(CNSNews.com) – Donald Trump said during Tuesday’s GOP debate that he got to know Russian President Vladimir Putin “very well” when the two shared billing on a recent CBS “60 Minutes” program, but rival Carly Fiorina drew loud applause minutes later when she said, “I have met him as well – not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting.”
“I’ve never met Vladimir Putin,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) still later. “But I know enough about him to know he’s a gangster.”
The exchanges came as the candidates in the Fox Business Network/Wall Street Journal debate wrangled over Russia’s policies in Ukraine and the Middle East, and what they as president would do in response.
They differed not only in how they would deal with Putin, but also over whether the U.S. should enforce a no-fly zone in Syria, where Russian warplanes are now flying in support of the Assad regime – and, according to Moscow, targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
Trump appeared to be comfortable with Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
“If Putin wants to go in and knock the hell out of ISIS I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody can be against it,” he said.
“They’re not doing it,” interjected former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but Trump batted away the interruption. Bush was alluding to concerns that Russian airstrikes in Syria are designed more to prop up the Assad regime than to wipe out ISIS.
Trump dismissed the notion that Putin was being soft on ISIS.
“They blew up a Russian airplane,” he said of claims by an ISIS affiliate in Sinai to have bombed a Russian Airbus over the Egyptian desert earlier this month. “He cannot be in love with these people.”
As for Putin’s destabilization of Ukraine, Trump said the Germans and other European nations should be dealing with the problem in their neighborhood.
“We have countries surrounding Ukraine that aren’t doing anything,” he said. “We have to get smart, we can’t continue to be the policeman of the world.”
“Donald’s wrong on this,” said Bush. “We’re not going to be the world’s policeman but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader. There’s a huge difference.”
Bush called for a no-fly zone in Syria and safe zones for refugees there.
“Without American leadership, every other country in the neighborhood begins to change their priorities,” he said. “It is tragic that you see Iraq and other countries now talking to Russia. It wasn’t that long ago Russia had no influence in the region at all.”
Fiorina, who has drawn past criticism from Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for saying she would not speak to Putin, said in Tuesday’s debate she would not speak to him “for a while.”
What she would do, however, is send him a clear message by “rebuilding the Sixth Fleet right under his nose,” developing missile defense in Poland, and conducting aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states, among other things.
“We must have a no-fly zone in Syria, because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes,” she said.
Paul said it was naïve and foolish to think that the U.S. would not talk to Russia.
As for a no-fly zone in Syria, he noted that Russia was already flying in that area, and said enforcing a no-fly zone there would therefore mean “saying we are going to shoot down Russian planes.”
“If you’re ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq,” Paul said. “I don’t want to see that happen.”