2016 Presidential Candidates on National Security

Last Updated on April 28, 2016.

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D)

Overview of Foreign Policy Positions

On Iran

  • Sustain robust naval and air presence in Middle East
  • Work to counter proxies like Hezbollah. Pressure Turkey to stop selling arms to Hamas
  • Prevent Iranian Revolutionary Guard aircraft from entering airspace of regional allies

[Clinton Campaign Iran Policy]


  • Utilize a coalition air campaign with more allied planes, more strikes, and broader targets
  • Support local forces but do not serve as substitute to local and regional manpower
  • Advocate for UN Security Council terror sanctions to be strengthened

[Clinton Campaign on ISIS and Terrorism]

On Guantanamo/Torture

“Closing Guantanamo would be a sign of strength and resolve. Congress should implement President Obama’s plan as quickly and responsibly as possible.” [2/23/16]

“I do believe we have to give our law enforcement and intelligence professionals all the tools they need to do the job to keep Americans safe. But I don’t think they need to resort to torture.” [3/22/16]

On Iran

“I think we have achieved a great deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement… That has to be enforced absolutely with consequences for Iran at the slightest deviation from their requirements under the agreement. I do not think we should promise or even look toward normalizing relations.” [2/11/16]

“We must maintain the legal and diplomatic architecture to turn all the sanctions back on if need. If I’m elected the leaders of Iran will have no doubt that if we see any indication that they are violating their commitment not to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, the United States will act to stop it, and that we will do so with force if necessary.” [3/21/16]

On Refugees

“I said we should go to 65” — meaning 65,000 refugees — “but only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine.” [11/14/15]

On ISIS/Syria/Iraq

“Airstrikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS. Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East. That is just not the smart move to make here.” [11/19/15]
“We should immediately deploy the special operations force President Obama has already authorized, and be prepared to deploy more as more Syrians get into the fight. And we should retool and ramp up our efforts to support and equip viable Syrian opposition units.” [11/19/15]
“There is no alternative to a political transition that allows Syrians to end Assad’s rule.” [11/19/15]
“Congress should swiftly pass an updated authorization to use military force.” [11/19/15]
“We should also work with the coalition and the neighbors to impose no-fly zones that will stop Assad from slaughtering civilians and the opposition from the air.” [11/19/15]
“I am against American combat troops being in Syria and Iraq.” [ 2/4/16]
“We should intensify the coalition air campaign against its fighters, leaders, and infrastructure; step up support for local Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground and coalition efforts to protect civilians; and pursue a diplomatic strategy aimed at achieving political resolutions to Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s sectarian divide.” [3/23/16]
“It would be a serious mistake to stumble into another costly ground war in the Middle East. If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.” [3/23/16]

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Overview of Foreign Policy Positions

  • U.S. needs an army of at least 525,000 soldiers from the estimated 475,000 at the end of 2016
  • U.S. needs a total active duty force of 1.4 million
  • Increase Air Force aircraft to at least 6,000 planes with at least 1,500 tactical fighter aircraft
  • Increase aircraft carriers from 10 to 12
  • Increase the number of naval ships from 273 to at least 350
  • Construct at least 12 Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarines

[Cruz Campaign Defense Policy]
From Cruz’s Senate Office

  • Cruz introduced the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act to block refugees from countries where territory is controlled by foreign terrorist groups. [11/18/15]
  • Cruz introduced the State Refugee Security Act of 2015 to grant state governments the right to refuse refugees. [12/8/15]

