Daily on Defense: GOP debate highlights — insults, barbs, and a focus on foreign policy, plus Trump’s counterfactual ruminations, and military officers caught in a brothel bust

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THE 3RD DEBATE: The five top challengers to Donald Trump's bid to win the Republican presidential nomination took the stage in Miami last night, and with fewer candidates, the format gave each more time to talk — and to clash. There were more than a few raucous moments, with Vivek Ramaswamy calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a "Nazi" and Nikki Haley calling Ramaswamy "scum" when he criticized her adult daughter for using TikTok.

Most of the two hours focused on foreign policy and national security, with support for Israel and criticism of President Joe Biden being the main areas of agreement. As expected, Chris Christie was the toughest on Trump, though Haley called him "weak in the knees" on Ukraine, while Tim Scott described himself as the candidate who would "restore faith in God" and "win the war for Christian conservative values."

After the debate, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) gave NBC a positive review. "I think the people at home probably got a good viewing experience because the questions were substantive. People were able to talk. There wasn't a lot of screaming back and forth. And so I think the value of this debate was probably more than the one we did in Simi Valley."

Here are some highlights by subject matter:

FUNDING FOR UKRAINE: The candidates were asked if they supported additional U.S. funding for Ukraine's war effort.

Ramaswamy: "Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties. … It has celebrated a Nazi in its ranks, the comedian in cargo pants, a man called Zelensky, doing it … And so to frame this as some kind of battle between good versus evil, don't buy it."

Haley: "I am telling you, Putin and President Xi are salivating at the thought that someone like [Ramaswamy] could become president. They would love to see that … We all know that half a million people have died because of Putin. And here is a freedom-loving, pro-American country that is fighting for its survival and its democracy. No, I don't think we should give them cash. I think we should give them the equipment and the ammunition to win."

Christie: "We have Ukraine, with Vladimir Putin, a Communist KGB dictator, who wants to put the old band back together. He's starting in Ukraine, and he's going to move to the Baltics and Poland after that … This is not a choice. This is the price we pay for being the leaders of the free world … The last time that we turned our back on a shooting war in Europe, it bought us just a couple of years. And then 500,000 Americans were killed in Europe to defeat Hitler."

DeSantis: "Biden wants $105 billion, [of which $60 billion] — most of that's Ukraine, including some of it going to pay pensions for bureaucrats and salaries. That is a totally ridiculous use of American tax dollars … Any suggestion by Zelensky or anyone else that we should — that we're going to eventually have U.S. troops there, I can tell the American people, when I'm president, that will not happen."

Scott: "I certainly have been very supportive of Ukraine … It is actually in degrading the Russian military … And that's good news. But the American people are frustrated that they do not have a president who reminds us and tells us, where's the accountability? Where are those dollars? How are those dollars being spent? … And at the same time, I would say that a package, a package that's been offered by the president for Ukraine and Israel, that's the wrong approach."


SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL: The question posed was, "As president of the United States, what would you be urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do at this moment?"

DeSantis: "I would be telling Bibi, finish the job once and for all with these butchers, Hamas. They're terrorists. They're massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe if they could … I'm sick of hearing the media. I'm sick of hearing other people blame Israel just for defending itself. We will stand with Israel in word and indeed in public and in private."

Haley: "The first thing I said to him when it happened was I said, finish them. Finish them … And we have to remember that they have to, one, eliminate Hamas, two, [we have to] support Israel with whatever they need, whenever they need it, and three, make sure we bring our hostages home … We need to be very clear-eyed to know there would be no Hamas without Iran. There would be no Hezbollah without Iran. There would not be the Houthis without Iran."

Ramaswamy: "I would tell him to smoke those terrorists on his southern border. And then I'll tell him, as president of the United States, I'll be smoking the terrorists on our southern border. That's his responsibility, this is our responsibility. That's how we move forward."

Scott: "I would tell Prime Minister Netanyahu, not only do you have the responsibility and the right to wipe Hamas off of the map, we will support you. We will be there with you. We will stand shoulder to shoulder. There will be no daylight … I would say to President Biden, diplomacy-only is a weak strategy. Appeasement leads to war … My foreign policy is simple. You cannot negotiate with evil. You have to destroy it."

Christie: "The first thing I would say to Prime Minister Netanyahu is pretty simple. America is here no matter what it is you need at any time to preserve the state of Israel … You must go in and make sure that Hamas can never do this again … And make sure we continue to isolate Iran so that their only friends in the world are part of the evil foursome: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea."



Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Conrad Hoyt. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


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'A TIME AND PLACE OF OUR CHOOSING': The GOP debate began just hours after the Pentagon announced a second military strike conducted by two U.S. F-15s against a weapons storage facility in Syria, which was in response to the escalating drone and rocket attacks by "IRGC-Quds Force affiliates" against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.

"At President Biden's direction, U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense strike on a facility in eastern Syria used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement released at about 5:30 Eastern time last night. "The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities. We urge against any escalation. U.S. personnel will continue to conduct counter-ISIS missions in Iraq and Syria."


IRAN AND PROXY ATTACKS AGAINST US TROOPS: The candidates were asked, "Given attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq, attacks that have wounded approximately two dozen of our U.S. servicemen, do you support the use of military force by the United States against Iran?"

Haley: "The idea that our men and women could be targeted and that we've allowed almost 100 hits to happen under Biden's watch is unthinkable. We need to understand this is Iran giving the green light telling them what to do and that we shouldn't be doing the tit-for-tat like what Joe Biden has done … We need to go and take out their infrastructure that they are using to make those strikes with, so they can never do it again. Iran responds to strength. You punch them once, and you punch them hard, and they will back off."

DeSantis: "And as commander in chief, I am not going to put our troops in harm's way unless you're willing to defend them with everything you have. Biden has them out there. They're sitting ducks. He's doing glancing blows. That's just inviting more attacks from the Iranians. I would say, 'You harm a hair on the head of an American servicemember, and you are going to have hell to pay.' We are not just going to sit there and let our service members be sitting ducks."

Scott: "I would tell President Biden with great clarity, if you want to stop the 40-plus attacks on military personnel in the Middle East, you have to strike in Iran. If you want to make a difference, you cannot just continue to have strikes in Syria on warehouses. You actually have to cut off the head of the snake. And the head of the snake is Iran, and not simply their proxies."


WHY YOU, NOT TRUMP? The candidates were asked to address supporters of front-runner Donald Trump and make the case for why they are the better choice:

DeSantis: "Donald Trump's a lot different guy than he was in 2016. He owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance. He should explain why he didn't have Mexico pay for the border wall. He should explain why he racked up so much debt. He should explain why he didn't drain the swamp. And he said Republicans were going to get tired of winning. Well, we saw last night, I'm sick of Republicans losing."

Haley: "I think he was the right president at the right time. I don't think he's the right president now. I think that he put us $8 trillion in debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for that. I think the fact that he used to be right on Ukraine and foreign issues, now he's getting weak in the knees and trying to be friendly again."

Christie: "I'll say this about Donald Trump. Anybody who's going to be spending the next year and a half of their life focusing on keeping themselves out of jail and courtrooms cannot lead this party or this country, and it needs to be said plainly."

Ramaswamy: "I think there's something deeper going on in the Republican Party here, and I am upset about what happened last night. We've become a party of losers at the end of the day. There is a cancer in the Republican establishment. Let's speak the truth. I mean, since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022, no red wave ever came. We got trounced last night, in 2023. And I think that we have to have accountability in our party."

Scott: "Our nation is facing some deep challenges. It is the loss of faith in this nation that is a part of the erosion that we're seeing every single day … You don't have to be a Christian for America to work for you, but America does not work without a faith-filled Judeo-Christian foundation. I would be the president that helps us restore faith in God, faith in each other, and faith in our future. Without that focus, none of the issues, the policies matter."


MEANWHILE, IN TRUMPWORLD: While the debate was going on, Trump was holding forth at a rally in nearby Hialeah, Florida, where, in his counterfactual alternate universe, he claimed none of the world's problems would have happened if he had been able to serve a second term.

"For four straight years under the Trump administration, I kept America safe. I kept Israel safe. I kept Ukraine safe. And I kept the world safe. Israel, Ukraine would have never happened under the Trump administration. There was no chance it would've happened. Those two events alone would never have happened," Trump said.

"Inflation would have never happened, would have never happened. It was caused by stupid people on energy policy, but we'll get it back really fast. Before I took office, there was a terrorist attack seemingly every week. People were getting massacred left and right, including the Pulse nightclub murders in Orlando. You remember that? How horrible that was. With me in the White House, we stopped it cold. Nothing happened for four years, nothing happened."

BACK IN THE REAL WORLD: "The claim that there were no mass shootings under Trump is simply false," said the fact-checking website Snopes. "In fact, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place during the Trump era. In October 2017, a gunman shot and killed nearly 60 people at a music festival in Las Vegas."

