil and keep the oil. They didn't listen. They just started that a few months ago.


KASICH: The Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Gulf states, they all know they're at risk. We need to look into Europe, we look at France, we look at Germany and the migrants. We look at Belgium, we look at Britain. Everybody now is being threaten by radical Islam. We have an opportunity to lead.

You know, the fact of the matter is the world is desperate for our leadership. Sometimes they may -- they may make a remark here or there that we don't like, but frankly, the world needs us. And we have an opportunity now to assemble a coalition of the civilized people, those who respect civilization, the rights of women, the rights to protest, to be able to reassert our leadership all across this globe again and make sure this century is going to be the best we've ever seen.


RUBIO: I think there are three major threats that you want to immediately get on top of. No. 1 is, what are we doing in the Asia-Pacific region, where both North Korea and China pose threats to the national security of the United States.

No. 2 is, what are we doing in the Middle East with the combination of the Sunni-Shia conflict driven by the Shia arc that Iran is now trying to establish in the Middle East, also the growing threat of ISIS.

And the third is rebuilding and reinvigorating NATO in the European theater, particularly in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, where Vladimir Putin is now threatening the territory of multiple countries, already controls 20 percent of Georgia and a significant percentage of Ukraine.


BUSH: The question that you asked was a really good one about what you would do -- what three things would you do.

I would restore the military, the sequester needs to be reversed. I would have a strategy to destroy ISIS, and I would immediately create a policy of containment as it relates to Iran's ambitions, and to make it make clear that we are not going to allow for Iran to do what it's doing, which is to move towards a nuclear weapon.

Those three things would be the first and foremost things that we need to do... in 2017.


CRUZ: If you look at the threats facing this country, the single gravest threat, national security threat, is the threat of a nuclear Iran. That's why I've pledged on day one to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal, and anyone that thinks you can negotiate Konami does not understand the nature of Komani.

Regime change, Civil Wars, and George Bush

SANDERS: Let me just say this. What a president of the United States has got to do -- and what is his or her major, I think, responsibility -- is to, A, make certain that we keep our people safe, that we work with allies around the world to protect...president of the United States has got to do, and what is his or her major, I think, responsibility, is to, A, make certain that we keep our people safe. Thatwe work with allies around the world to protect democratic values. That we do all that we can to create a world of peace and prosperity.

I voted against the war in Iraq because I listened very carefully to what President Bush and Vice President Cheney had to say and I didn't believe them. And if you go to my Web site,, what you find is not only going to help lead the opposition to that war, but much of what I feared would happen when I spoke on the floor of the House, in fact, did happen in terms of the instability that occurred.

Now I think an area in kind of a vague way, or not so vague, where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change. Look, the truth is that a powerful nation like the United States, certainly working with our allies, we can overthrow dictators all over the world.

And God only knows Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We could overthrow Assad tomorrow if we wanted to. We got rid of Gadhafi. But the point about foreign policy is not just to know that you can overthrow a terrible dictator, it's to understand what happens the day after.

And in Libya, for example, the United States, Secretary Clinton, as secretary of state, working with some other countries, did get rid of a terrible dictator named Gadhafi. But what happened is a political vacuum developed. ISIS came in, and now occupies significant territory in Libya, and is now prepared, unless we stop them, to have a terrorist foothold.

But this is nothing new. This has gone on 50 or 60 years where the United States has been involved in overthrowing governments. Mossadegh back in 1953. Nobody knows who Mossadegh was, democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. He was overthrown by British and American interests because he threatened oil interests of the British. And as a result of that, the shah of Iran came in, terrible dictator. The result of that, you had the Iranian Revolution coming in, and that is where we are today. Unintended consequences.

So I believe as president I will look very carefully about unintended consequences. I will do everything I can to make certain that the United States and our brave men and women in the military do not get bogged down in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

CLINTON: If I could just respond. Two points. One, Senator Sanders voted in 1998 on what I think is fair to call a regime change resolution with respect to Iraq, calling for the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.

He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.

I do not believe a vote in 2002 is a plan to defeat ISIS in 2016. It's very important we focus on the threats we face today, and that we understand the complicated and dangerous world we are in.

When people go to vote in primaries or caucuses, they are voting not only for the president, they are voting for the commander-in- chief. And it's important that people really look hard at what the threats and dangers we face are, and who is best prepared for dealing with them.

As we all remember, Senator Obama, when he ran against me, was against the war in Iraq. And yet when he won, he turned to me, trusting my judgment, my experience, to become secretary of state.

I was very honored to be asked to do that and very honored to serve with him those first four years.

