Illustration for article titled All The Questionable Statements On Defense From Saturdays Democratic Debate

The second Democratic Presidential Debate came in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris and there were plenty of opportunities for the candidates to discuss the future and rehash the past when it comes to fighting terror and dealing with military affairs. Foxtrot Alpha dissected these statements just as we’ve done for the past Democratic and Republican Presidential Debates.

The shaded areas below are the direct Washington Post transcript of the debate, with Foxtrot Alpha’s responses shown in normal text:

DICKERSON: The terror attacks last night underscore biggest challenge facing the next president of the United States. At a time of crisis, the country and the world look to the president for leadership and for answers.

So, Secretary Clinton, I’d like to start with you. Hours before the attacks, President Obama said, “I don’t think ISIS is gaining strength.” Seventy-two percent of Americans think the fight against ISIS is going badly. Won’t the legacy of this administration, which is— which you were a part of, won’t that legacy be that it underestimated the threat from ISIS?

CLINTON: Well, John, I think that we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained, it must be defeated.

There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force, which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more open and cooperative way — that we can bring people together.

But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said— which I agree with— is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs, so that we can be supportive.

But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.

FA: It is unlikely that ISIS can be destroyed by having others do the fighting for you entirely. Containment to a certain degree, as in stopping the physical spread of ISIS in terms of held territory in Iraq and Syria may be possible by empowering indigenous forces, but the likelihood that these forces alone will eradicate the Islamic State in those countries is very low.

DICKERSON: But as — Secretary Clinton, the question was about, was ISIS underestimated? And I’ll just add, the president referred to ISIS as the JVU (sic), in a speech at the Council of Foreign Relations in June of 2014 said, “I could not have predicted the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq.”

So you’ve got prescriptions for the future, but how do we even those prescript prescriptions are any good if you missed it in the past?

CLINTON: Well, John, look, I think that what happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011, is that an Iraqi army was left that had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it. And then, with the revolution against Assad — and I did early on say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates very early so that we would have a better idea of how to deal with Assad because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum.

So, yes, this has developed. I think that there are many other reasons why it has in addition to what happened in the region, but I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.


FA: Many analysts and defense experts would disagree with this point. Going into Iraq in 2003 further destabilized an already chaotic region. Leaving in 2011 was also a huge mistake, and just because Bush had a deal to do so if the Iraqis wanted does not mean fighting for a reworked Status of Forces Agreement was not essential to stabilizing Iraq. Accounts differ as to how hard the Obama Administration tried to renegotiate this Status of Forces Agreement, but what is clear is that leaving did match President Obama’s political goals.

In the end, we destabilized Iraq totally by invading it, ousting Saddam, and having poor planning as to what came next. (Largely a mistake Hillary Clinton herself repeated in Libya.) So blaming Iraq’s troubles on the Iraqis is like blaming someone for wrecking your car who had never driven one before. In the end, both Bush and Obama Administrations are to blame.


The Obama Administration left the Syrian conflict largely to itself, with many asking for a no-fly-zone early on, along with the destruction of Assad’s offensive capabilities. Now it is too late for any of this as Russia is backing the Assad regime militarily and is in a sense occupying a part of that country and defending it with its air power and other military capabilities.

Arming moderate Syrian groups early on was another controversial issue the Obama Administration was reluctant to move forward with, although Hillary did want to arm certain anti-Assad factions. The problem is, who really can we trust to arm or rely on to actually fight with those arms. The Obama Administration finally tried this and it was a comical failure.

DICKERSON: Okay, Governor O’Malley, would you critique the administration’s response to ISIS. If the United States doesn’t lead, who leads?

O’MALLEY: John, I would disagree with Secretary Clinton respectfully on this score.

This actually is America’s fight. It cannot solely be America’s fight.

America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world. And ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world.

ISIS has brought down a Russian airliner. ISIS has now attacked a western democracy in — in France. And we do have a role in this. Not solely ours, but we must work collaboratively with other nations.

The great failing of these last 10 or 15 years, John, has been our failing of human intelligence on the ground. Our role in the world is not to roam the globe looking for new dictators to topple. Our role in the world is to make ourselves a beacon of hope. Make ourselves stronger at home, but also our role in the world, yes, is also to confront evil when it rises. We took out the safe haven in Afghanistan, but now there is, undoubtedly, a larger safe haven and we must rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances to confront it, and invest in the future much better human intelligence so we know what the next steps are.


