The Republican candidates broadly agreed that the Paris attacks should be the catalyst for a new U.S. military strategy against the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for Friday’s carnage.
A dark portrait of America — impotent against Islamic State group militants, vulnerable against shadowy, undocumented refugees, and isolated in a world of fraying alliances — emerged from the Republican presidential field on Saturday as candidates seized on the Paris attacks to try to elevate terrorism into a defining issue in the 2016 election.
Leading Republicans such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called on the Obama administration to halt plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, warning that the Islamic State group would leverage the Paris attacks to add recruits and raise money, said the United States needed to move immediately to assemble a stronger coalition to fight the militants.
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Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida urged Americans to transform their “mindset” and recognize that “an organized effort to destroy Western civilization” is under way. And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Americans and President Obama should accept that ground troops — up to 10,000 of them — would be needed as part of any coalition of Middle Eastern and European countries to fight the Islamic State group.
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The Republicans also broadly agreed that the Paris attacks should be the catalyst for a new military strategy against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which claimed responsibility for Friday’s carnage.
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“This will be coming to America,” Cruz warned. “ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America.”
Cruz, Graham and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio went to great lengths to describe elements of their counterterrorism plans in hopes that voters would prefer experienced leaders at a time of crisis, rather than government outsiders like Carson and Trump, who are leading in most public-opinion polls.
Speaking in Florida on Saturday, Cruz used a question about Carson to turn back to the threat of terrorism and highlight “the need for a strong commander in chief to defeat it and to keep America safe.” Kasich, describing Friday’s attacks as a “wake-up call,” said NATO should invoke its mutual-defense clause to coordinate action against terrorists in the allied countries.
Graham, in an interview, derided Trump’s support for the current Russian bombing campaign against the Islamic State group.
“The complexities of what we face are real,” Graham said, “and the instinct to just let the Russians fight ISIL is really not a good move because they will require a price we don’t want to pay: keeping Assad.” He was referring to the embattled president of Syria, Bashar Assad, a Russian ally.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who derided Rubio’s support for higher military spending at the last Republican debate, criticized him again Saturday as he discussed America’s national security in the context of immigration reforms such as the bipartisan bill that Rubio once pushed in the Senate.
“I introduced an amendment to the immigration bill that would have provided for more scrutiny for people coming into our country,” he said. “Marco and Chuck Schumer basically had a secret deal to block all amendments.”
The toughest language came from Cruz, widely viewed as rising in the Republican field after a pair of well-received debate performances. He argued, for instance, that the United States must be willing to accept civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat the Islamic State through intensified airstrikes.
On Saturday, on “Fox and Friends,” he castigated the president for not being willing, in his view, to go to every length to fight terrorists. “I recognize Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country,” Cruz said.
As much as the Republicans were adamant that Obama had not done enough in the fight against the Islamic State group, most were tentative about committing more U.S. ground troops to that effort.
Rubio, asked in an interview if he would commit 5,000 or even 10,000 troops, said, “I wouldn’t put a number on it.” Bush said defeating the Islamic State group was “the war of our time,” but refused to be pulled into giving a troop estimate. Cruz said he still believed Kurdish fighters should lead ground forces.
A free-floating sense of danger has led many Republican voters, and their candidates, to strongly support gun ownership as a means of self-protection. At a rally Saturday in Beaumont, Texas, Trump said the outcome of the attacks would have been different if people there had been armed.
“When you look at Paris, you know, the toughest gun laws in the world, nobody had guns except for the bad guys, nobody,” Trump said. “And I’ll tell you what, you can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry, it would have been a much, much different situation.”
Carson, meanwhile, blamed Obama for “not having the kind of vision that would allow you to recognize that once you’ve gotten a place like Iraq under control you don’t withdraw, which leaves an incredible vacuum and allows for the development of things like ISIS.” He repeated his view that “boots on the ground would probably be important” in the fight against the Islamic State group, but said broader action was also necessary.