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American Conservatives Are Using the Paris Terror Attacks to Call for More War on Terror

In the wake of the attack, leading Republicans bashed Prsident Obama for being soft on national security.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

As the terrorism drama continues to unfold in Paris, politicians across the globe have already begun to debate policy on the back of Wednesday's deadly assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and unsurprisingly, many right wingers are the past few days' events as confirmation that their warnings about radical Islam were right all along. While Europe deals with its own racial tensions and immigration issues, America's conservatives have seized on the attacks as an opportunity to reassert their hawkish national security policies and double down on the anti-terror strategies neocons have been pushing since 9/11.


Just days into the new legislative session, Republicans in Congress used the year's first terror crisis to pillory Obama's foreign policy, indicating they would try to force his hand on national security issues. "We must use this horrific attack as an opportunity to reevaluate our own national security posture," South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a leading neocon, said in a lengthy statement on the attacks. "I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding,"

Suggesting that Obama doesn't understand the "gravity" of the terrorist threat, Senator John McCain, the new chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said Thursday that the attacks would serve as impetus to reexamine issues like defense spending and the US strategy against the Islamic State.

"As long as ISIS succeeds, that will breed this kind of terrorist who goes to Syria, Iraq and fight, return to the country from which they came from—not only radicalized, but well trained," McCain told reporters. "And that is the reason why the administration is failing in not devoting the sufficient effort to destroy ISIS which is what the President's stated goal is… when in fact there is no strategy to do so."

For neocons, the attacks also offered an opening to defend controversy anti-terror intelligence programs and push back against bipartisan efforts to increase oversight of the country's spy agencies. In remarks to the National Journal Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said that the Paris attack proves why Congress shouldn't get in the way of the NSA's mass surveillance programs. "To me, Congress having oversight certainly is important," he said, "but what is more important relative to these types of events is ensuring we don't overly hamstring the NSA's ability to collect this kind of information in advance and keep these kinds of activities from occurring,"


New York Republican Congressman Peter King went a step farther, arguing that the Paris attack proves the NYPD was justified in spying on Muslims. "We have to put the New York Times aside, and we have to put the Associated Press aside and all the bleeding-heart politically correct people who say we can't be emphasizing one community over the other," King said in a talk radio interview Wednesday. "The fact is [the threat] coming from the Muslim community and it shows that the NYPD and [former police commissioner] Ray Kelly were right for so many years when they were really saturating areas where they thought the threat was coming from."

The response is perhaps unsurprising, given the rapid neoconservative resurgence within the Republican Party. The GOP made huge gains in 2014 in part by capitalizing on voter anxiety about global security threats. This week's attacks play right into that message, confirming conservative fears that the US is losing to The Terrorists. And while President Obama has sought to characterize the US fight against terrorism as a tactical campaign against a weak and distant threat, the assault on French cartoonists gives Republicans an opening to once again cast the war on terror as an imminent, existential, and even religious, battle for American freedoms.

"It's not an attack on our homeland, but it's definitely an attack on our way of life," Graham said Wednesday. "There's a perfect storm brewing to have this country hit again."


Calling the fight against Islamic extremism a "religious war," Graham added: "Our way of life doesn't fit into their scheme of how the world should be. If you stopped talking about radical Islam, if you never did a cartoon again, that's not enough. What people need to get is they can't be accommodated. They can't be negotiated with. They have to be eventually destroyed."

The party's 2016 presidential hopefuls have echoed this message. "Despite the President's assertion that the war on terror was over and that al-Qaeda was on the road to defeat, this is not accurate," Florida Senator Marco Rubio said, standing alongside McCain at Thursday's press conference. "The bottom line is that the war on terror continues, and for those who believe that somehow that war is over, I think if they have any doubts yet, yesterday should have dispelled them."

Texas Republican Ted Cruz weighed in on Facebook, calling the Paris massacre "an attack on us all."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who recently left his job at Fox News to explore a possible White House bid, was more forceful, calling the attack a "wakeup call that Western Civilization continues to face a threat to our very existence from radical Islam-inspired extremists."

"We all must stand firm against violent, totalitarian ideologies which seek to destroy our freedom," he said in a statement to the Hill. "Americans and Europeans must start by correctly identifying the problem, not simply wishing it away or trying to appease radicals. While apologists for radical Islam have often confused the issue with claims of 'Islamophobia,' it's well past time for those who truly value liberty and freedom to call their bluff."


Similarly, Rick Santorum, who is also openly considering another presidential run, said that the attack should serve as "a reminder to the West of the continuing threat to our way of life."

Even Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican who has frequently butted heads with his party's neocons, has seized the opportunity to ramp up the rhetoric. "I haven't seen any Christians or Jews dragging people of the Islamic faith through the streets, but I am seeing the opposite. I'm seeing Christians beheaded. I'm seeing people who say anything about Islam being shot," he said in a radio interview with Sean Hannity Thursday. "And so, yeah, should the rules always protect everyone's rights? Yeah. But I'm not too worried right now that we've infringed on their rights. I'm worried that Christians and Jews are being killed around the world."

Paul stopped short of calling for any changes in US national security strategy, instead suggesting that "maybe every Muslim immigrant that wishes to come to France shouldn't have an open door."

As of Friday morning, Hillary Clinton had not commented publicly on the attacks. More moderate Republican presidential contenders, including Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have also opted to stay out of the fray, at least for now.

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