By Mark Thompson
January 15, 2016

Some Republican seeking the White House Thursday night declared their willingness to go to war if Iran seizes U.S. sailors—as Tehran did earlier this week—during their Presidency.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, at the start of the South Carolina scrum, ignored the opening question to blast the Obama Administration amidships for its handing of the 16-hour detention that began Tuesday and ended peacefully Wednesday with their release.

“Today, many of us picked up our newspapers, and we were horrified to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees, with their hands on their heads,” Cruz said. “I give you my word, if I am elected President, no serviceman or servicewoman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.”

It generated huge applause from the Fox Business Network audience in North Charleston, but it also betrayed ignorance of the ways of the world. Sure, the video was humiliating, but the full force and fury of American diplomacy garnered the sailors’ freedom after an overnight stay on Iran’s heavily-defended Farsi Island in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

Read More: Video Captures Moment When Iran Detained U.S. Sailors

Yes, the U.S. might have had to swallow some bile, but those 10 sailors are safe tonight, and there is no shooting war now happening between Washington and Tehran.

There was a surfeit of GOP threats to act strong, while claiming the Obama Administration has gutted what all acknowledge remains the world’s greatest armed force. No one bothered to explain why the U.S. military under Republican President George W. Bush was unable to prevail in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

“Our military is a disaster,” New York real-estate magnate Donald Trump said flatly.

The 10 U.S. sailors “obviously had mis-navigated” before ending up as Iranian captives, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday. “Obviously I don’t like to see our people being detained by a foreign military,” he added during a visit to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

Iranian media had a field day, publishing and broadcasting some 20 photographs and several videos of the U.S. sailors, two of which showed a male sailor, identified as Lt. David Nartker, a 2011 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, apologizing for the incident. “It was a mistake that was our fault,” he said, “and we apologize for our mistake.”

Despite their rhetoric, the GOP candidates didn’t make clear what they would do if the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took U.S. military personnel on their watch. But their message was implicit: they believe their threat to unleash U.S. firepower on the hostage-takers would be sufficient to deter them from such a move.

“We need to rebuild our military, and this President has let it diminish to a point where tin pot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said. “It is disgraceful, and in a Christie Administration, they would know much, much better than to do that.”

Read More: U.S. Sailors Freed by Iran, But Their Humiliation Persists

The debate ended the way it began, only this time it was Trump decrying U.S. humiliation at Iraqi hands, which he said he witnessed with 75 construction workers.

“Half of them had tears pouring down their face,” Trump said in his closing statement, the last of the seven. “They were watching the humiliation of our young 10 sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up.”

The only reason Iran returned the sailors, he said, was to regain the more than $100 billion they’ll get once the “stupid deal” restricting their nuclear program takes effect. “If I’m president, there won’t be stupid deals anymore,” Trump pledged. “We will win on everything we do.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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