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Presidential Candidates Offer Aggressive Strategies To Combat ISIS


The presidential race is a story of polls, debates, ads and accusations. It's also a story about policy, so this Platform Check, where we take time to look at what the candidates will do if they become president. This week, an American service member was killed in Iraq during a battle with Islamic State militants. And to discuss the presidential candidates' strategies towards ISIS, we're now joined by Nora Bensahel of American University. Welcome to the studio.

NORA BENSAHEL: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: So let's start with the apparent Republican nominee, Donald Trump, because he's repeated a variation of this on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP: ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil camps, right? They have certain areas of oil that they took away. They have some in Syria, some in Iraq. I would bomb the [expletive] out of them.


CORNISH: All right, Nor Bensahel, let's break this down a little bit. What can we expect from a President Trump?

BENSAHEL: Will Trump has been very consistent on the campaign trail about the need to defeat ISIS, mostly talking about an air campaign, but also saying that if the generals recommended an increase in troops on the ground, that he, as president, would be supportive of that.

CORNISH: At the same time, he's also talked about cutting taxes. And does that extend to having less money for the military? I mean, does he talk about how he might strengthen the military presence against ISIS?

BENSAHEL: He doesn't talk about it in any specific detail. He just repeats the need to be strong, the fact that ISIS needs to be destroyed. He also talks a lot about wanting to stop Muslim immigration to the United States unless there is, in his words, some sort of adequate vetting, even though there's no real evidence that the vetting of people integrating into United States has been a problem.

CORNISH: This is a big contrast with Hillary Clinton. Here's what she had to say about this.


HILLARY CLINTON: We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations. Discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee - that is just not who we are. And remember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us.

CORNISH: Nora Bensahel, what do you hear in the distinction she's trying to make?

BENSAHEL: She's trying to talk about a more comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS. She has talked about the military need to step up the air campaign. But looking at how we conduct immigration, the need to defeat the terrorist network as a whole and still maintain what she has described as our national values is - stands in very stark contrast to what Donald Trump has said in many of his rallies, where he's talked about closing the borders, even at some points talking about going after the families of terrorists, even though he walked back from that. That's the distinction that she's trying to draw.

CORNISH: Talk about the idea of the use of American ground forces, say, with a Hillary Clinton. You mentioned air campaign. Is there some statement about, quote, unquote, "boots on the ground" when it comes to ISIS?

BENSAHEL: She has said - I think she used the word eventually - ground forces will be needed to retake the territory that ISIS currently holds in Iraq and Syria. But she has also stated very clearly that she believes that should be the responsibility of U.S. allies and partners, not U.S. forces. Donald Trump has also said there would need to be some sort of ground element of the campaign, but he has said specifically that if the generals recommended it, that he would be willing to support anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000 troops on the ground.

CORNISH: Now, I want to talk about another candidate still in the running, Bernie Sanders, because his message has been very focused on the economy, domestic policies. What have you heard from him when it comes to foreign policy? What do we know about the approach he'd take on ISIS, on terror?

BENSAHEL: He only briefly mentioned this in November after the terrorist attacks in Paris. And his views are very consistent with Hillary Clinton's in terms of the need to destroy ISIS through a broad coalition. The only real difference there is that he named names - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Emirates - as needing to do more.

CORNISH: People have described Sanders' candidacy as essentially drawing Hillary Clinton to the left, certainly on economic issues. Do you see any similar impact when it comes to foreign policy?

BENSAHEL: I don't because it's not a centerpiece of his campaign. In fact, none of the campaigns have really made foreign policy front and center. Other than the responses to the European attacks, they haven't talked much - any of the candidates - about the detailed policy that they would pursue.

CORNISH: Nora Bensahel is a scholar in residence at American University's School of International Service. Thank you for coming in.

BENSAHEL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.