Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.
Cruz: Obama plan to take in refugees an act of 'lunacy'
03:19 - Source: CNN

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Republican candidates all say President Barack Obama's strategy is lacking, but what would they do differently?

CNN  — 

Republicans vying to replace President Barack Obama generally begin their comments on ISIS and Syria by criticizing the White House for “leading from behind.”

That’s a given, but as the presidential race shifts from the economy to foreign policy, particularly on ISIS and Syria, Republican candidates may need more than calls for greater American leadership in order to stand out from a very crowded field.

Few have outlined a strategy that goes much beyond what the administration is already doing. A multinational coalition led by the U.S. has launched 8,000 airstrikes against ISIS, leaders have been killed in drone strikes and officials from 19 countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the U.S. and Turkey met in Vienna to devise a strategy for ending the conflict in Syria. Rougly 3,500 U.S. troops are in Iraq their military and the Kurds and in Syria, the U.S. is providing weapons and supplies to groups fighting ISIS.

Here is what GOP candidates say they would do to defeat ISIS:

Donald Trump

A bombing campaign is the basis of Trump’s ISIS strategy. The real estate tycoon said before the Paris attacks that he knows more about ISIS than current military generals, who have largely derided his approach.

“I would just bomb those suckers,” Trump said Thursday in Iowa before the Paris attack. “That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, every single inch, there would be nothing left.”

On Twitter, he took credit for an American air raid on trucks used to smuggle oil in eastern Syria. “Remember, I was the one who said attack the oil (ISIS source of wealth) a long time ago. Everyone scoffed, now they’re attacking the oil.”

He has advocated for ground troops in Iraq, but not in Syria.

Ben Carson

Carson has also said that troops on the ground – in Iraq but not Syria – is the best way to defeat ISIS. Driving ISIS out of Iraq and into Syria, would centralize the fight and lead to a more concerted effort to defeat ISIS, he believes.

“I think we ought to take this as a warning that we need to really go in there with very serious intent not to contain them but to take them out completely,” Carson said Monday. “To destroy them, to eliminate them. I would use every resource available to us.” Carson sees a multinational force with American leadership bolstering “all of the Arab states.”

Ben Carson asks Congress to block Syrian refugees

Marco Rubio

The Florida senator has cited Article V from the NATO agreement – an attack on one is an attack on all – as the basis for forming a multinational coalition to fight ISIS. Yet he has stopped short of directly calling for a specific number of U.S. troops or troops at all. “It’s premature to say the exact numbers,” he said, when asked on “ABC This Week” about an estimate from Lindsey Graham’ that 10,000 would be needed.

He has called for increasing the number of special ops forces – fewer than 50 have been deployed to Syria to advise and assist in combating ISIS. Rubio has said that the Sunnis have “to be bulkhead of the fight” against ISIS, yet there is division among Sunnis in Iraq about whether to back the Shia-led Iraqi governments fight against ISIS.

Ted Cruz

The Texas senator has come out against U.S. troops on the ground, subtly slamming rivals who want to do so. “There are some politicians who like to support boots on the ground in every conflict across the globe in an effort to lean forward and show how tough they are,” he said in a CNN interview before the terrorist attack in Paris. “I don’t think this is a game of ‘Risk.’ I don’t think it should be politicians moving armies about. I think it should be driven by the national security imperatives and the military needs on the ground.”

Ted Cruz: Obama terror response ‘shameful’

His approach has not changed since Paris – in the aftermath of the attack, Cruz has described Kurdish forces as “our boots on the ground,” and said he backs arming them with updated equipment and amping up U.S. airpower.

Jeb Bush

Bush, who is set to give a national security speech in South Carolina on Wednesday, backs ground troops and more special operation troops, embedded with Iraqi military. He would also implement a no-fly zone.

“I would listen to the military commanders and give them the mission, which is, how do we destroy ISIS?” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But he has stopped short of saying how many soldiers would be needed and where they would be deployed.

