The debate was filled with discussions of how the U.S. should fight Islamist extremism. Find out the differences between the candidates here
The fifth Republican presidential debate took place last Tuesday, December 15th and focused on national security. It was filled with substance discussions of how the U.S. should fight Islamist extremism, highlighting important differences on handling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, democracy promotion and an almost universal desire to ally with Muslims who stand against Islamist extremism.
You can read the Clarion Project’s factsheets on each Democratic and Republican presidential candidate’s positions related to Islamist extremism on their web site, (www.clarionproject.org). These factsheets do not reflect new positions taken during last night’s debate. Here is a round-up the specific issues discussed by the candidates last night:
Identifying the Ideology
All the candidates defined the enemy with different variants of “radical Islam,” as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s definition of it as “jihadism” and President Obama’s choice of “violent extremism.” A few of the candidates displayed a greater knowledge of the nature of the Islamist ideology.
Rick Santorum identified the core threat as a “theocracy doctrine” emanating from the fact that Islam originated as a dual religious-governmental system under sharia law.
He said this feature makes Islam “different” from other major faiths. “Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is that Islam is a religion but it is also sharialaw; it is also a civil government; a form of government. And so the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong. And, in fact, that political structure is what is the big problem. The imposition of sharia law adherence in fundamental Islam, as it was practiced in the 7th Century. There has to be a line drawn,” he said.
Santorum also said the conflict has evolved into World War III because U.S. policy has “lit the fuse of a nuclear Iran.”
Mike Huckabee stated that he agreed with Santorum’s assessment of Islam. He later said that the objective must be to defeat “every form of radical Islam,” which is an expansion from the exclusive focus on ISIS and Iran.
Ted Cruz said that the U.S. is not at war with the faith of Islam but with a political-theocratic Islamic ideology. He pointed to India, a country with a large Muslim population, to show that the West is not at war with the entire Muslim world. However, Cruz said that being a “Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter” is not the answer and mocked democracy-promoters for touting moderate Muslim forces that are like “a purple unicorn” and end up being jihadists.
Ted Cruz explained his opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone metadata and his vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act to stop the bulk collection. He argued that the act actually expand the amount of counter-terrorism intelligence available to authorities, reduce information overload that inhibits operations and expand the surveillance of other phones used by terrorists.
Marco Rubio defended his support of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata and said the changes under the USA Freedom Act means that federal authorities have lost valuable intelligence. He alluded to the fact that his position in the Senate gives him access to classified information that would vindicate his position.
Rand Paul sided with Cruz in opposing the NSA’s metadata collection program on the grounds of civil liberties and that it results in information overload for the authorities.
George Pataki most strongly spoke about Islamist extremist networks within the U.S. aside from terrorist cells. He cited the NYPD’s controversial counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering as a model of success because it focused on mosques, community meetings and social media where radical ideologies are present. In the past, he has said he’d apply the same standard to any houses of worship or public venue where it is known that violent extremism is being advocated.
Pataki said that the advocating of violence against Americans, including support for jihad against the U.S., is not protected free speech and should be prosecuted. He has previously stated that non-profit organizations that promote terrorist groups or incite violence against Americans should lose their tax-exempt status.
Pataki said that the U.S. must work with Muslims who oppose violent jihad abroad and at home, implying that the U.S. has not done enough to support moderate leaders domestically like the newly-announced Muslim Reform Movement.
He twice emphasized the need for a law to force communications companies to have a backdoor key so the authorities can decode any encrypted message sent through their service, pointing to how 109 encrypted messages sent by an ISIS supporter who committed a shooting in Texas have still not been deciphered by the FBI.
Carly Fiorina opposes a federal law like Pataki talked about, saying that private companies will cooperate if asked as she did when she led Hewlett-Packard. She recalled an incident where she responded to the NSA’s request for assistance.
John Kasich spoke about the need to enable the federal authorities to decode the encrypted messages of terrorists.
Mike Huckabee agreed with Pataki that it is not a violation of the Constitution for the NYPD and other agencies to attend public venues just like any American citizen can, whether it’s to listen to a sermon at a mosque or a church. Huckabee questioned the motives of Islamic groups that oppose such practices. He said that a house of worship with a true message of peace would be okay with anyone attending and would hope of winning a convert.
Ben Carson says he supports the authorities monitoring anywhere that shows signs of radicalization, including mosques and Islamic schools. He explicitly referenced a 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Explanatory Memorandum that was released during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. Carson mentioned how the memo indicates that the Brotherhood planned to use political correctness against us.
Rick Santorum, as mentioned above, said that the political-governmental aspects of Islam should not be treated the same way as the solely religious part of Islam. He said the former is not protected by the First Amendment in the same way.
He supports the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection and emphasized that the data is not the content of conversations and has no personal identifiers unless someone’s phone number is linked to a phone number used by an overseas terrorist. His argument is that the collection of more anonymous data enables less intrusive intelligence collection that raises privacy issues.
He opposes a measure by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to prevent the purchase of guns by those who are on the no-fly list because of constitutional concerns. The individual is denied a right by being placed on a secret list without recourse. He said that a better option is stronger coordination between the government agencies so background checks detect suspected terrorists trying to purchase guns.
Lindsey Graham supports the NSA’s metadata collection program. He added that once an American’s phone number is found in a terrorist’s phone, a court order is still needed in order to authorize a wiretap of that American citizen’s communications.
Chris Christie emphasized that he worked as the U.S. Attorney for N.J. and prosecuted terrorists using controversial programs like the Patriot Act and maintained his support for them. He said he worked successfully with the Muslim community in his state on counter-terrorism efforts.
Jeb Bush sounded dismissive of the need for broader authority to monitor radicalization within the U.S. He said that the FBI and other agencies are already watching anti-American activity and it shouldn’t even be a part of the public discussion. (Clarion Project)