Ahead of the highly anticipated GOP presidential debate next week, Ohio Gov. and candidate John Kasich condemned President Barack Obama's foreign policy efforts in Syria while laying out his own proposal for fighting Islamic extremism. The White House hopeful, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City Wednesday, cautioned against divisive political rhetoric while pushing for a stronger military response to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, as well as expanded intelligence-gathering to fight radicalization both in the U.S. and online.
“The challenge posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq is a symptom of a broader weakness in America’s national security policy: failing to advance what we believe and our basic national interests," Kasich said, criticizing the Obama administration’s course of action against the terrorist organization, commonly called the Islamic State but also known as ISIS and Daesh.
Kasich has garnered modest voter support and touted his track record of successful economic policies at the state and national level, but he's also been overshadowed by other candidates when it comes to foreign policy debates. He has repeatedly called for voters and journalists alike to focus on substantive campaign issues rather than outlandish, attention-grabbing, hyperbolic statements from candidates like real estate mogul Donald Trump. “I have been attacking not Donald Trump but Donald Trump’s ideas that divide this country, and I’m glad to provide a little cover for those who are beginning to wake up,” Kasich said Wednesday when asked what he thought of Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. as a means to prevent terrorism.
Ohio's governor since 2010, Kasich is perhaps best known on a national level for chairing the House Budget Committee for several years in the 1990s and balancing the federal budget in 1997, a feat that hadn't been achieved since the 1960s. He was also a prominent legislator on foreign policy, serving on the House Armed Services Committee for 18 years.
To establish peace in Syria, Kasich said, a broader international coalition, as well as a possible ground invasion, was necessary. The U.S. has been leading an air coalition in Syria, in cooperation with France, Turkey and several other international allies, conducting anti-ISIS bombing campaigns. “An air campaign on its own is simply not enough,” he said, before adding: “We will all be on the ground sooner or later. Sooner is better than later.”
Obama has been reluctant to send U.S. forces to the region, fearing a long and expensive ground war similar to the invasion of Iraq. He announced the deployment of the first ground soldiers, a few dozen special forces, in October. Kasich said Obama should be spending more money and effort on arming international forces that are already on the ground fighting ISIS, such as the Kurdish military forces, while aiming to create safe havens and no-fly zones for civilians in the region.
Kasich's speech highlighted what he said was the need to not only fight terrorism abroad but also defend the nation against domestic attacks, particularly from a growing cyberthreat. “There’s new dimensions that have been added to the threat on our security,” he said, making reference to the fear of malicious hacking from China, as the U.S. saw in September, and to the ability of groups like ISIS to recruit online.
“The actual scope and industrial scale of this problem now poses a significant threat to individual privacy and security, to our international competitiveness, and to our national security,” he said, urging heightened surveillance of individuals on terror watch lists as well as advanced decryption technology to pinpoint terrorists before they strike.
Kasich has polled consistently in the middle or back of the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, often being outshone by the apparent media-luring antics of fellow candidates including Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The Ohio governor was polling at around 2 percent Wednesday, according to Real Clear Politics, which takes the average of available poll data. Trump and Cruz were leading the Party's candidates, according to the same data, with 29.3 and 15.5 percent, respectively.
A Tuesday poll conducted by CNN in New Hampshire, one of the key primary state battlegrounds, put Kasich in a more favorable position. He was polling at 7 percent in the swing state, which put him behind Trump by 25 percentage points though ahead of Cruz and Carson.
Kasich insisted that Trump would soon lose favor with the American public when people finally become disillusioned by the billionaire's brazen attitude and discriminatory remarks.
“This is not what leads to a strong America. And now, this latest declaration, people don’t buy this,” Kasich said of Trump’s latest proposal, to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “This doesn’t represent what we are.”