FA: Although it is now likely ISIS brought down Metrojet 9268, the precise cause of the loss, and at whose direction it occurred, remains a mystery.

On increasing our human intelligence capabilities, throwing money at human intelligence collection does not magically make a more effective human intelligence network materialize. Doing so haphazardly can also backfire horribly. Penetrating extremist groups takes time and chance. More information on why O’Malley thinks HUMINT, as it is called, is lacking would have been appreciated here, otherwise it sounds like the Governor is just repeating something he heard.

DICKERSON: Senator Sanders, you said you want to rid the planet of ISIS. In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?

SANDERS: Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world — this is what the CIA says — they’re going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops ask you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.

But, of course, international terrorism is a major issue that we have got to address today. And I agree with much of what the Secretary and the Governor have said. But let me have one area of disagreement with the Secretary.

I think she said something like the bulk of the responsibility is not ours. Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of al-Qaeda and to ISIS.

Now, in fact, what we have got to do — and I think there is widespread agreement here — is the United States cannot do it alone. What we need to do is lead an international coalition which includes very significantly the Muslim nations in that region who are going to have to fight and defend their way of life.


FA: Bernie Sanders is correct, the DoD and the CIA have both stated many times that climate change is a catalyst for instability and conflict. If we are serious about eradicating groups like ISIS, we need to be serious about looking at all the systemic issues that may lead to these groups’ rise to power and sustained growth.

As for getting Muslim nations in the region to fight and defend their way of life, this all sounds good but what would a President Sanders actually do that has not already been done to get them involved on a much larger level in the fight against ISIS and other terror groups than they are today?

DICKERSON: Quickly, just let me ask you a follow-up on that, Senator Sanders.

When you say the disastrous vote on Iraq, let’s just be clear about what you’re saying. You’re saying Secretary Clinton, who was then Senator Clinton, voted for the Iraq war. And are you making a direct link between her vote for that or and what’s happening now for ISIS. Just so everybody...

SANDERS: I don’t think any — I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the more than history of the United States.

DICKERSON: Alright. Let’s let Secretary Clinton respond to that.

CLINTON: Thank you, John.

Well, thank you, John.

I think it’s important we put this in historic context. The United States has, unfortunately, been victimized by terrorism going back decades.

In the 1980s, it was in Beirut, Lebanon, under President Reagan’s administration, and 258 Americans, marines, embassy personnel, and others were murdered. We also had attacks on two of our embassies in Tanzania, Kenya, when my husband was president. Again, Americans murdered. And then, of course, 9/11 happened, which happened before there was an invasion of Iraq.

I have said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. But I think if we’re ever going to really tackle the problems posed by jihadi extreme terrorism, we need to understand it and realize that it has antecedents to what happened in Iraq and we have to continue to be vigilant about it.


FA: I’m not sure what Secretary Clinton is doing trying to link the decision to go into Iraq by listing all the times the U.S. was attacked by terrorists. There is no evidence any of these attacks had anything to do with Saddam Hussein. In fact, the same extremist elements that have carried out many of these attacks were seen as a threat to his regime as well.

DICKERSON: Senator Sanders let me just follow this line of thinking. You criticized then, Senator Clinton’s vote.

Do you have anything to criticize in the way she performed as Secretary of State?

SANDERS: I think we have a disagreement, and the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq. If you look at history, John, you will find that regime change — whether it was in the early ‘50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile, whether it is overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when — these invasions, these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue, I’m a little bit more conservative than the Secretary...


SANDERS: ... And that I am not a great fan of regime change.

DICKERSON: Senator let me...

O’MALLEY: John, may I — may I interject here? Secretary Clinton also said we — it was not just the invasion of Iraq which Secretary Clinton voted for and has since said was a big mistake — and, indeed, it was.

But it was also the cascading effects that followed that. It was also the disbanding of many elements of the Iraqi army that are now showing up as part of ISIS. It was country after country without making the investment in human intelligence to understand who the new leaders were and the new forces were that are coming up.

We need to be much more far thinking in this new 21st century era of — of nation state failures and conflict. It’s not just about getting rid of a single dictator. It is about understanding the secondary and third consequences that fall next.

DICKERSON: All right, Secretary Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, of course, each of these cases needs to be looked at individually and analyzed. Part of the problem that we have currently in the Middle East is that Assad has hung on to power with the very strong support of Russia and Iran and with the proxy of Hezbollah being there basically fighting his battles.

