MODERATOR: Good evening and welcome to our third and final presidential debate, being broadcast live from the Sheldon Adelson Pavilion here in Las Vegas. Tonight we’ll hear from the three candidates for president: Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders, Republican Senator Rand Paul, and Independent Donald Trump.
Let’s get right to it with a question on foreign policy. Since 9/11, the United States has been involved in military conflict with one form of terrorist organization or another, whether it be al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, or other organizations. We have effected regime change in Iraq by invasion and seen other regimes fall throughout the Middle East. What is your policy on military intervention and regime change?
PAUL: These are the fundamental questions of our time, these foreign policy questions, whether or not regime change is a good idea or a bad idea. I don't think because I think the regime change was a bad idea it means that Hussein was necessarily a good idea.
There is often variations of evil on both sides of the war. What we have to decide is whether or not regime change is a good idea. It's what the neoconservatives have wanted. It's what the vast majority of those on the stage want.
They still want regime change. They want it in Syria. They wanted it in Iraq. They want it in Libya. It has not worked.
Out of regime change you get chaos. From the chaos you have seen repeatedly the rise of radical Islam. So we get this profession of, oh, my goodness, they want to do something about terrorism and yet they're the problem because they allow terrorism to arise out of that chaos.[i]
SANDERS: I have a difference of opinion with Secretary Clinton on this. Our differences are fairly deep on this issue. We disagreed on the war in Iraq. We both listened to the information from Bush and Cheney. I voted against the war.
But I think -- and I say this with due respect -- that I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.
Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of Gadhafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS. So I think, yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of dictators is easy. But before you do that, you've got to think about what happens the day after. And in my view, what we need to do is put together broad coalitions to understand that we're not going to have a political vacuum filled by terrorists, that, in fact, we are going to move steadily -- and maybe slowly -- toward democratic societies, in terms of Assad, a terrible dictator. But I think in Syria the primary focus now must be on destroying ISIS and working over the years to get rid of Assad. That's the secondary issue.[ii]
TRUMP: In my opinion, we've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and 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. I can tell you that right now.
We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we've done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It's not like we had victory.
It's a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.[iii]
MODERATOR: And due to more profitable programming, that’s all the time we have tonight. Don’t forget to vote next Tuesday. Goodbye from the Koch Brothers Center here on an oil derrick in the Gulf of Mexico.
[i] Republican Debate, December 15, 2015.
[ii] Democratic Debate, December 19, 2015.
[iii] Republican Debate, December 15, 2015.