SANDERS: Judy, if I can, there is no question, Secretary Clinton and I are friends, and I have a lot of respect for her, that she has enormous experience in foreign affairs. Secretary of state for four years. You've got a bit of experience, I would imagine.

But judgment matters as well. Judgment matters as well. And she and I looked at the same evidence coming from the Bush administration regarding Iraq. I lead the opposition against it. She voted for it.

But more importantly, in terms of this Libya resolution that you have noted before, this was a virtually unanimous consent. Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that.

SANDERS: That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.

CLINTON: You did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on. And, look, I think it's important to look at what the most important counterterrorism judgment of the first four years of the Obama administration was, and that was the very difficult decision as to whether or not to advise the president to go after bin Laden.

I looked at the evidence. I looked at the intelligence. I got the briefings. I recommended that the president go forward. It was a hard choice. Not all of his top national security advisors agreed with that. And at the end of the day, it was the president's decision. So he had to leave the Situation Room after hearing from the small group advising him and he had to make that decision. I'm proud that I gave him that advice. And I'm very grateful to the brave Navy SEALs who carried out that mission.


Henry Kissinger

SANDERS: Where the secretary and I have a very profound difference, in the last debate -- and I believe in her book -- very good book, by the way -- in her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.

I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger's actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.

IFILL: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know who that is.

SANDERS: Well, it ain't Henry Kissinger. That's for sure.

CLINTON: That's fine. That's fine.

You know, I listen to a wide variety of voices that have expertise in various areas. I think it is fair to say, whatever the complaints that you want to make about him are, that with respect to China, one of the most challenging relationships we have, his opening up China and his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America.

So if we want to pick and choose -- and I certainly do -- people I listen to, people I don't listen to, people I listen to for certain areas, then I think we have to be fair and look at the entire world, because it's a big, complicated world out there.


CLINTON: And, yes, people we may disagree with on a number of things may have some insight, may have some relationships that are important for the president to understand in order to best protect the United States.

SANDERS: I find -- I mean, it's just a very different, you know, historical perspective here. Kissinger was one of those people during the Vietnam era who talked about the domino theory. Not everybody remembers that. You do. I do. The domino theory, you know, if Vietnam goes, China, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. That's what he talked about, the great threat of China.

And then, after the war, this is the guy who, in fact, yes, you're right, he opened up relations with China, and now pushed various type of trade agreements, resulting in American workers losing their jobs as corporations moved to China. The terrible, authoritarian, Communist dictatorship he warned us about, now he's urging companies to shut down and move to China. Not my kind of guy.


WOODRUFF: Senator, let me -- let me move on to another country with which the U.S. has a complicated relationship, Senator Sanders, and that's Russia. On the one hand, we're aware that Russia is a country that the United States needs to cooperate with.

WOODRUFF: Just tonight, Secretary of State John Kerry has announced what appears to be an agreement with the Russians to lead -- that could lead toward a ceasefire in Syria, would be the first cessation of conflict in that country, in that civil war in five years, but it comes at a very high price, because not only have all -- have we seen the deaths, the removal of so many people, millions of people, we now see the Russians in the last few weeks have bombed in a way that benefits President Assad, has not gone after ISIS.

So my question to you is, when it comes to dealing with Russia, are you prepared -- how hard are you prepared to be? Are you prepared to institute further economic sanctions? Would you be prepared to move militarily if Russia moves on Eastern Europe? It seems to me that Russia recently has gotten the better of the United States.

SANDERS: Well, this is what I would say. It is a complicated relationship. I congratulate Secretary of State John Kerry and the president for working on this agreement.

As you've indicated, what is happening in Syria, the number of people, the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed -- men, women, 20,000 children, the people who are forced to flee their own country -- their own country -- it is unspeakable. It is a real horror.

Now, what I think is that right now we have got to do our best in developing positive relations with Russia. But let's be clear: Russia's aggressive actions in the Crimea and in Ukraine have brought about a situation where President Obama and NATO -- correctly, I believe -- are saying, you know what, we're going to have to beef up our troop level in that part of the world to tell Putin that his aggressiveness is not going to go unmatched, that he is not going to get away with aggressive action.

I happen to believe that Putin is doing what he is doing because his economy is increasingly in shambles and he's trying to rally his people in support of him. But bottom line is: The president is right. We have to put more money. We have to work with NATO to protect Eastern Europe against any kind of Russian aggression.

SANDERS: Well, with respect to Syria, I really do appreciate the efforts that Secretary Kerry has made. The agreement on humanitarian relief now needs to be implemented, because there are enclaves that are literally filled with starving people throughout Syria.

