The contrast between the two major political parties after the Friday terrorist attacks in Paris couldn’t be clearer, with nearly every Republican presidential candidate calling for the U.S. to lead a campaign to destroy the Islamic State, while Democrats want someone else to do it.
Republicans have called for stepped-up U.S. military action ranging from increased airstrikes to troops on the ground, putting American military might at the forefront of a war against the terrorist army of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“This is a war,” Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declared Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“We’re going to have to knock them out and knock them out hard, because otherwise this is going to be a cancer that festers and festers and only gets worse,” said the billionaire businessman and TV personality, who has advocated intensifying U.S. airstrikes and sending 10,000 U.S. troops into battle.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also called for deployment of U.S. troops, who would have a mission to destroy the Islamic State and then leave.
It was a bold statement from Mr. Bush, who has struggled to separate himself from criticism of his brother, former President George W. Bush, who decided to invade Iraq in 2003.
“This is the war of our time,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We cannot do this by leading from behind. This requires American leadership, it doesn’t require us to be the world’s police, but it does require us to lead.”
On the Democratic side, the reaction to the bloodbath in Paris has been equally resolute but with an emphasis on prodding allies in Europe and the Middle East to do the dirty work.
“It cannot be an American fight,” former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said at a candidates debate Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Mrs. Clinton said she backed the strategy of her former boss, President Obama, who has relied on airstrikes and limited U.S. troops as advisers to help the Kurdish and Iraqi forces take on the Islamic State.
“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,” said Mrs. Clinton. “But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”
Mr. Obama said Monday that he would “double down” on his strategy of airstrikes and advisers. He insisted that deploying U.S. troops would be a mistake.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, said U.S. troops should lead an international coalition in a ground war against the Islamic State.
“Boots on the ground would probably be important, because throughout that whole Middle East region, we have been calling for a coalition of people who have a vested interest,” he said. “We have not seen a coalition form, but that’s because there has been no leadership.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called for the use of overwhelming air power to obliterate the Islamic State, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised not to be a president of “inaction” like Mr. Obama.
At the Democratic debate, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont echoed Mrs. Clinton but added that it was time for Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan to “get their hands dirty” fighting the Islamic State.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took Mrs. Clinton to task for saying it cannot be an American fight but then offered the same remedy as Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.
“This actually is America’s fight. It cannot solely be America’s fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies,” he said. “America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world.”
Mr. O’Malley called for the U.S. to “rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances” to confront the Islamic State. He did not specify what type of action the U.S. should take but proposed improved human intelligence to anticipate crises.
The next day, at a barbecue hosted by Democratic groups in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton used tougher talk about going after terrorists. But she still looked to others to join the fight.
“We have to be rallying our partners and allies, pulling countries off the sidelines,” she said.
The teams of gunmen and suicide bombers that killed at least 129 people and wounded 352 more in Paris carried out the latest in a string of attacks on European targets by the Islamic State, a self-proclaimed caliphate that controls a swath of territory in Iraq and Syria the size of the United Kingdom.
The terrorist group was implicated in the downing of a Russian passenger jet two weeks ago over Egypt that killed all 224 people onboard and twin bombings last week in Beirut that killed dozens of people.