Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts 5 Questions on the Islamic State for GOP Presidential Candidates

5 Questions on the Islamic State for GOP Presidential Candidates


The final episode of this year’s worst reality television show — the GOP presidential primary contest — airs on CNN tonight. The final Republican primary debate of the year will likely bring more of the same: lots of colorful language and chest thumping on national security. Candidates will likely pledge to “get tough” on the self-proclaimed Islamic State and subsequently offer no tangible points to detail how their approaches might differ from that of the Obama administration.

To criticize only the Republicans would be unfair. The Democratic presidential debate last month initially focused on national security and proved equally atrocious. Democratic counterterrorism strategy questions veered strangely to discussions on climate change and the economy. Despite attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in recent weeks, neither party’s candidates, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, appears to offer any reasonable policy positions for defeating the Islamic State menace some so enjoy inflating when bashing the current administration.

Political debates at this level are inherently political theater, but presidential primary debates have become more bizarre and grotesque with each election cycle. We should expect no difficult questions from CNN moderators regarding U.S. counterterrorism strategy broadly, or more narrowly about how to defeat the Islamic State. But, let’s imagine an ideal debate where candidates didn’t really know the questions in advance and were required to elaborate on their tough talk. Here are five counterterrorism questions pertaining to the Islamic State that might be asked.

Question #1 — “Grand Strategy”
Do you believe the U.S. should continue to spread democracy across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia as a long-term strategy to counter violent extremism?

Think back to more than a decade ago, when the United States sought to build democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The big idea of the Bush administration: Americans would win the hearts and minds of communities gripped by extremists by providing them…

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