The agreement on a cease-fire, though, is something that has to be implemented more quickly than the schedule that the Russians agreed to. You know, the Russians wanted to buy time. Are they buying time to continue their bombardment on behalf of the Assad regime to further decimate what's left of the opposition, which would be a grave disservice to any kind of eventual cease-fire? So I know Secretary Kerry is working extremely hard to try to move that cease-fire up as quickly as possible.

But I would add this. You know, the Security Council finally got around to adopting a resolution. At the core of that resolution is an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva, which set forth a cease-fire and moving toward a political resolution, trying to bring the parties at stake in Syria together.

This is incredibly complicated, because we've got Iran as a big player, in addition to Russia. We have Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others who have very important interests in their view.

This is one of the areas I've disagreed with Senator Sanders on, who has called for Iranian troops trying to end civil war in Syria, which I think would be a grave mistake. Putting Iranian troops right on the border of the Golan right next to Israel would be a nonstarter for me. Trying to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together, as he has suggested in the past, is equally a nonstarter.

So let's support what Secretary Kerry and the president are doing, but let's hope that we can accelerate the cease-fire, because I fear that the Russians will continue their bombing, try to do everything they can to destroy what's left of the opposition. And remember, the Russians have not gone after ISIS or any of the other terrorist groups.

So as we get a cease-fire and maybe some humanitarian corridors, that still leaves the terrorist groups on the doorstep of others in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and the like. So we've got some real work to do, and let's try to make sure we actually implement what has been agreed to with the Russians.

SANDERS: Let me just -- just say this. For a start, the secretary and I disagree -- and I think the president does not agree with her -- in terms of the concept of a no-fly zone in Syria.

I think you do have a humanitarian tragedy there, as I mentioned a moment ago. I applaud Secretary Kerry and the president for trying to put together this agreement. Let's hope that it holds.

SANDERS: But furthermore, what we have got to do, I'm sorry, yes, I do believe that we have got to do everything that we can, and it will not happen tomorrow. But I do hope that in years to come, just as occurred with Cuba, 10, 20 years ago, people would say, reach normalized relations with Cuba.

And by the way, I hope we can end the trade embargo with Cuba as well. But the idea that we some day maybe have decent relations with Iran, maybe put pressure on them so they end their support for terrorism around the world, yes, that is something I want to achieve.

And I believe that the best way to do that is to be aggressive, to be principled, but to have the goal of trying to improve relations. That's how you make peace in the world. You sit down and you work with people, you make demands of people, in this case demanding Iran stop the support of international terrorism.

CLINTON: Well, I respectfully disagree. I think we have achieved a great deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement to put a lid on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. That has to be enforced absolutely with consequences for Iran at the slightest deviation from their requirements under the agreement.

I do not think we should promise or even look toward normalizing relations because we have a lot of other business to get done with Iran. Yes, they have to stop being the main state sponsor of terrorism. Yes, they have to stop trying to destabilize the Middle East, causing even more chaos.

Yes, they've got to get out of Syria. They've got to quit sponsoring Hezbollah and Hamas. They have got to quit trying to ship rockets into Gaza that can be used against Israel.

We have a lot of work to do with Iran before we ever say that they could move toward normalized relations with us.

SANDERS: We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do. But I recall when Secretary Clinton ran against then-Senator Obama, she was critical of him for suggesting that maybe you want to talk to Iran, that you want to talk to our enemies.

I have no illusion. Of course you are right. Iran is sponsoring terrorism in many parts of the world, destabilizing areas. Everybody knows that. But our goal is, in fact, to try over a period of time to, in fact, deal with our enemies, not just ignore that reality.

CLINTON: ... Senator Sanders, from a debate in 2008, quote what I said. The question was, would you meet with an adversary without conditions? I said no. And in fact, in Obama administration, we did not meet with anybody without conditions. That is the appropriate approach in order to get the results that you are seeking.

SANDERS: No, I think the idea was that president -- then-Senator Obama was wrong for suggesting that it is a good idea to talk to your opponents. It's easier to talk to your friends. It's harder to talk to your enemies. I think we should do both.


DICKERSON: Governor Kasich, Russia is being credited with bombing U.S.-backed rebels on behalf of Assad in Aleppo and Syria. They've also moved into the Crimea, eastern Ukraine. You've said you want to punch them in the nose. What does that mean? What are you going to do?

KASICH: First of all -- yes. First of all, look, we have to make it clear to Russia what we expect. We don't have to declare an enemy, rattle a sword or threaten, but we need to make it clear what we expect. Number one is we will arm the folks in Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom. They deserve it. There will be no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Secondly, an attack on NATO, trumped up on any excuse of Russian- speaking people, either in the NATO countries or in Finland or Sweden is going to be an attack on us. And look, I think we have an opportunity as America to put something really great together again.