So I don’t think you can paint with a broad brush. This is an incredibly complicated region of the world. It’s become more complicated. And many of the fights that are going on are not ones that the United States has either started or have a role in. The Shi’a-Sunni split. The dictatorships have suppressed people’s aspirations. The increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown. We saw a Muslim brotherhood president installed, and then we saw him ousted and the army back.

So, I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no place is more so than in the Middle East.

DICKERSON: I understand. Quickly, Senator.

SANDERS: The Secretary’s obviously right. It is enormously complicated. But here’s something that I believe we have to do as we put together an international coalition, and that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan — all of these nations, they’re going to have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are going to have to take on ISIS.

This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are going to have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the UK, so should France. But those Muslim countries are going to have to lead the effort. They are not doing it now.


FA: These statements related to getting U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern countries to put soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Syria sound amazing, but once again, how are the candidates going to make them do so? And just because a fighting force is deployed to a foreign country in a combat role, it does not mean they are going to be successful in waging war against a deeply entrenched and ruthless enemy.

More details are needed here as to how these countries will be persuaded to enter such a complex and bloody ground conflict, one that they have so far carefully avoided.

DICKERSON: Secretary Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, I think — I think that is very unfair to a few you mentioned, most particularly Jordan, which has put a lot on the line for the United States, has also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, and has been, therefore, subjected to threats and attacks by extremists themselves.

I do agree that in particular, Turkey and the Gulf nations have got to make up their minds. Are they going to stand with us against this kind of jihadi radicalism or not? And there are many ways of doing it. They can provide forces. They can provide resources. But they need to be absolutely clear about where they stand.


FA: Actually, many Middle Eastern countries have already been clear on where they stand, it’s just that their contributions are not long-lived or not substantial enough to take on a large percentage of the combat burden. Jordan has been a consistently a strong player, and they should be as the ISIS threat is at their doorstep.

Turkey is now providing access to basing and bombing targets along with the U.S., although some of those targets seem highly counter-productive . A year ago, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar were all flying combat missions against ISIS, although this has died off as the conflict in Yemen, very much an Iranian proxy war, has drawn some of these countries resources away.


The fight in Yemen has been led by Saudi Arabia, the most powerful military player in the region, and it has not been a cheap engagement. So who exactly is Secretary Clinton talking about here? Egypt? They want to go after ISIS, but the Obama Administration has gone down a road leading to shaky relationship with the El Sisi government.

Really, material support or warplanes is not a placeholder for Arab troops that can hold territory once ISIS has been expelled, yet alone to fight on the front lines. Either way, this is a long-term, costly, and far-reaching propitiation, but it seems to be what these candidates are orbiting around without really saying it. Or even worse, maybe they don’t even know what they are trying to convey, and are just saying that Arab countries need to do more, which is an empty complaint, not a solution.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you, Secretary Clinton, a question about leadership.

We’re talking about what role does America take?

Let me ask you about Libya. So Libya is a country in which ISIS has taken hold in part because of the chaos after Muammar Gaddafi. That was an operation you championed. President Obama says this is the lesson he took from that operation. In an interview he said, the lesson was, do we have an answer for the day after? Wasn’t that suppose to be one of the lessons that we learned after the Iraq war? And how did you get it wrong with Libya if the key lesson of the Iraq war is have a plan for after?

CLINTON: Well, we did have a plan, and I think it’s fair to say that of all of the Arab leaders, Gaddafi probably had more blood on his hands of Americans than anybody else. And when he moved on his own people, threatening a massacre, genocide, the Europeans and the Arabs, our allies and partners, did ask for American help and we provided it.

And we didn’t put a single boot on the ground, and Gaddafi was deposed. The Libyans turned out for one of the most successful, fairest elections that any Arab country has had. They elected moderate leaders. Now, there has been a lot of turmoil and trouble as they have tried to deal with these radical elements which you find in this arc of instability, from north Africa to Afghanistan.

And it is imperative that we do more not only to help our friends and partners protect themselves and protect our own homeland, but also to work to try to deal with this arc of instability, which does have a lot of impact on what happens in a country like Libya.


FA: This is an exceptionally rosy picture of what happened in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. The fact that no boots were on the ground, or that an election was ran means nearly nothing now that Libya has fallen into total chaos. In fact, it is indicative of a failed strategy not a winning one. Not only that, but Libya is now rife with Muslim extremists, including groups directly aligned with ISIS. The rest of her statement is just political muck, talking around the question and not worth addressing at all.

