Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush had a heated exchange during Thursday night’s GOP debate over how to fight the Islamic State and handle Russia’s aggressive foreign policy.
Bush called President Obama’s strategy to counter ISIS one of containment that is a “complete, unmitigated disaster,” adding that the United States must both destroy the jihadist group and depose Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Bush then criticized Trump’s plan to work with Russia to fight ISIS and end the Syrian civil war, a conflict that has helped feed the group’s recruitment.
“Donald Trump brought up the fact that he would want to accommodate Russia,” Bush said. “Russia is not taking out ISIS. They’re attacking our team, the team that we’ve been training and the team we’ve been supporting. It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that Russia could be a positive partner in this.”
In response, Trump said he likes Russian president Vladimir Putin “so far,” before adding that he thinks Bush is wrong about removing Assad from power.
“Jeb is so wrong. You got to fight ISIS first. Right now you have Russia, you have Iran, you have them with Assad, and you have them with Syria. You have to knock out ISIS … You have to knock them off strong. [Then] you decide what to do after. You can’t fight two wars at one time.”
Trump also said the U.S. has been fighting wars in the Middle East for 15 years with no success, in an apparent reference to George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
The real estate mogul then brought up Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who supports Bush and shares, according to Trump, the same foreign policy views as Bush. He added that Graham had low poll numbers when he was in the presidential race, drawing boos from the audience.
“I only tell the truth, lobbyists,” Trump said in response to the boos. “We spent $5 trillion dollars all over the Middle East. We have to rebuild our country; we have to rebuild our infrastructure; you listen to that you’re going to be there for another 15 years.”
Bush emphasized that Russia is not America’s ally in the Middle East and is attacking U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, opting instead for forming a Sunni coalition to defeat ISIS.
“We need to create a coalition, Sunni-led coalition, on the ground with our special operators to destroy ISIS and bring about stability,” Bush said. “And you can’t do that with Assad in power.”
Trump interrupted Bush, saying that the U.S. is supporting troops that it cannot properly identify.
“This is from a guy who gets his foreign policy from the shows. This is a guy who thinks Hillary Clinton is a great negotiator with Iran,” Bush said in response, referencing statements the GOP frontrunner has made in past interviews.
Both candidates then tried arguing over one another until the moderator interjected to ask another question.