- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Republican presidential candidates angled Tuesday to steal the spotlight on national security issues that now dominate the race, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vowing to restore NSA’s phone-snooping program canceled this year over civil liberties concerns.

He also advocated reviving CIA enhanced interrogation techniques from President George W. Bush’s war on terror for use in the war against the Islamic State. President Obama stopped the use of harsh methods such as waterboarding when he took office in 2009, likening it to “torture.”

Mr. Christie said that the president had underestimated the threat from the Islamic State, and extreme measures were needed to protect the homeland.

“This is a cult of evil,” Mr. Christie said of the Islamic State in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “We can never allow this cult of evil to take hold in our country, and we can never be willing to allow it to be among us.”

With the new focus on national security in the presidential contest, Mr. Christie has tried to make his experience as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey prosecuting terrorism cases following Sept. 11 a central argument for his candidacy.

He is polling near the bottom of a crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls and looking for an issue with which to gain traction.

The future of the NSA phone-snooping program, which was revealed by leaker Edward Snowden in 2013, has the potential to divide the Republican candidates.

Legislation that Mr. Obama signed this summer will end the government’s collection of metadata from every U.S. phone call as of Nov. 29, turning over the task of collecting and storing the records of the phone companies and forcing the spy agency to request access for terrorism investigations on a case-by-case basis.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, introduced a bill last week that would keep the program under NSA for the foreseeable future. The Senate won’t take it up before the program expires, but the issue isn’t going away.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposed the bill that ended the NSA program, endorsed the Cotton bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has been vying with Mr. Rubio for third place in the Republican presidential race, voted for the bill that ended NSA phone-snooping, though he hasn’t re-raised the issue in recent days.

Another Republican candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, has been the most outspoken opponent of NSA’s phone-snooping.

Mr. Christie and Mr. Paul have clashed on the issue before, and the governor said in his speech that the Paris attack underscored Mr. Paul’s error.

“It’s easy to theorize and debate in some subcommittee in the basement of the Capitol when you’ve never been responsible for implementing those policies or making those decisions,” he said. “I made these decisions. I’ve used the Patriot Act. I’ve seen the indispensable role that intelligence plays in preventing attacks on the American homeland.”

Mr. Christie also took a swipe at Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio for being first-term senators seeking to be commander in chief in the same way that then-Sen. Barack Obama ascended to the White House.

“New is untarnished, but new is untested. New is not necessarily reliable. New seems fabulous until the moment comes when you need experience,” said Mr. Christie. “Less than one term in the U.S. Senate has proven to be woeful training in the Oval Office.”

All the Republican candidates have upped the ante on anti-terrorism measures in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks by teams of gunmen and suicide bombers that killed at least 130 people and injured more than 350 in Paris, heightening terrorism fears in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, told supporters Monday that he would “absolutely” bring back waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

“You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat,” Mr. Trump said “And I would approve more than that. Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.

“And you know what?” he added. “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they’re doing.”

Mr. Rubio flexed his foreign policy muscle by calling for the U.S. to stand with Turkey after the NATO ally shot down a Russian fighter jet on its border with Syria.

“This is a critical moment,” Mr. Rubio said Tuesday on Fox News, “if Russia believes that they can respond and retaliate against Turkey because NATO is not going to do anything about it. What they are basically doing is making the argument that NATO is no longer viable, that it is a feckless alliance.

“It’s important for us to be very clear that we will respond and defend Turkey if they come under assault from the Russians. Otherwise the entire NATO alliance comes into question,” he said.

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