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How Did The GOP Candidates Do On Issues Of National Security?


The Republican debate stuck to one topic last night, national security. The candidates argued about ISIS, surveillance and domestic terrorism. Let's revisit some of that debate now with Mary Beth Long. She was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Bush administration. And nice to have you back.

MARY BETH LONG: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, one subject Republican candidates have tended to avoid up to now was, in fact, George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, not last night. Here's Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP: We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East. We've done a tremendous disservice to humanity, the people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away and for what? It's not like we had victory.

MONTAGNE: How do you think criticism of the last administration and that war will play out in this Republican presidential contest?

LONG: Well, I think one of the things it'll do is draw a real distinction between and among the candidates. You really have Trump and Rand Paul who are operating on the premise that our involvement in the Middle East has created a mess and that that mess is very difficult to understand and that we can do very little, actually, to resolve that. On the other hand, you have Bush who was asked a very direct question whether or not the activities under his brother President Bush were the right activities and whether the Iraq invasion was the right move to make. And he did not back down by supporting that maneuver.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, that war, the war in Iraq, has been blamed for giving rise to ISIS, which is our current problem facing national security and national security issues. Many of the candidates agreed Arab allies need to step up to fight ISIS by contributing ground troops. What about that?

LONG: That came up actually in a couple of different contexts. I think Chris Christie and Gov. Bush, more than anyone, made the point that it's very difficult to ask moderate Muslim countries and moderate Muslims as a whole to step up and do more while you are considering banning practitioners of the Islamic faith from actually entering your country and making criticisms along those lines whereas Trump, in particular, and some others were quite critical. One of the things that didn't come up is what the Arab coalitions are doing in Yemen and other places to support non-ground activities.

MONTAGNE: Right. Of course, ground troops being very different than, you know - of course, airstrikes being very different than ground troops. But to move on, probably the sharpest disagreement last night was over the government's now defunct bulk collection of phone records, very controversial. Marco Rubio was all over Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because as senators, they helped shut it down. Here's Rubio talking about how it is needed to fight ISIS.


MARCO RUBIO: This is not just the most capable. It is the most sophisticated terror threat that we have ever faced. We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools. And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.

MONTAGNE: And so where do you think Republican voters are likely to come down on this argument?

LONG: Again, I think they're split, and the difference is in the opinions really came out last night with the Marco Rubio and the presidential candidates along the lines of Fiorina and Bush really saying all the tools in the toolbox, including some collection that was terminated with most recent legislation, with the Rand Paul and Ted Cruz basically saying that the privacy rights should govern, and that if the tools are needed, the police or other authorities can ask for them.

MONTAGNE: Well, there's plenty more to talk about, but we're going to have to leave it here for now. Thank you very much.

LONG: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Mary Beth Long served in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush. She's founder and CEO of Metis Solutions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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