DICKERSON: Governor O’ Malley I want to ask you a question and you can add whatever you’d like to. But let me ask you, is the world too dangerous a place for a governor who has no foreign policy experience?

O’ MALLEY: John, the world is a very dangerous place, but the world is not too dangerous of a place for the United States of America, provided we act according to our principles, provided we act intelligently. I mean, let’s talk about this arc of instability that Secretary Clinton talked about.

Libya is now a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. As Americans, we have shown ourselves to have the greatest military on the face of the planet, but we are not so very good at anticipating threats and appreciating just how difficult it is to build up stable democracies, to make the investments and sustainable development that we must as a nation if we are to attack the root causes of these sorts of instability.

And I wanted to add one other thing, John, and I think it’s important for all of us on this stage. I was in Burlington, Iowa. And a mom of a service member of ours who served two duties in Iraq said, Governor O’ Malley, please, when you’re with your other candidates and colleagues on stage, please don’t use the term ‘boots on the ground’. Let’s don’t use the term ‘boots on the ground’.

My son is not a pair of boots on the ground. These are American soldiers and we fail them when we fail to take into account what happens the day after a dictator falls and when we fail to act with a whole of government approach with sustainable development, diplomacy, and our economic power in alignment with our principles.


FA: Once again, we get no real answer here to the question asked. O’Malley talks about sustainable development to attack what he seems to think is the root of instability in at least the four countries he mentions. How much development is he talking about? Nation building is an expensive affair, especially doing so in a war zone. An explanation on how he intends to do this and how much it would cost would be much appreciated.

Gov. O’Malley also talks about anticipating threats, as if we don’t try to do this today. He needs to talk specifically about how he would rebuild or refocus our intelligence services in order to do this. Just saying “we need to be better” and a guess that a supposed lack of human intelligence capabilities is the problem is not a justified policy.


As for his outrage about the term “boots on the ground,” this seems like a deflection of the question more than a relevant way to use up precious prime-time airtime to showcase a political platform.

CLINTON: Well, I think it’s perfectly fair to say that we invested quite a bit in development aid. Some of the bravest people that I had the privilege of working with as secretary of state were our development professionals who went sometimes alone, sometimes with our military, into very dangerous places in Iraq, in Afghanistan, elsewhere.

So, there does need to be a whole of government approach, but just because we’re involved and we have a strategy doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to dictate the outcome. These are often very long- term kinds of investments that have to be made.


SANDERS: When you talk about the long-term consequences of war, let’s talk about the men and women who came home from war. The 500,000 who came home with PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. And I would hope in the midst of all of this discussion, this country makes certain that we do not turn our backs on the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us, and that we stand with them as they have stood with us.


FA: I believe Sanders is referring to those injured overall in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sadly is even a larger number than the one he stated. Some 900,000 veterans have been treated by the VA for damages caused overseas in both wars. The truth is that this number is probably much lower than the real number, as many veterans do not seek help for lingering war-time medical issues, especially mental ones.

It is good Sanders mentions the troops and our wounded vets, but some would say he could have done much more to help them than he has.

DICKERSON: Secretary Clinton, you mentioned radical jihadists. Marco Rubio, also running for president, said that this attack showed and the attack in Paris showed that we are at war with radical Islam. Do you agree with that characterization, radical Islam?

CLINTON: I don’t think we’re at war with Islam. I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists who have —

DICKERSON: Just to interrupt. He didn’t say all Muslims. He just said radical Islam. Is that a phrase you don’t...

CLINTON: I think THAT you can talk about Islamists who clearly are also jihadists, but I think it’s not particularly helpful to make the case that Senator Sanders was just making that I agree with, that we’ve got to reach out to Muslim countries.

We’ve got to have them be part of our coalition. If they hear people running for president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam, that was one of the real contributions, despite all the other problems, that George W. Bush made after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a Mosque in Washington, we are not at war with Islam or Muslims.

We are at war with violent extremism. We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression. And, yes, we are at war with those people. But I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush.

DICKERSON: The reason I ask is you gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said, that it was important to show, quote, “respect, even for one’s enemies. Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view.” Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?

CLINTON: I think with this kind of barbarism and nihilism, it’s very hard to understand, other than the lust for power, the rejection of modernity, the total disregard for human rights, freedom, or any other value that we know and respect.

