Republican presidential candidates sought a return to failed Bush-era tactics on accused terrorists during Saturday's debate. This, as signs indicate that ISIS is struggling.

The discussion began with a question for Senator Ted Cruz on his December 2014 statement that "Torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture." Asked if waterboarding constituted torture, the senator, engaged in semantics, declaring that it should be classified as "enhanced interrogation." Waterboarding is torture by any definition, but given today's fearful climate, heated up by fear-mongering presidential candidates, Mr. Cruz decided he had to distance himself from his reasonable past comments.

Upping the ante per usual, Donald Trump declared that he would do "a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." He didn't indicate what that would entail, but it could perhaps involve locking an accused terrorist in a room with the Donald, which might violate the Geneva Conventions.

Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush argued that the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba should continue to house accused terrorists. Guantanamo, which congressional Republicans have prevented President Obama from closing, warehouses people who may or may not be terrorists in violation of the principles fundamental to our legal system. In so doing, the prison invites other nations to treat American prisoners in the same fashion. That same principle also applies to waterboarding or any other form of torture.


Meanwhile, the Islamic State, confronted by Kurdish, Arab and U.S. forces, and an improved Iraqi army, has lost an estimated 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria in recent weeks, a setback to ISIS' avowed goal to build a caliphate in the region. Analysts say it is also facing desertions, in part because it lacks the money to pay fighters and also because the tough living conditions and military setbacks have disillusioned the naive idealists who misguidedly joined the cause.

ISIS will long pose a threat, but the White House's strategy is containing the organization while avoiding the kinds of provocative actions and threatening talk that play into the hands of terrorists. That includes the use of torture, which does not produce useful intelligence information, puts Americans in the Middle East in jeopardy, and reduces the United States to the level of its barbaric enemies. Senator Cruz had it right in the first place.