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Haley shows off foreign policy chops – and her contrast with Trump – as she details how she would respond to drone attack

<i>Allison Joyce/Getty Images</i><br/>Nikki Haley speaks at a rally on January 28
Allison Joyce/Getty Images
Nikki Haley speaks at a rally on January 28

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

(CNN) — Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has gone on a media blitz in recent days, detailing how she would respond to the deadly weekend drone attack in Jordan if she were commander-in-chief – an approach that holds up her foreign policy experience in stark contrast to former President Donald Trump.

In the wake of the attack that killed three American troops, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador has, over the course of six media interviews, called for going after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leadership, targeting the resources of Iran-backed militias throughout the region, and cutting off financial support to Iran with new sanctions.

Showcasing her foreign policy fluency, Haley has said that she would advocate for “smartly hitting” Iran to prevent the death of American soldiers – instead of “randomly hitting” Iran, which could lead to dramatic escalation.

“Find one or two of them that are making the decisions. It will chill all of them when you do that,” Haley said on Fox News Monday, arguing such strikes would make Iran “flat-footed.”

She then bolstered her threats on Tuesday, saying she would target IRGC leadership inside or outside Iran, a move that many fear would draw the US into the Middle East conflict even more directly.

“If they are in their country, or you do like Soleimani when they left the country,” Haley said in another Fox interview, when asked if she would target IRGC leadership inside Iran. Haley was referencing the US drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian commander, in Baghdad in 2020.

Unlike Haley, Trump has offered no specifics as to how he would respond to the drone strike, which also left at least at least 30 US service members injured.

In a Sunday night statement, Trump said the attack would never have happened if he were in office. Trump cited his administration’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The former president then put out a statement Tuesday night blaming Biden for the death of the three service members.

“Three brave American Army Reservists are gone today—leaving behind their grieving families—because Crooked Joe enriched, emboldened, and empowered America’s enemies to unleash chaos and terror onto the base in Jordan where these Patriots were so savagely murdered,” Trump wrote, claiming that Biden’s leadership is bringing the country “straight into World War 3.”

Trump has not delved into how he would handle the escalating conflicts in the Middle East.

The differing approaches come after less than 15% of voters in the GOP primary in Iowa and New Hampshire listed foreign policy as the most important issue to them, according to CNN entrance and exit polls. Foreign policy fell behind the top two issues: the economy and immigration.

Haley has sought to showcase her foeign policy expertise throughout her campaign. And she is now seizing a moment to detail the plan of action that she would pursue, which she is also using to draw a contrast with President Joe Biden as well.

“My husband’s serving overseas. Military families want to know their loved ones are protected. Biden didn’t protect them, and there have been 160 strikes. There shouldn’t have been one,” Haley said on Monday. “We lost three heroes because Biden was scared of his own shadow. That’s the truth.”

Biden said on Tuesday that he has decided how the US would respond to the drone attack, but so far, he has not revealed what actions will be taken.

Whether or not Haley’s response would be drastically different from Biden’s remains to be seen. Biden and his team believe the military action must be forceful beyond what the US has done after previous, non-fatal attacks.

Haley – viewed as a more typical GOP hawk even as the party undergoes a foreign policy identity crisis – has claimed that her response to the deadly drone attack would prevent wars.

“The goal is always to prevent war,” she has repeatedly said in recent days.

When challenged on the concept of hitting IRGC leadership while simultaneously seeking to prevent further war, Haley made the case that both were possible.

“You’re going after their capabilities to hurt you further. Iran knows that they can’t defeat America. They know that they don’t want to take that on. The problem is they smell blood in the water. They smelled weakness from Biden since Afghanistan to Ukraine and everything in between,” Haley said. “So they are doing what they can because they can.”

Haley also explained that she believes that Americans don’t have an appetite for broader conflict because no one has clearly articulated where and why American action overseas is needed. It is a case she has also made as it relates to US support for Ukraine throughout the course of her campaign.

“You know why they don’t have the appetite? No one has told them why they should care. Biden hasn’t said it; Congress hasn’t said it. You have to overcommunicate with the American people. This is not about starting war; this is about preventing war,” Haley said on CBS on Tuesday.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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