On Guantanamo/Torture
“You can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.” [2/6/16]
“Mr. President: don’t shut down Gitmo, expand it and let’s have some new terrorists there.” [2/23/16]
On Iran
“The single gravest threat, national security threat, is the threat of a nuclear Iran. That’s why I’ve pledged on day one to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal.” [2/13/16]
On Refugees
“Those who are fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East in majority Muslim countries… Christians who are being targeted for genocide should be provided safe haven.” [11/14/15]
We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees… We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” [3/22/16]
On ISIS/Syria/Iraq
“We need a real, robust campaign that maximizes our overwhelming air advantage. We need to focus our efforts not on trying to create friends, but on supporting our real ones, especially the Kurds in Iraq and Syria who have actually had success against ISIS. And rather than pouring more resources into a dysfunctional Baghdad, we should extend consistent, robust assistance to our regional allies — Israel, Egypt and Jordan — who are on the front lines of this fight.” [10/9/15]
“You want to know what carpet bombing is? It’s what we did in the first Persian Gulf war; 1,100 air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy.”[1/28/16]

Governor John Kasich (R-OH)

Overview of Foreign Policy Positions

  • Increase Defense spending by $102 billion — or 17% — between 2017 and 2025
  • Implement no-fly zones and safe havens in Syria

[Kasich Budget Plan and Kasich Campaign National Security Policy]
On Guantanamo
“These are people, some of them are the worst of the worst. Why would we send them into our country?” [2/23/16]
On Defense Policy
“We have about 10 [aircraft] carriers now, my goal would be to get closer to 15.”  [8/17/15]
“The fact is, is that we should go to war when it is our direct interest. We should not be policemen of the world, but when we go, we mean business. We’ll do our job.” [2/13/16]
On Iran
“A new administration should review and reassess the agreement upon assuming office.” [12/9/15]
“I want you all to know that I have called for the suspension of the U.S.’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal in reaction to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests.” [3/22/16]
On Refugees
“There is no way that we can put any of our people at risk by bringing people in at this point.” [11/16/15]
On ISIS/Syria/Iraq
“I said last February that we needed to have people on the ground, troops on the ground in a coalition similar to what we had in the first Gulf War.” [12/15/15]
“[Defeating IS] is not going to get done just by working with the Sunnis. And it is not going to get done if we just embed a few people. We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam’s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader.” [12/15/15]
“I would only go to Syria to destroy ISIS. I would not use U.S. troops to depose Assad. But I would support the rebels there. It’s okay to support those people who share your view. But for the United States to be embroiled in a civil war in Syria against Assad I think is a big mistake.” [2/14/16]

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

Overview of Foreign Policy Positions

  • Supports the Iran deal and the closure of Guantanamo Bay
  • Believes Pentagon budget should reflect security interests and should not be guided by elections
  • Opposes the Patriot Act, the USA Freedom Act, torture and waterboarding

[Sanders Campaign Defense Policy and Sanders Campaign Iran Policy]
On Guantanamo
“I am encouraged to see that the president is sending Congress a plan to shut down the prison.” [2/23/16]
On Defense Policy
“At a time when our national debt is more than $18 trillion and we spend nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue to end the waste and financial mismanagement that have plagued the Pentagon for years.” [12/11/14]
“The Republican Party is going to have to end their hypocrisy with regard to deficits and the national debt… Wars are enormously expensive, not only in terms of human life and suffering, but in terms of the budget. If the Republicans want another war in the Middle East, they are going to have to tell the American people how much it will cost them and how it will be paid for.” [3/20/15]
“This bloated Pentagon budget continues to pour money into outdated weapons systems that don’t function properly. The Department of Defense is the only federal agency that cannot pass a clean audit. Many of its major acquisition programs suffer from chronic cost overruns. Virtually every defense contractor has been found guilty or has reached a settlement with the government because of fraudulent and illegal activities. This has got to change.” [11/10/15]
“In my view, the military option for a powerful nation like ours – the most powerful nation in the world – should always be on the table. But it should always be the last resort not the first resort.” [3/21/16]
“While we must be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm, we cannot and should not be policeman of the world, nor bear the burden of fighting terrorism alone.” [Sanders on War and Peace]
On Iran
“The idea that we someday maybe have decent relations with Iran… that is something I want to achieve. And I believe that the best way to do that is to be aggressive, to be principled, but to have the goal of trying to improve relations. That’s how you make peace in the world. You sit down and you work with people.” [2/11/16]
On Refugees
“What the magic number is, I don’t know. Because we don’t know the extent of the problem. But I certainly think that the United States should take its full responsibility in helping.” [11/14/15]
On ISIS/Syria/Iraq
“After five years of brutal conflict, the only solution in Syria will be… a negotiated political settlement. Those who advocate for stronger military involvement by the U.S. to oust Assad from power have not paid close enough attention to history. That would simply prolong the war and increase the chaos in Syria, not end it.” [3/21/16]

