Isil must be destroyed - but that's as far as the plan goes
After nearly two hours of debating Middle East foreign policy, Republican candidates made two things clear: All the contenders want to destroy Isil. And none of them has a real plan to rid the region of terrorism.
There were a range of ideas floated at the debate about how to correct what all Republicans argue is a failing Obama administration anti-terrorism policy. Leading contenders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz want to keep Syrian President Bashar al Assad in power for the time being and, as Cruz put it, "carpet bomb" the Islamic State into submission.
Rand Paul opposes "regime change" in Syria. Establishment Republicans including Marco Rubio and John Kasich insist that removing Assad is key to drying up the terrorist group's recruiting.
But as the candidates got into specifics, they revealed a range of misunderstandings about the way the Middle East works, the realities of the fight against terrorist groups there and the current state of US policy.
Paul began the debate by demanding the US halt support for the Syrian opposition. "I think if we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of Isil," he said.
In fact, Isil has no allies inside Syria. Even the Islamic rebel brigades that the US does not support, such as the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front, are fighting Isil every day. Paul also said that if the US had bombed Assad in 2013, Isil would be ruling in Damascus now.
But the group was in no position then to threaten Syria's capital.
Trump also confused the Syrian opposition with Isil and made several other questionable statements about the crisis in Syria.
"We have to do one thing at a time. We can't be fighting Isil and fighting Assad. Assad is fighting Isil. He is fighting Isil. Russia is fighting Isil. And Iran is fighting Isil," he said.
Cruz stuck to his mantra that drastically increasing the airstrikes against Isil would defeat the group, and he said that could be done without inflicting mass casualties on the civilians with whom the terrorists embed in cities in Iraq and Syria.