DICKERSON: Governor Bush. […] DICKERSON: You said defeating ISIS requires defeating Assad. But wouldn't that also put us into conflict with Russia, a country that supports Assad? so doesn't that mean effectively Assad's there to stay?

BUSH: No, it doesn't, and that's the problem. The lack of leadership in this country by Barack Obama, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, thinking that this is a policy that works, this policy of containment with ISIS. It's a complete, unmitigated disaster. And to allow Russia now to have influence in Syria makes it harder, but we need to destroy ISIS and dispose of Assad to create a stable Syria so that the four million refugees aren't a breeding ground for Islamic jihadists.

This is the problem. Donald Trump brought up the fact that he would -- he'd want to accommodate Russia. Russia is not taking out ISIS. They're -- they're attacking our -- our -- our team, the team that we've been training and the team that we've been supporting. It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that Russia could be a positive partner in this. They are on the run. They are making -- every time we step back, they're on the run.


DICKERSON: Mr. Trump, you were mentioned here. You did say that you could get along very well with Vladimir Putin. You did at one point say let Russia take care of ISIS...

TRUMP: ... (INAUDIBLE) called me a genius, I like him so far, I have to tell you. Let me just tell you this. […] You fight ISIS first. Right now you have Russia, you have Iran, you have them with Assad, and you have them with Syria. You have to knock out ISIS. They're chopping off heads. These are animals. You have to knock em out. You have to knock them off strong. You decide what to do after, you can't fight two wars at one time.

If you listen to him, and you listen to some of the folks that I've been listening to, that's why we've been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven't won anything. We've spent $5 trillion dollars in the Middle East with thinking like that. […] We've spent $5 trillion dollars all over the -- we have to rebuild our country. We have to rebuild our infrastructure. you listen to that you're going to be there for another 15...

DICKERSON: ... Alright...

TRUMP: ... You'll end up with world war three...

DICKERSON: ... Alright, Governor Bush, please respond.

BUSH: The very basic fact is that Vladimir Putin is not going to be an ally of the United States. The whole world knows this. It's a simple basic fact.

BUSH: They're not taking out -- they're not even attempting to take out ISIS. They're attacking the troops that we're supporting. We need to create a coalition, Sunni led coalition on the ground with our special operators to destroy ISIS, and bring about stability. And, you can't do that with Assad in power.


DICKERSON: ... on Monday, George W. Bush will campaign in South Carolina for his brother. As you've said tonight, and you've often said, the Iraq War and your opposition to it was a sign of your good judgment.

In 2008, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, talking about President George W. Bush's conduct of the war, you said you were surprised that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi didn't try to impeach him.

You said, quote: "which personally I think would have been a wonderful thing." When you were asked what you meant by that and you said: "For the war, for the war, he lied, he got us into the war with lies." Do you still believe President Bush should have been impeached.

TRUMP: First of all, I have to say, as a businessman I get along with everybody. I have business all over the world.

TRUMP: I know so many of the people in the audience. And by the way, I'm a self-funder. I don't have -- I have my wife and I have my son. That's all I have. I don't have this.

TRUMP: So let me just tell you, I get along with everybody, which is my obligation to my company, to myself, et cetera.

Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right? Now, you can take it any way you want, and it took -- it took Jeb Bush, if you remember at the beginning of his announcement, when he announced for president, it took him five days.

He went back, it was a mistake, it wasn't a mistake. It took him five days before his people told him what to say, and he ultimately said, "it was a mistake." The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, we don't even have it. Iran has taken over Iraq with the second-largest oil reserves in the world.

Obviously, it was a mistake.

[…] George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.


BUSH: So here's the deal. I'm sick ask tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he has had. And, frankly, I could care less about the insults that Donald Trump gives to me. It's blood sport for him. He enjoys it. And I'm glad he's happy about it. But I am sick and tired...[…] I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive in my mind.

BUSH: And while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I'm proud of what he did.

BUSH: And he has had the gall to go after my brother.

TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign, remember that. […] That's not keeping us safe.


KASICH: Oh, well, listen, I think being in Iraq, look, we thought there were weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell, who is one of the most distinguished generals in modern time said there were weapons there.

KASICH: But, but, the fact is we got ourselves in the middle of a civil war. The Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds, never gotten along. In fact, that country was drawn -- the borders of that country were drawn after World War I by Westerners that didn't understand what was happening there.