Historically, it is important to try to understand your adversary in order to figure out how they are thinking, what they will be doing, how they will react. I plead that it’s very difficult when you deal with ISIS and organizations like that whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power and that’s very difficult to put ourselves in the other shoe.


FA: The question was about being at war with radical Island, not Islam. The question was never directly answered, although it seems like that radical Islam is not a politically correct term for the threat we face when it comes to Secretary Clinton’s vocabulary. Not labeling it as such has been a strong point of contention between the left and the right in the past, maybe Clinton’s rejection of that term is more of a partisan issue than one of semantics. It would just be nice to hear a straight answer to the question instead of changing its context entirely when answering it.

DICKERSON: Just quickly, do either of you, radical Islam, do either of you use that phrase?

SANDERS: I don’t think the term is what’s important. What is important to understand is we have organizations, whether it is ISIS or Al Qaida, who do believe we should go back several thousand years. We should make women third-class citizens, that we should allow children to be sexually assaulted, that they are a danger to modern society.

And that this world, with American leadership, can and must come together to destroy them. We can do that. And it requires an entire world to come together, including in a very active way, the Muslim nations.

DICKERSON: Governor O’ Malley, you have been making the case when you talk about lack of forward vision, you’re essentially saying that Secretary Clinton lacks that vision and this critique matches up with this discussion of language. The critique is that the softness of language betrays a softness of approach. So if this language — if you don’t call it by what it is, how can your approach be effective to the cause? that’s the critique.

O’ MALLEY: I believe calling it what it is, is to say radical jihadis. That’s calling it what it is. But John, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that all of our Muslim American neighbors in this country are somehow our enemies here. They are our first line of defense.

And we are going to be able to defeat ISIS on the ground there, as well as in this world, because of the Muslim Americans in our country and throughout the world who understand that this brutal and barbaric group is perverting the name of a great world religion. And now, like never before, we need our Muslim American neighbors to stand up and to — and to be a part of this.


FA: “Radical Jihadis,” that is a new one. I will let you judge that term for yourself.

DICKERSON: Secretary Clinton, the French president has called this attack an act of war.


DICKERSON: A couple of days ago you were asked if you would declare war on ISIS and you said no. What would you say now?

CLINTON: Well, we have an authorization to use military force against terrorists. We passed it after 9/11.

DICKERSON: And you think that covers all of this?

CLINTON: It certainly does cover it. I would like to see it updated.

DICKERSON: If you were in the Senate, would you be okay with the commander in chief doing that without it coming back to you?

CLINTON: No, it would have to go through the Congress, and I know the White House has actually been working with members of Congress. Maybe now we can get it moving again so that we can upgrade it so that it does include all the tools and everything in our arsenal that we can use to try to work with our allies and our friends, come up with better intelligence.

You know, it is difficult finding intelligence that is actionable in a lot of these places, but we have to keep trying. And we have to do more to prevent the flood of foreign fighters that have gone to Syria, especially the ones with western passports, that come back. So there’s a lot of work we need to do and I want to be sure what’s called the AUMF, has the authority that is needed going forward.

DICKERSON: Senator, let me just — let’s add to whatever you’ve got to say. Refugees. You’ve been a little vague on what you would do about the Syrian refugees. What’s your view on them now?

SANDERS: Let me do that but let me pick up on an issue, a very important issue that we have not yet discussed. This nation is the most powerful military in the world. We’re spending over $600 billion a year on the military and yet, significantly less than 10 percent of that money is used to be fighting international terrorism.

We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons. I think we need major reform in the military, making it more cost effective, but also focusing on the real crisis that faces us.

The Cold War is over. And our focus has got to be on intelligence, increased manpower, fighting internationally targets. So, in terms of refugees, I believe that the United States has the moral responsibility with Europe, with Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia to make sure that when people leave countries like Afghanistan and Syria with nothing more than the clothing on their back that, of course, we reach out.

Now, what the magic number is, I don’t know, because we don’t know the extent of the problem. But I certainly think that the United States should take its full responsibility in helping those people.


FA: Sanders is not accurate when it comes to what he claims we are spending on fighting terrorism as a proportion of the DoD’s budget. 11 percent of the Pentagon’s mainline budget is said to be dedicated to counter-terrorism efforts. Beyond this, tens of billions are spent in Afghanistan, which can be seen at least partially as an anti-terror fight. In addition, tens of billions more are spent outside the DoD’s budget, among the intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security, although this was not part of his claim.