Snopes provides this partial list of some of the deadliest U.S. massacres while Trump was in office:

  • November 2017, 26 people were killed at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
  • February 2018, 17 people were killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
  • May 2018, 10 people were killed at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
  • October 2018, 11 people were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • November 2018, 12 people were killed at a restaurant in Thousand Oaks, California.
  • May 2019, 12 people were shot and killed at an office building in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  • August 2019, 22 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas

BROTHEL GATE? Well, this is embarrassing. The Justice Department announced the breakup of what it called a series of "sophisticated high-end brothels" that operated in the Boston area and eastern Virginia, which catered to an upscale clientele, including, apparently, military officers.

"Over the course of the investigation, a wide array of buyers were identified, including, but not limited to, politicians, high tech and pharmaceutical executives, doctors, military officers, government contractors that possess security clearances, professors, lawyers, scientists, and accountants," the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts said in a press release.

No names of the customers have been released, but some people are going to have some explaining to do.


The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Republican debate: Candidates spar on China but agree that Beijing poses a threat

Washington Examiner: 'Comedian in cargo pants': Vivek Ramaswamy calls Ukraine's Zelensky a 'Nazi'

Washington Examiner: Republican debate: Israel garners near unbridled support from 2024 candidates

Washington Examiner: Republican debate: Israel garners near unbridled support from 2024 candidates

Washington Examiner: Republican debate: 2024 hopefuls vow end to fentanyl crisis, even by lethal force at border

Washington Examiner: US military strikes Iranian weapons facility in Syria following attacks against troops

Washington Examiner: Iran-backed Houthis shoots down US drone off Yemen coast

Washington Examiner: Israel war: WHO chief accused of backing pro-Hamas 'disinformation campaign'

Washington Examiner: Ryan Zinke latest target for House condemnation over bill to expel Palestinians from US

Washington Examiner: Israel war: WHO chief accused of backing pro-Hamas 'disinformation campaign'

Washington Examiner: Israel's Mossad helps foil Hezbollah terrorist plot in Brazil

Washington Examiner: White House can't rule out that terror groups other than Hamas have hostages in Gaza

Washington Examiner: Israel war: Antony Blinken warns Israel against reoccupying or annexing parts of Gaza

Washington Examiner: Israel war: G7 backs 'humanitarian pauses' in Gaza but doesn't call for ceasefire

Washington Examiner: GOP Sen. Katie Britt calls out Mayorkas's stance on border wall as hypocritical

Washington Examiner: Mayorkas endorses canceling visas of foreign students who support terrorists

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Free speech must not be a victim of the Israel-Hamas war

AP: Negotiations Underway For 3-Day Humanitarian Cease-Fire In Gaza, Officials Say

New York Times: A Gaza 'Cease-Fire' Or A 'Pause'? Even World Leaders Are Confused

Reuters: Fierce Fighting in Gaza City; US Says Palestinians Must Govern Gaza Post-War

New York Times: Israel Raises Alarms By Suggesting 'Indefinite' Role In Gaza

Wall Street Journal: Surge And Swarm; How China's Ships Control The South China Sea

Defense News: Israel May Buy Back Iron Dome Air Defense Batteries Leased from the US

BBC: 'I'm Calling from Israeli Intelligence. We Have the Order to Bomb. You Have Two Hours'

AP: Russia Reportedly Is Using Ukrainian POWs To Fight In Their Homeland On Moscow's Side

New York Times: Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Deadly Strike On Civilian Ship At Black Sea Port

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Putin Wins' If US Cuts Support for Ukraine, Senators Told

Space News: US Air Force X-37B Spaceplane to Launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

New York Times: What Does the US Space Force Actually Do?

Air & Space Forces Magazine: 200+ More Airmen to Get Medals for 2021 Afghan Evacuation

Air & Space Forces Magazine: NORAD Receives New Cloud-Based Command and Control Capability

Breaking Defense: Air Force Weighing Turning T-7 Into F-7 Armed Light Attack Jet: Official

National Interest: Why the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Is the Most Expensive Plane Ever

National Interest: The U.S. Military's Research and Development Challenge

CNN: DOJ Announces Arrests in 'High-End Brothel Network' Used by Elected Officials, Military Officers, and Others

Stars and Stripes: They 'Broke Her': Family Files Wrongful Death Claim Against Air Force, Alleging Academy Failed to Follow Sex Assault, Suicide Policies