KASICH: The tragedy of it is that we're still embroiled. And, frankly, if there weren't weapons of mass destruction we should never have gone. I don't believe the United States should involve itself in civil wars. Civil wars are not in our direct are interest, and if you -- and look, I served on a defense committee for 18 years and was called into the Pentagon after 9/11 by Secretary Rumsfeld to deal with some of the most serious problems that we faced.

The fact is, is that we should go to war when it is our direct interest. We should not be policemen of the world, but when we go, we mean business. We'll do our job. We'll tell our soldiers, our people in the service, take care of your job and then come home once we've accomplished our goals.

That's what we need to do.

DICKERSON: Thirty seconds, Senator Rubio.

RUBIO: I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore.

And you can -- I think you can look back in hindsight and say a couple of things, but he kept us safe. And not only did he keep us safe, but no matter what you want to say about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was in violation of U.N. resolutions, in open violation, and the world wouldn't do anything about it, and George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do.

And again, he kept us safe, and I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.

TRUMP: How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center -- the World -- excuse me. I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.

RUBIO: The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn't kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.

TRUMP: And George Bush-- by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn't listen to the advice of his CIA.


DICKERSON: You have said, Dr. Carson, that -- referring to yourself that people bought into the idea that, quote, "A nice person can't be tough on terrorists."

You have called for loosening the rules of engagement for the military, which could lead to more civilian casualties.

So, explain why those casualties would be acceptable in the fight against ISIS?

CARSON: Well, first of all, let me just address the Iraq question.

You know, I was not particularly in favor of us going to war in Iraq, primarily because I have studied, you know, the Middle East, recognizing that those are nations that are ruled by dictators and have been for thousands of years. And when you go in and you remove one of those dictators, unless you have an appropriate plan for replacing them, you're going to have chaos.

Now, fortunately, we were able to stabilize the situation, and it was the current administration that turned tail and ran and destabilized the situation.

Now, having said that, in terms of the rules of engagement, I was talking about, you know, Obama has said, you know, we shouldn't bomb tankers, you know, coming out of refineries because there may be people in there, or because the environment may be hurt.

You know, that's just asinine thinking. And the fact of the matter is...

You know, we -- obviously, you're not going to accomplish all of your goals without some collateral damage. You have to be able to assess what is acceptable and what is not.

The Fight against ISIS

DICKERSON: Senator Cruz, you talked about the first Gulf War as being a kind of model for your focused, and determined effort to go after ISIS. But, there were 700,000 ground troops as a part of that, and you don't have a ground component to your plan. Why?

CRUZ: […]When it comes to ISIS, we've got to have a focused objective. One of the problems of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, and sadly, too many establishment Republicans in Washington, is they focus on issues unrelated to protecting this country. They focus on nation building, they focus on toppling governments to promote democracy, and it ends up undermining our national security.

Now, with regard to ISIS, we need a commander in chief that sets the objective we will utterly defeat them because they have declared war. They've declared a jihad on us.

Now, what do we need to carry that out. We need overwhelming air power, we need to arm the Kurds who can be our boots on the ground, and if ground troops are necessary than we should employ them, but it shouldn't be politicians demonstrating political toughness. It should be military expert judgement carrying out the objectives set out by the commander in chief.

DICKERSON: Very quickly, 30-second follow-up. You've said that essentially the Kurds would be the American ground forces in there. The criticism that experts have on that is that the Kurds only can work within their territory.

If they take larger amounts of territory, you have an ethnic war with the Arabs. So the Kurds can't really do as much as you seem to be putting on their backs.

CRUZ: We have Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. They are fighting ISIS right now. They are winning victories right now. ISIS is using American military equipment they've seized in Iraq. And the Obama administration refuses to arm the Kurds, the Peshmerga, the fighting forces who have been longtime allies.

We ought to be arming them and letting them fight. Now if we need to embed Special Forces to direct our overwhelming air power, if it is required to use ground troops to defeat ISIS, we should use them, but we ought to start with using our incredible air power advantage.

The first Persian Gulf War, we launched 1,100 air attacks a day. Today we're launching between 15 and 30. We're not using the tools we have and it's because the commander-in-chief is not focused on defeating the enemy.

Humanitarian impact of Syria & Libya

IFILL: More than a million refugees entered Europe in 2015. Another 76,000 just last month, that is about 2,000 arrivals every day.Nearly 400 people have been lost at sea so far this year, crossing the Mediterranean. And there are reports that 10,000 children are missing. If we are leaders in this world, where should the U.S. be on this? What should the United States be doing, Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I was pleased that NATO announced just this week that they're going to start doing patrols in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean, to try to interdict the smugglers, to try to prevent the kind of tragedies that we have seen all too often, also to try to prevent more refugees from coming to the European Union.