As for his comment on maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons, that number is in the process of being drastically reduced under the New START treaty. It should come down to 1,500 by the turn of the decade, if the treaty holds up.


When it comes to reforming our military to fight asymmetric opponents like terror groups, that is possible, but how far is anyone willing to go in stripping our capabilities in other key areas, like fighting near peer-state opponents. Additionally, it seems like the choice of both the Democrats and the Republicans has been to use traditional military capabilities against non-traditional foes, many of which are non-state actors. As such, cutting these capabilities drastically would result in a net loss of critical combat power currently being used in the field against ISIS and other groups.

As for his comments on focusing on “increased manpower” and “international targets,” I have no idea what he is talking about. His mention of focusing on intelligence is once again valid, but how would he do this differently than what is being done today. Additionally, you can have all the intelligence in the world, but if you don’t have military assets in place around the world to rapidly act on it, it can be totally useless.

DICKERSON: Governor O’Malley, you have a magic number. I think it’s 65,000. Does that number go up or down based on what happened yesterday?

OMALLEY: John, I was the first person on this stage to say that we should accept the 65,000 Syrian refugees that were fleeing the sort of murder of ISIL, and I believe that that needs to be done with proper screening. But accommodating 65,000 refugees in our country today, people of 320 million, is akin to making room for 6.5 more people in a baseball stadium with 32,000.

There are other ways to lead and to be a moral leader in this world, rather than at the opposite end of a drone strike. But I would want to agree with something that Senator Sanders says. The nature of warfare has changed. This is not a conflict where we send in the third divisions of Marines. This is a new era of conflict where traditional ways of huge standing armies are not as — serve our purposes as well as special ops, better intelligence and being more proactive.


FA: Unfortunately, sometimes you have no choice but to occupy territory with troops. Well-trained soldiers are not just manufactured in a day. Cutting standing forces drastically can be highly detrimental in a conflict where you simply need an armed presence. And as much as we think we can pick and choose the conflicts we participate in like we largely have since Vietnam, this reality is changing. We don’t know if the next major war will dictate 50,000 troops or 500,000 troops. As such, drastically drawing down our infantry would be a dangerous affair.

Special ops, intelligence and nation building can do good things, but often times you need a Marine with an M-16 on a corner or a Army squad on a ridge in order to win and maintain that win on the battlefield. This is a fact of warfare that has not changed through the centuries and no matter how much people wish it weren’t the case, it’s not changing now.

DICKERSON: Just very quickly, 65,000, the number stays?

OMALLEY: That’s what I understand is the request from the international...

DICKERSON: But for you, what would you want?

OMALLEY: I would want us to take our place among the nations of the world to alleviate this sort of death and the specter we saw of little kids’ bodies washing up on a beach.

DICKERSON: Secretary Clinton, let me ask you a question from twitter which has come in and this is a question on this issue of refugees. The question is, with the U.S. preparing to absorb Syrian refugees, how do you propose we screen those coming in to keep citizens safe?

CLINTON: I think that is the number one requirement. I also said that we should take increased numbers of refugees. The administration originally said 10. I said we should go to 65, but only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine, whatever resources it takes because I do not want us to, in any way, inadvertently allow people who wish us harm to come into our country.

But I want to say a quick word about what Senator Sanders and then Governor O’Malley said. We do have to take a hard look at the defense budget and we do have to figure out how we get ready to fight the adversaries of the future, not the past. But we have to also be very clear that we do have some continuing challenges.

We’ve got challenges in the South China Sea because of what China is doing in building up these military installations. We have problems with Russia. Just the other day, Russia allowed a television camera to see the plans for a drone submarine that could carry a tactical nuclear weapon. So we’ve got to look at the full range and then come to some smart decisions about having more streamlined and focused approach.


FA: The refugee issue is a tough one. Certainly the vast, vast majority of these refugees are fleeing ISIS and mean no harm to civilians in other countries. Is it even possible to vet tens of thousands of refugees, considering the situation we are dealing with when it comes to ISIS and the recent attacks in France? Let’s hear if it is possible to screen these individuals effectively before throwing numbers around. Maybe we could take more than 65,000 if we have a good system in place.

As for Russia’s nuclear armed unmanned submersible Clinton cites, our own Michael Ballaban took a look at the system recently.


The next debate will have the Republican candidates squaring off on CNN in Nevada once again on December 15th.

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