GOP Debate: EMP, Muslim Immigration Stand out
Fri, January 15, 2016
Illustrative photo (© U.S. Government)
Two discussions about Islamist extremism stood out at in the January 14 Republican presidential debate: Disagreements over the handling of Muslim immigration and refugees, and the fact that two presidential candidates introduced the audience to the existential threat posed by a potential nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and neurosurgeon Ben Carson are to be commended for bringing the issue before the American people in their debate performances in explaining the nuclear threat from Iran and other adversaries.
The EMP option, where a nuclear weapon is detonated at a high altitude over an enemy country with the purpose of collapsing its electrical infrastructure, is one of the few things that could actually destroy the United States. It sounds like a fantastical scenario from a Hollywood science fiction film, but the government-sanctioned EMP Threat Commission concluded the threat is real and would kill a large majority of Americans if properly executed.
Congressional testimony in December 2014 revealed a single Iranian military document mentioned the EMP option at least 20 times, sometimes specifically in reference to the U.S. The Iranian regime has been seen apparently simulating an EMP strike in the sea.
To learn more about the EMP threat, you can watch this Clarion Project short film. We also have a interview with nuclear expert Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who served on the EMP Threat Commission as well as an interview with former Pentagon official Michael Maloof.
Santorum and Carson each summarized what an EMP attack is, with the former doing so in greater detail and with more clarity. Santorum emphasized Iran has talked about an EMP attack and war-gamed it and criticized Congress for not passing legislation to protect the power grid from a potential strike, referring to the SHIELD Act.
The biggest disagreement related to Islamist extremism was over Donald Trump's proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration until security is adequately improved. No candidate agreed with his blanket approach.
Senator Ted Cruz came the closest to Trump's position by pointing towards his legislation to ban the resettlement of refugees from countries where al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) have a significant presence.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was the most hostile to Trump's idea, describing it as "unhinged." Aside from being morally wrong, Bush said Trump would be unable to build coalitions with Muslim partners and send signals of weakness to the world. He used India as an example of where a relationship with an ally would be undermined because the country's has a large Muslim population.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would not allow in any Syrian refugee of any type because of security concerns, but opposes a broader ban on Muslim refugees and immigrants unless they are jihadists. He warned against treating Muslims as if they are all the same.
Ohio Governor John Kasich's stated position differed slightly because he emphasized his proposed ban on Syrian refugee resettlement would be only temporary until obvious flaws in the vetting process are fixed. Christie's answer did not make it clear whether his refusal to accept Syrian refugees would be permanent.
Yet again, Afghanistan—a country where the U.S. military is still involved in a war—received barely a mention over the hours of debate. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was the only one pressed on his strategy for the country, providing only a vague answer that he'd only keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan if the mission is counter-terrorism and not democracy promotion or nation building, such as constructing schools or delivering humanitarian aid.
Santorum went into the greatest amount of detail about Iran, arguing that deal wasn't technically accepted by the Iranian side. He said that an altered version was accepted by its so-called "parliament" and that Iran violated the agreement by testing ballistic missiles. He blasted President Barack Obama for canceling the planned announcement of sanctions on Iran for those tests after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he'd retaliate.
After painting a picture of an EMP attack, he said Iran cannot be deterred because the regime is theologically motivated and believes such devastation is necessary for the Mahdi, the messianic figure of Islam, to appear and conquer the world.
Christie and Carson gave the most substantive answers on Syria.
Christie reminded viewers that Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton described Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a "reformer" and criticized the Obama Administration for failing to retaliate militarily against al-Assad after he crossed the chemical weapons "red line." He was indignant that the administration chose not to conduct limited airstrikes because Russia pressured Assad into pledging to dismantle his chemical weapons arsenal.
He said the civil war in Syria, which allows terrorist groups like the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to thrive, will not end until al-Assad is forced out of power. Christie indicated he would address the refugee crisis by implementing a no-fly zone over Syria so they could stay in their country.
Christie was also the strongest advocate of democracy promotion, saying there is a correlation between safety and the number of democracies around the world. He claimed there are fewer democracies now than when Obama first took office.
Carson said the U.S. should look to Syria's Hasakah Province as a haven for refugees because rebels opposed to both ISIS and the al-Assad regime are present and its infrastructure can support a large population.
Huckabee criticized the president for his emphasis on not offending the Muslim world and accused him of exaggerating the mistreatment of Muslim-Americans. Huckabee said the FBI hate-crime statistics show the majority of hate crimes are against Jews and so Obama should have condemned anti-Semitism in the State of the Union Address if he's going to condemn anti-Muslim sentiment.
Kasich stands out as the candidate with the toughest line on Saudi Arabia, lamenting that recent presidents have ignored its financing of radical madrassas and clerics around the world. He said he would work with the Saudis against the Islamic State but conditioned assistance on the Saudis ending their sponsorship of radical Islam.
The Clarion Project has comprehensive profiles of every presidential candidate's positions related to Islamist extremism from both parties. You can read and compare their views in detail in our election section.
View the full debate:
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.