And it's especially significant that they are working with both Turkey and Greece in order to do this.

With respect to the United States, I think our role in NATO, our support for the E.U., as well as our willingness to take refugees so long as they are thoroughly vetted and that we have confidence from intelligence and other sources that they can come to our country, we should be doing our part.

And we should back up the recent donors conference to make sure we have made our contribution to try to deal with the enormous cost that these refugees are posing to Turkey and to members of the E.U. in particular.

CLINTON: This is a humanitarian catastrophe. There is no other description of it. So we do as the United States have to support our friends, our allies in Europe. We have to stand with them. We have to provide financial support to them. We have to provide the NATO support to back up the mission that is going on. And we have to take properly vetted refugees ourselves.

SANDERS: A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a congressional delegation. And I went to one of these Turkish refugee camps right on the border of Syria. And what a sad sight that was: Men, women, children forced out of their homes. And Turkey, by the way, did a very decent thing, providing what was reasonable housing and conditions for those people.

It seems to me that given our history as a nation that has been a beacon of hope for the oppressed, for the downtrodden, that I very strongly disagree with those Republican candidates who say, you know what, we've got to turn our backs on women and children who left their home with nothing, nothing at all. That is not what America is supposed to be about.

So I believe that working with Europe -- and, by the way, you know, we've got some very wealthy countries there in that part of the world. You got Kuwait and you got Qatar and you got Saudi Arabia. They have a responsibility, as well.

But I think this is a worldwide -- that the entire world needs to come together to deal with this horrific refugee crisis we're seeing from Syria and Afghanistan, as well.

AUMF in Syria

RUBIO: Well, let me tell you what has happened a couple of years ago. One of the hardest decisions you'll ever make in Congress is when you are asked by the president to authorize the use of force in a conflict, because you are now putting your name, on behalf of the people of your state, behind a military action, where Americans in uniform could lose their life.

So, in 2014, Barack Obama said he would not take military action against Assad unless it was authorized by the Senate, beginning on the Committee of Foreign Relations, where I am one of its members.

RUBIO: And it was hard because you looked at the pictures. I saw the same images people saw. I'm the father of children. I saw the images of these little children -- been gassed and poisoned by their own leaders and we were angry. Something had to happen, and there was the sense that we needed to seek retribution.

And then I looked at Barack Obama's plan. Barack Obama's plan, which John Kerry later described as unbelievably small, and I concluded that that attack would not only not help the situation, it would make it actually worse. It would allow Assad to stand up to the United States of America, survive a strike, stay in power and actually strengthen his grip.

So it was a difficult decision to make and when we only had a few days to look at and make a decision on it and I voted against Barack Obama's plan to use force, and it was the right decision.

Foreign policy influences

WOODRUFF: And we have a final question from our Facebook family. And it goes to Senator Sanders. It comes from Robert Andrews. He's a 40-year-old stay-at-home dad in Dover, Massachusetts. He says, "The world has seen many great leaders in the course of human history. Can you name two leaders -- one American and one foreign -- who would influence your foreign policy decisions? And why do you see them as -- why are they influential?"

SANDERS: You know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office in 1933 at a time when 25 percent of the American people were unemployed, country was in incredible despair. And he stood before the American people and he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," a profound statement that gave the American people the courage to believe that, yes, we could get out of that terrible depression.

And then what he did is redefine the role of government. You know, you had Herbert Hoover before that saying, no, we got to only worry about the deficit. So what if mass unemployment exists? So what if children are going hungry? That's not the role of the government.

And when FDR said, "Yeah, it is," that we're going to use all of the resources that we have to create jobs, to build homes, to feed people, to protect the farmers, we are a nation which if we come together there is nothing that we could not accomplish.

And kind of -- that's what I see our campaign is about right now. In this particular moment of serious crises, saying to the American people don't give up on the political process. don't listen to the Trumps of the world and allowing them to divide us. If we reengage and get involved, yeah, we can have health care for all people, we can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We do not have to have massive levels of income and wealth inequality.

In the same light, as the foreign leader, Winston Churchill's politics were not my politics. He was kind of a conservative guy in many respects. But nobody can deny that as a wartime leader, he rallied the British people when they stood virtually alone against the Nazi juggernaut and rallied them and eventually won an extraordinary victory. Those are two leaders that I admire very much.

CLINTON: I certainly agree with FDR for all the reasons Senator Sanders said. And I agree about the role that he played both in war and in peace on the economy and defeating fascism around the world. I would choose Nelson Mandela for his generosity of heart, his understanding of the need for reconciliation.

