Presidential Candidates' Take On ISIS Ranges From International Coalitions To Full Out War

National security is always a topic of heated discussion in the United States, but never more so than during a presidential election season. Particularly in the wake of recent events in France, Turkey, and Egypt, ISIS will likely remain an important talking point for the remaining candidates as they head into their respective primaries in early 2016. Currently, we don't know much about how the presidential candidates would handle ISIS if given the position of commander-in-chief. What we do know, though, is that they don't think the Obama administration is handling ISIS properly.

On Friday, a string of coordinated attacks throughout the city of Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more wounded. ISIS has been blamed for the attacks, making Paris just the most recent city hit by the militant group's violence. About two weeks ago, ISIS took responsibility for shooting down a Russian commercial airplane over Egypt, killing all 224 passengers and crew members on board, though that has yet to be confirmed by Russian authorities. In early October, two bombs blew up outside a busy train station in the city of Ankara, Turkey's capital. ISIS was largely suspected to have been involved in those attacks, which killed roughly 100 people, as well. In the midst of all of this, the United States has led an international coalition in airstrikes against ISIS, and President Obama had even said the group was "contained."


Regardless of your politics, it has become painfully, unfortunately obvious that ISIS continues to wreak havoc on cities across the world. After years of drawn out, highly controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's often thought the American public would not support another war that involves American troops on the ground anytime soon. The truth is, Americans' support of ground troops fighting ISIS has fluctuated, and Obama has largely heeded that hesitancy in his approach. This latest string of attacks, though, could result in Americans or U.S. allies around the world to call for increased pressure on ISIS terrorists moving forward.

Ultimately, there's no easy answer to confronting the situation, but one of the candidates will have to deal with it come January 2017. They don't all have specific plans — at least not plans they've talked about — but here's a look at some of the strategies we could be choosing between at the polls.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democratic candidates had the opportunity Saturday night to discuss their plans for counterterrorism during the second Democratic debate. For her part, Clinton remained vague (a trend you'll notice among many candidates), but she called for cooperation among nations to root out the radical jihadist ideology that fuels ISIS. "It cannot be an American fight," she said.

Working with partner countries seems to be Clinton's plan for ISIS. It's what she described at Saturday's debate; it's what she reaffirmed at a campaign event on Sunday; and it's what is written on her campaign website. Although she made a bold statement on Saturday, refuting Obama's claim that ISIS had been contained, it's unclear how Clinton's plan actually differs from Obama's. (As of Sunday, Obama reportedly encouraged Western and Middle Eastern nations at the economic G20 Summit to up their support of U.S.-led air strikes.)

Martin O'Malley

For his part, Martin O'Malley disagreed with Clinton on Saturday, saying that the fight against ISIS "actually is America's fight." Still, like Clinton, he did little to distinguish his plan from others — he supports working with a coalition of nations to use force against ISIS.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is more known for his focus on domestic, social issues than on national security or foreign policy. At the debate on Saturday, it seemed clear that he didn't have a strong plan for handling ISIS. He blamed the "disastrous" invasion of Iraq for the development of ISIS, but he didn't give specifics about how he would address the situation as president. His campaign website merely says that he would pursue diplomatic options — like economic sanctions, for example — before anything else. Diplomacy sounds great, but it seems unlikely that an ISIS negotiator would sit at a round table with President Sanders.

Donald Trump

On the Republican side, criticizing the Obama administration is nothing new, especially not for Donald Trump. Trump's campaign website does not appear to address ISIS, or national security at all, but he has spoken publicly about his would-be approach. At a rally on Saturday, he called for gun rights as a way to keep people safe during attacks like those in Paris.

You can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry, it would have been a much, much different situation.

On Thursday, a day before the attacks in Paris, Trump spoke during a rally in Iowa and in an interview with CNN about his plan for handling ISIS, which includes bombing oil fields and sending in ground troops to guard overtaken facilities.

ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil camps, certain areas of oil that they took away.

Trump said that he would bomb the oil facilities, bring Exxon in to rebuild them, and then send troops to form a ring around the oil camps to guard them. While his plan represents the boldness that many may want in the wake of recent tragedies, putting ground troops in or near ISIS territory doesn't seem to be what most of America wants right now.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio has gotten some attention lately for his defense of national security spending. During last week's Republican debate, Rubio and Rand Paul went back and forth over military spending. Rubio called for strengthening U.S. forces even if it means spending more money, and Paul said that wasn't a conservative way of thinking.

In addition to calling for more defense spending, Rubio has a relatively specific plan for handling ISIS (which, I'm assuming, he thinks his presidency could fund). His plan includes expanding air strikes and deploying special operations forces to assist local forces fighting ISIS in the Middle East. More recently, Rubio has also called for the closing of U.S. borders to Syrian refugees. On ABC's This Week on Sunday, Rubio said America shouldn't take in refugees because "we can't background check them."

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush, who is often ripped by other candidates for his brother's decision to invade Iraq after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, has called for America to declare war on ISIS. Specifically, Bush's campaign website outlines a plan that includes working with social media companies to address the threats and conversation made among ISIS sympathizers online, continuing air strikes, and supporting local ground forces, especially in Iraq.

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham has struggled to make a splash in the polls, but when it comes to defeating ISIS, that might be a shame. National defense is clearly Graham's most passionate issue, and he has offered a specific plan for handling the militant group. On his campaign website, he calls for the deployment of 10,000 troops to ISIS-controlled regions, as well as cooperation with allies. Like Bush, Graham has also called for America to declare war on ISIS.

Everybody Else

In addition to these plans, at least some Republican candidates have pushed for "calling ISIS what it is." (They like some variation of the phrase "radical Islam.") Not everyone has specifics — most, even those not specifically listed here, want a coordinated effort from America and its allies while some suggest putting boots on the ground — but more importantly, not everyone had talked about ISIS in detail until Saturday morning, the day after the Paris attacks. It's almost certainly something they've all thought about, but if there was ever a time to put together a specific plan for handling ISIS, I'm pretty sure it's now.