Donald Trump (R)

Overview of Foreign Policy Positions

  • Supports waterboarding, Guantanamo, military intervention in Syria, and more military spending
  • Opposes the United Nations, the Iran deal, and refugee resettlement

On Guantanamo/Torture
“I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” [2/6/16]
“We’re going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We’re going to load it up.” [2/23/16]
“Waterboarding would be fine. If they can expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.” [3/22/16]
On Defense Policy
“We’re gonna make our military so big and so strong and so great and it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it.” [9/21/15]
“We’re the policemen of the world. We take care of the entire world. We’re going to have a stronger military, much stronger. Our military is depleted.” [3/10/16]
“The United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home.”  [3/21/16]
“We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability.” [4/27/16]
“The struggle against radical Islam also takes place in our homeland. There are scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism. For every case known to the public, there are dozens and dozens more. We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies. We have no idea where these people are coming from. There’s no documentation. There’s no paperwork. There’s nothing.” [4/27/16]
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.” [4/27/16]

“We have to rebuild our military and our economy. The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal. And it has to happen immediately.” [4/27/16]

“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest, single investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind.” [4/27/16]
“I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must only fight to win.” [4/27/16]
“Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.” [4/27/16]
On Iran
“It is hard to believe a president of the United States would actually put his name on an agreement with the terrorist state Iran that is so bad, so poorly constructed and so terribly negotiated that it increases uncertainty and reduces security for America and our allies, including Israel.” [9/8/15]
“President Obama has not been a friend to Israel. He has treated Iran with tender love and care and made it a great power. Iran has, indeed, become a great, great power in just a very short period of time, because of what we’ve done. All of the expense and all at the expense of Israel, our allies in the region and very importantly, the United States itself.” [4/27/16]
On Refugees
“If Obama, through his weakness, lets them come in, I’m sending them out if I win.” [11/16/15]
On ISIS/Syria/Iraq
“We’ve got to get rid of ISIS quickly, quickly. Not for a long time. Let me tell you what I really want to do. I want to get other people to put troops on the ground and we’ll back them up 100 percent.” [11/18/15]
“We’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago… We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” [11/19/15]

“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people… If we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off.” [12/15/15]
“You 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. They’re chopping off heads. These are animals. You have to knock em out. You have to knock them off strong. You decide what to do after, you can’t fight two wars at one time.” [2/13/16]
“We have done nothing to help the Christians, nothing, and we should always be ashamed for that, for that lack of action. Our actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS, and we’re in a war against radical Islam, but President Obama won’t even name the enemy, and unless you name the enemy, you will never ever solve the problem.” [4/27/16]
“ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libya oil. And you know what? We don’t blockade, we don’t bomb, we don’t do anything about it. It’s almost as if our country doesn’t even know what’s happening, which could be a fact and could be true.” [4/27/16]
“Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States… Events may require the use of military force, but it’s also a philosophical struggle.” [4/27/16]

“Our goals must be, and I mean must be, to defeat terrorists and promote regional stability, not radical change. We need to be clear sighted about the groups that will never be anything other than enemies. And believe me, we have groups that no matter what you do, they will be the enemy.”  [4/27/16]

Compiled by Anderson Gass and Angela Miller.

April 28, 2016