CLINTON: But I want to -- I want to follow up on something having to do with leadership, because, you know, today Senator Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test. And this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he has called him weak. He has called him a disappointment.

He wrote a forward for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers' remorse when it comes to President Obama's leadership and legacy.

And I just couldn't agree -- disagree more with those kinds of comments. You know, from my perspective, maybe because I understand what President Obama inherited, not only the worst financial crisis but the antipathy of the Republicans in Congress, I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for being a president...

CLINTON: ... who got us out of that...

CLINTON: ... put us on firm ground, and has sent us into the future. And it is a -- the kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans. I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.


CLINTON: You know, Senator, what I am concerned about, is not disagreement on issues, saying that this is what I would rather do, I don't agree with the president on that, calling the president weak, calling him a disappointment, calling several times that he should have a primary opponent when he ran for re-election in 2012, you know, I think that goes further than saying we have our disagreements.

As a senator, yes, I was a senator. I understand we can disagree on the path forward. But those kinds of personal assessments and charges are ones that I find particularly troubling.

The Death of Justice Scalia

DICKERSON: First, the death of Justice Scalia, and the vacancy that leaves on the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump, I want to start with you. You've said that the President shouldn't nominate anyone in the rest of his term to replace Justice Scalia. If you were President, and had a chance with 11 months left to go in your term, wouldn't it be an abdication to conservatives in particular, not to name a conservative justice with the rest of your term?

TRUMP: Well, I can say this. If the President, and if I were President now I would certainly want to try and nominate a justice. I'm sure that, frankly, I'm absolutely sure that President Obama will try and do it. I hope that our Senate is going to be able -- Mitch, and the entire group, is going to be able to do something about it.

In times of delay, we could have a Diane Sykes, or you could have a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people. But this is a tremendous blow to conservatism. It's a tremendous blow, frankly to our country.

DICKERSON: So, just to be clear on this Mr. Trump, you're OK with the President nominating somebody...

TRUMP: ... I think he's going to do it whether or I'm OK with it or not. I think it's up to Mitch McConnell, and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay.

DICKERSON: Governor Kasich, I want to get your thoughts on this. Justice Scalia was a real believer, obviously, in the strict word of the constitution. Now, Harry Reid says that a failure to fill his vacancy would be, quote, "Shameful abdication of one of the Senate's most essential constitutional responsibilities."

Where do you come down on this?

KASICH: Well, John, first of all if I were president we wouldn't have the divisions in the country we have today. I do want to take a second as we reflected on Judge Scalia, it's amazing -- it's not even two minutes after the death of Judge Scalia, nine children here today, their father, didn't wake up. His wife sad, but, I just wish we hadn't run so fast into politics.

Here's my concern about this. The country is so divided right now, and now we're going to see another partisan fight take place. I really wish the president would think about not nominating somebody. If you were to nominate somebody, let's have him pick somebody that's going to have unanimous approval, and such wide spread approval across the country that this could happen without a lot of recrimination. I don't think that's going to happen, and I would like the President just to for once here put the country first. We're going to have an election for President very soon, and the people will understand what is at stake in that election.

And, so I believe the President should not move forward, and I think that we ought to let the next President of the United States decide who is going to run that Supreme Court with a vote by the people of the United States of America.

DICKERSON: Dr. Carson, you, like others, put out a statement after the death was announced, and you said the president should delay.

You've written a book on the constitution recently. What does the constitution say about whose duty it is here to act in this kind of a situation?

CARSON: Well, the current constitution actually doesn't address that particular situation, but the fact of the matter is the Supreme Court, obviously, is a very important part of our governmental system. And, when our constitution was put in place, the average age of death was under 50, and therefore the whole concept of lifetime appointments for Supreme Court judges, and federal judges was not considered to be a big deal.

Obviously that has changed, and it's something that probably needs to be looked at pretty carefully at some point. But, we need to start thinking about the divisiveness that is going on in our country. I looked at some of the remarks that people made after finding out that Justice Scalia had died, and they were truly nasty remarks. And, that we have managed to get to that position in our country is truly a shame. And, we should be thinking about how we could create some healing in this land.

But, right now, we're not going to get healing with President Obama. That's very clear, so I fully agree that we should not allow a judge to be appointed during his time. […]

DICKERSON: Senator Rubio, you're a lawyer. Quickly, can you address the issue of whether the Constitution tells us who has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices?

And then, also, the Senate Republicans last year floated an idea of removing the filibuster for Senate -- excuse me, for Supreme Court nominations. You seemed open to that. What's your feeling on that now?

RUBIO: Well, let me first talk about Justice Scalia. His loss is tremendous and obviously our hearts and prayers go out to his family. He will go down as one of the great justices in the history of this republic.