“Creating a strategy means that we – we create a no-fly zone, create safe havens for the remnants of the Syrian Free Army to – to be built up. We lead by getting our Arab allies and friends to be able to support one fighting force,” Bush said.

Carly Fiorina

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Fiorina would call a Camp David summit with Arab allies to discuss how the United States can help in the fight against ISIS.

“They know this is their fight, but they must have leadership and support and resolve from the United States of America.” She said she would arm the Kurds, whose Peshmerga forces took control of the Iraqi city of Sinjar from ISIS, with the help of U.S. air support.

Rand Paul

True to his isolationist and libertarian leanings, the Kentucky senator said that Obama’s military approach to ISIS, which is mainly airstrikes, is unconstitutional. He introduced a declaration of war resolution in December 2014. As commander in chief he wouldn’t send ground troops to fight the Sunni terrorist group.

“I think the last war in Iraq actually made it more chaotic and made us less safe. So I think if we want to be safer as a country and safer as a people, I don’t think sending 500,000 troops back into there is a good idea nor do I think sending 50 is, in fact,” he said on CNN, prior to the Paris attack.

“I think if you are going to war, sending 50 people to war at a time is sort of a recipe for being surrounded and somehow having a disaster on your hands,” he added. “So I would never put underwhelming force. If we went to war and there was a declaration of war, I would put overwhelming force. I wouldn’t mess around.”

Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor has said he backs a no-fly zone, a Middle Eastern coalition and a National Security Agency with expanded capabilities that isn’t hamstrung by privacy concerns in efforts to collect intelligence. A former federal prosecutor who has sent terrorists to jail, Christie has highlighted that experience as a way to stand out from the field.

“We cannot afford to elect another president without the requisite experience and values to effectively govern,” he said at a Friday speech in Florida. “This is not a job for on the job training, everybody. We need someone who’s made decisions, who stuck by those decisions and who understands the ramifications not only of action, but of inaction.”

John Kasich

Ohio Gov. John Kasich supports sending ground troops to fight ISIS. He was the first to call for invoking Article V of the NATO agreement, which was used in the aftermath of 9/11.

Kasich said Obama needs to go to Europe and convene meetings with allies to work on intelligence operations and “develop plans for joint military action to destroy ISIS.” But Kasich sounded much more like a realist, rather than a neoconservative in the mold of George W. Bush. “I am not a person that believes in nation building,” he said. “Nation building is not something for us to risk our men and women in uniform to do. Take care of business and come home.”

Lindsey Graham

Graham is by far the most hawkish of the field. He wants 10,000 ground troops to fight ISIS “to fight them in their backyard,” in both Iraq and Syria, specifically the city of Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold that the French have been bombing for the last two days. He, along with much of the field, has also called for a no-fly zone.

Graham’s call for troops puts him in line with 62% of Republicans, according to a CNN/ORC poll, but narrowly at odds with the greater public – 51% of Americans oppose ground troops. “There is a 9/11 coming and it’s coming from Syria if we don’t disrupt their operations inside of Syria,” Graham said.

Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s main play for differentiation is an executive order instructing his state’s agencies to stop the influx of Syrian refugees. That’s also a move that many other governors – mostly Republicans – emulated Monday. Beyond that, his approach includes a no-fly zone and leaving the option of ground troops on the table.

Mike Huckabee

The former Arkansas governor said ISIS wants to “destroy Western civilization,” and that defeating them means “taking the fight to them,” an effort that includes airstrikes and ground troops, he said in an interview with Brietbart News, calling for a coalition that would “bomb the absolute stink out of them.”

“We need to build that coalition with NATO, the Middle Eastern countries who are right in this neighborhood and any nation who doesn’t participate, we sanction and isolate them,” he said.

Rick Santorum

The 2012 GOP runner-up has slammed Obama for launching a public relations war, rather than a war that will lead to victory. Taking back land in Iraq is key to victory, an effort that Santorum said would take 10,000 troops and be backed up by stepped up air offensive in Syria. “I would be launching a major offensive against ISIS right now,” Santorum said in Florida on Saturday. “Four bombs a day? Are you serious? That’s a public relations war.”