John Kasich Says U.S. Troops Should Destroy ISIS But Avoid Toppling Syria's Leader

There's real disagreement among the GOP presidential candidates on this question.
Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Sunday that it would be "a big mistake" for the United States to get embroiled in a civil war in Syria against its leader, Bashar Assad.
Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Sunday that it would be "a big mistake" for the United States to get embroiled in a civil war in Syria against its leader, Bashar Assad.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- There's a real disagreement among the Republican presidential candidates over the extent to which the United States should involve itself in Syria's ongoing civil war. This was exemplified Sunday by Ohio Gov. John Kasich saying that it would be "a big mistake" for the United States to use troops to try to depose the country's leader, President Bashar Assad.

In the GOP's primary debate Saturday evening in South Carolina, Kasich interrupted an argument between businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about whether it was a mistake for President George W. Bush to invade Iraq, saying that their dispute was "nuts."

In an attempt to clarify where the candidate stands on intervention abroad, NBC's Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" asked Kasich on Sunday whether it was "the right call" for the U.S. to intervene in the civil wars in Bosnia and Lebanon in the 1980s and '90s. Kasich did not address Bosnia but said he voted against the intervention in Lebanon as a congressman, throwing in a criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the "terrible mistake" of going into Libya in 2011 to protect civilians from then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

KASICH: You know, frankly, that's something that people ought to be thinking about in regard to Hillary. You know, they talk about Benghazi, which is very legitimate. Of course it is. But we should never have deposed Gaddafi. That was a terrible mistake. The guy was working with us. And now, we've created chaos in that country. Look, I was not in favor of U.S. troops in Lebanon. And I voted against it. Even when Reagan wanted them there. Tip O'Neill wanted them there. Then when they got blown up, Tip was out blaming Reagan. And I never forget it. You know, since the sixth century, Sunni and Shiite have been fighting. And we want to get in the middle of that, it makes no sense.

TODD: So you would stay out of Syria?

KASICH: 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 OK 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.

Kasich has previously called for sending U.S. ground troops to Syria and for a no-fly zone in the country to protect civilians. He has also said that "it is not our job to try to get Sunni and Shiite ... to live together peacefully" and that it's "not our job to nation-build them." His views on forced regime change in Syria put him in the same camp as Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In contrast, Bush said during the debate that "we need to destroy ISIS and dispose of Assad to create a stable Syria so that the 4 million refugees aren’t a breeding ground for Islamic jihadists."

"We need to create a coalition, Sunni-led coalition on the ground with our special operators to destroy ISIS and bring about stability. And you can’t do that with Assad in power," Bush said Saturday.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) has expressed the same view.

Todd also asked Kasich on Sunday about whether he agrees with the GOP's promise that they would stymie any attempt by President Barack Obama to nominate and confirm a Supreme Court justice to succeed Antonin Scalia, who was found dead Saturday. Todd asked Kasich whether this policy of obstruction was risky, since a Democratic candidate could win in November and nominate a more liberal justice if the Democrats also win back the Senate.

"Well, but that's life," Kasich said. "I mean, you know, then the people actually have had some say. It's really kind of a unique thing when you think about it, Chuck. It's unique to say that the public itself is going to have sort of an indirect vote on who's going to be a Supreme Court justice. I think that's kind of cool ... You and I both know in the real world, [the Senate is] not going to confirm anybody."

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