You talk about someone who defended consistently the original meaning of the Constitution, who understood that the Constitution was not there to be interpreted based on the fads of the moment, but it was there to be interpreted according to its original meaning.

Justice Scalia understood that better than anyone in the history of this republic. His dissent, for example, on the independent counsel case is a brilliant piece of jurist work. And, of course, his dissent on Obergefell as well.

Number two, I do not believe the president should appoint someone. And it's not unprecedented. In fact, it has been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.

And it remind us of this, how important this election is. Someone on this stage will get to choose the balance of the Supreme Court, and it will begin by filling this vacancy that's there now.

And we need to put people on the bench that understand that the Constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is to be interpreted as originally meant. […]

DICKERSON: Very quickly, Senator, on this specific question, though. You were once in favor of dropping the threshold...

RUBIO: That's not accurate.

DICKERSON: ... majority -- you were never in favor of that?

RUBIO: No, I've never -- there has been, for example, today, according to the changes Harry Reid made, appellate judges can now be appointed by a simple majority, but not Supreme Court justices.

And I think today you see the wisdom of why we don't that want to change. Because if that were the case and we were not in charge of the Senate, Harry Reid and Barack Obama would ram down our throat a liberal justice, like the ones Barack Obama has imposed on us already.

DICKERSON: OK. Thank you, Senator.

Governor Bush, I would like to ask you, conservatives for a long time have felt like that their Republican presidents have picked justices that didn't turn out to be real conservatives.

BUSH: Right.

DICKERSON: Bernie Sanders has said he would have a litmus test. He would you make sure that he appointed a justice who was going to overturn Citizens United. If they can have a litmus test for a nominee, what about you? Would you have a litmus test for a nominee? And what would it be?

BUSH: Not on specific issues, not at all. I think the next president -- if I'm president, I will appoint people -- I'll nominate people that have a proven record in the judiciary.

The problem in the past has been we have appointed people thinking you can get it through the Senate because they didn't have a record. And the problem is that sometimes we're surprised.

The simple fact is the next president needs to appoint someone with a proven conservative record, similar to Justice Scalia, that is a lover of liberty, that believes in limited government, that consistently applied that kind of philosophy, that didn't try to legislator from the bench, that was respectful of the Constitution.

And then fight and fight, and fight for that nomination to make sure that that nomination passes.

Of course, the president, by the way, has every right to nominate Supreme Court justices. I'm an Article II guy in the Constitution. We're running for the president of the United States. We want a strong executive for sure. But in return for that, there should be a consensus orientation on that nomination, and there's no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the Senate. […]

DICKERSON: So, Senator Cruz, the Constitution says the president "shall appoint with advice and consent from the Senate," just to clear that up. So he has the constitutional power. But you don't think he should.

Where do you set that date if you're president? Does it begin in election year, in December, November, September? And once you set the date, when you're president, will you abide by that date?

CRUZ: Well, we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year. And let me say, Justice Scalia...

DICKERSON: Just can I -- I'm sorry to interrupt, were any appointed in an election year or is that just there were 80 years...

CRUZ: Eighty years of not confirming. For example, LBJ nominated Abe Fortas. Fortas did not get confirmed. He was defeated.

DICKERSON: But Kennedy was confirmed in '88.

CRUZ: No, Kennedy was confirmed in '87...

DICKERSON: He was appointed in '87.

CRUZ: He was appointed in...

DICKERSON: ... confirmed in '88. That's the question, is it appointing or confirming, what's the difference?

CRUZ: In this case it's both. But if I could answer the question...

DICKERSON: Sorry, I just want to get the facts straight for the audience. But I apologize.

CRUZ: Justice Scalia was a legal giant. He was somebody that I knew for 20 years. He was a brilliant man. He was faithful to the Constitution. He changed the arc of American legal history. And I'll tell you, his passing tonight, our prayers are with his family, with his wife, Maureen, who he adored, his nine children, his 36 grandkids.

CRUZ: But it underscores the stakes of this election. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will reverse the Heller decision, one of Justice Scalia's seminal decisions that upheld the Second Amendment right to keep and to bear arms.

We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that would undermine the religious liberty of millions of Americans -- and the stakes of this election, for this year, for the Senate, the Senate needs to stand strong and say, "We're not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more liberal appointee."

And then for the state of South Carolina, one of the most important judgments for the men and women of South Carolina to make is who on this stage has the background, the principle, the character, the judgment, and the strength of resolve to nominate and confirm principled constitutionalists to the court? That will be what I will do if I'm elected president.

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.

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