Air Force Times: Airman Drowned After Heart Attack at Training Exercise, Records Show

Red Snow: 'Battleship' tries again to score a hit in the Toy Hall of Fame



7:30 a.m. EST Berlin, Germany — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz https://www.nato.int/

8:30 a.m. Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE — Foreign Policy discussion: "East Meets West: Unpacking U.S. — China relations in the lead up to the Biden-Xi Meeting at APEC," with Andrew Bacevich, chairman of the board at the Quincy Institute; Sarang Shidore, director of Quincy Institute's Global South Program; and Ravi Agrawal, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy https://foreignpolicy.com/events/east-meets-west/

9:30 a.m. — U.S. Institute of Peace virtual discussion: "First in War, First in Peace: U.S. Military Veterans as Peacebuilders," with Patrick Spero, executive director of the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon; retired Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, member of the USIP Senior Military Advisory Group; retired Adm. James Foggo, member of the USIP Senior Military Advisory Group; and retired Rear Adm. Peter Cressy, director of executive leadership programs at the Washington Leadership Institute at Mount Vernon https://www.usip.org/events/first-war-first-peace

10 a.m. — Wilson Center's Middle East Program virtual discussion: "Hamas-Israel War: Risks of Escalation and Impact on Lebanon," with Mona Yacoubian, vice president of the U.S. Institute of Peace's Middle East and North Africa Center; Randa Slim, nonresident fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies's Foreign Policy Institute; and Edward Gabriel, president and CEO of the American Task Force on Lebanon https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/hamas-israel-war-risks

10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW — Atlantic Council conference: "Ukraine's Fight and NATO's Future: First Insights from Central Europe on the Washington Summit," with Ukrainian Minister of Energy German Galushchenko https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/programs/europe-center

1 p.m. — National Defense Industrial Association virtual discussion: "Designing the Future: Tackling Challenges in 3D Heterogenous Integrated Microelectronics for Aerospace, Government, and Defense Systems," with Carl McCants, special assistant to the director at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Josh Fryman, fellow at the Intel Corporation; Rob Aitken, architect at Synopsys; and Ian Land, senior director of security, government and aerospace solutions at Synopsys. RSVP: esocha@ndia.org

1:30 p.m. — Hudson Institute event: "The Israel-Hamas War: A Conversation with Seventieth Secretary of State Mike Pompeo," with Michael Doran, senior fellow and director, Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East https://www.hudson.org/events/israel-hamas-war-iran-hezbollah-conversation

7 p.m. — New America and Arizona State University Future Security Initiative virtual discussion: "Will the U.S. Experience a Devastating Cyber Attack and What Can be Done to Protect Our Nation?" with Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock, deputy director for combat support at the National Security Agency; and former U.S. Cyber Command Deputy Director retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, professor of practice at FSI https://www.newamerica.org/future-security/events/online

7 p.m. — Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies virtual discussion: "Mikhail Zygar's War and Punishment: The Path to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine" https://worldmichigan.org/event/zygar


Federal offices closed. No Daily on Defense


3 p.m. — Center for a New American Security Defense Program "fireside chat," with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall; and Stacie Pettyjohn, senior fellow and director, CNAS Defense Program https://www.cnas.org/events/virtual-fireside-chat


2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project in-person and virtual event to roll out new report, "Countering Small Uncrewed Aerial Systems: Air Defense by and for the Joint Force," with Shaan Shaikh, lead author; Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director, Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aerial Systems Office; Sgt. Maj.  Demetrius Johnson, senior enlisted adviser to the JCO; and Tom Karako, senior fellow, CSIS International Security Program https://www.csis.org/events/countering-uncrewed-aerial-systems


10 a.m. 2118 Rayburn — House Armed Services Committee hearing: "Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S.," with testimony from Madelyn Creedon, chairwoman of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S.; and former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, vice chairman of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S. https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings


3 p.m. — Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance Deterrence Center virtual forum: "Understanding the Modernization of the Land-based Leg of the U.S. Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, LGM-35A Sentinel," with Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense; and Air Force Brig. Gen. Colin Connor, director, ICBM Modernization https://www.eventbrite.com/e/us-strategic-nuclear-deterrence


"They're 5-inch heels, and I don't wear them unless you can run in 'em. The second thing that I will say is I wear heels. They're not for a fashion statement. They're for ammunition."
Nikki Haley's retort to Vivek Ramaswamy calling her "Dick Cheney in three-inch heels."
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