It was inevitable that Friday's terrorist attack on Paris would send political shock waves around the world. There were already debates in Europe and the US about refugees and what to do about the Islamic State, and the hideous image of armed men and suicide bombers killing civilians in a Western capital has only made those arguments more urgent.
In the US, presidential candidates who were already in the habit of condemning IS and pledging to wipe it from the face of the earth found themselves having to ratchet things up, and on the GOP side politicians raced to out-hawk one another. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was emblematic of the rhetoric on display, launching a half-dozen Tweets calling for America to assist France in this time of need, and noting the importance of helping the country find "those who are accountable and help bring them to justice." He then released a video where he characterized the conflict between the West and IS as a "clash of civilizations," and said that the terrorists "hate us because of our values," a line the right has been repeating at least since 9/11.
On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton refused to declare war against "radical Islam" at the debate Saturday night, noting that to win any conflict against Islamist organizations the US would have to depend on Muslim allies in the Middle East and such inflammatory language would just make that harder. "We are not at war with Islam," Clinton said, though she emphasized that IS must be "defeated," not "contained."
Obviously all the potential 2016 nominees agree that IS should be destroyed, with only Bernie Sanders, on the left, and Rand Paul, on the right, opposing a no-fly zone over Syria that would represent an escalation of American involvement in the war. But some candidates were more fiery in their denunciations than others.
Lindsey Graham, the most hawkish Republican in the field (and one of the least popular), is now warning of another 9/11 and calling for "boots on the ground" in Syria and Iraq, a step no one else seems eager to take. Mike Huckabee, another long-shot GOP candidate, wants to close US borders, stop taking on refugees "from countries where there is strong presence of ISIS or Al-Qaeda," form a coalition with Russia and other countries to destroy the Islamic State, and revoke the Iran deal. (The last item on the list is a bit odd, since Iran is actually an enemy of IS.)
Donald Trump, for his part, echoed a sentiment he shared on Twitter in January, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, when he told a crowd at a rally in Beaumont, Texas, "When you look at Paris—you know the toughest gun laws in the world, Paris—nobody had guns but the bad guys. Nobody had guns. Nobody." He continued: "You can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry—" here the crowd erupted in applause— "it would've been a much, much different situation."
Ben Carson, the other "outsider" GOP candidate and the unlikely leader in the polls, attempted to follow everyone else's lead on Fox News Sunday—defeat IS, international coalition, etc.—but stumbled when asked who would be part of that coalition, apparently unable to name an Arab ally of the US. This is sure to appeal to his fans, who love him for his inexperience.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz brought it back to immigration: In a statement on his website he said, "We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant." In other words, the US shouldn't be taking refugees from Syria—or, as Cruz clarified, at least not Muslim refugees. Jeb Bush echoed the call to only allow Christian refugees from the region into the country, a discriminatory policy that President Barack Obama slammed as "not American."
Rand Paul, the only GOP candidate supporting a non-interventionist foreign policy, is presumed to be more or less finished as a potential president: As the conversation turns toward escalation, his argument that America should avoid foreign entanglements seems likely to fall on deaf ears. Even the notably libertarian-ish Paul was warning the public about the supposed dangers of refugees over the weekend, however.
Out of everyone, the least eager to talk about the war against the Islamic State was democratic socialist and Clinton opponent Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator went on the record as saying he'd be open to working with Russia and Iran to defeat IS, but during the Saturday night debate he was clearly trying to stay on-message despite the tragedy. "Together, leading the world, this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS," he said in his opening debate statement. Then he shifted gears: "I'm running for president, because as I go around this nation, I talk to a lot of people. And what I hear is people's concern that… we have is a rigged economy."
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