Paris Attack Sends Shockwaves Throughout America
Although it is not very likely but if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination and goes on to win the presidency, historians may mark the Paris attacks on November 13 as the defining moment in the campaign.
But, that is only one of many repercussions of the Paris attack. The Obama Administration is coming under attack by not only Republicans, but even Democrats for its Syrian refugee policy. And, a majority of governors in the US are telling Washington that they will not accept Syrian refugees.
The most obvious and immediate impact is the growing recognition on both sides of the political aisle that the Obama White House is floundering with both its Syrian and refugee policies. At a press conference in Antalya, Turkey, American reporters kept asking Obama why he was declaring his anti-ISIS strategy was working, when clearly it isn’t. NBC’s Chuck Todd found Obama “extremely defensive and almost not yet realizing that many of the reporters in that room – they’re channeling the public in this case.”
CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour reflected what other U.S. based media has been presenting and promoting as the common view of most Americans when she said, “He said…that our strategy is working. People do not believe that to be the case…He’s saying that ISIS is contained. This also is – is not actually true. ISIS is not contained, because ISIS attacked a Russian plane, attacked Beirut, and has now attacked here. … They are not contained. They have just slaughtered 129 people in Paris.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Obama policies are forcing even loyal Democrats to move away from the president. In Louisiana, the Democratic candidate for governor, John Bel Edwards, is also campaigning against bringing Syrian refugees to Louisiana.
Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraqi War veteran said, “I said for some time that ISIS is a national security threat to the United States and to our allies and we need to have a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS. I’m not confident that we have right that right now… I last served in Iraq during the Surge, and we actually got Iraq to a relatively stable place but then we pulled out… I was just concerned that we’re not doing more. I don’t think we have this long-term strategy.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) also sharply contradicted President Barack Obama on Monday, disagreeing with his claim that the Islamic State is “contained.” “I’ve never been more concerned,” the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee ranking member told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Monday. “I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding.”
On the issue of taking in Syrian refugees, she said, “In light of the Paris attacks, keeping our borders secure from ISIL terrorists must be our number one priority. As part of that, we need to be very careful about Syrian refugee admissions and ensure we can continue to balance our security with helping those most in need.”
Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY), the third ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership (and the likely Senate Democratic leader in 2017), on Tuesday said it may be necessary to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
Representative Stephen F. Lynch (D, MA) told the Boston Herald the refugee screening system is lacking and he’s going to refugee camps “very soon” to see what can be fixed.
Ironically, such sentiments weren’t heard on Saturday at the Democratic presidential debate, where both Clinton and Sanders were careful to avoid finding fault in the Paris attacks or push for a more circumspect refugee resettlement policy.
Neither Clinton nor Sanders have spent much time on the campaign trail addressing foreign policy. Issues like income inequality, affordable college education and criminal justice have dominated the conversation, and even Clinton appeared to be on uncertain ground at the debate as she spoke about the threat posed by ISIS, saying that the US must “root out” ISIS, then that “it cannot be an American fight” but that “American leadership is essential.”
Part of the challenge for Clinton, of course, is that her foreign policy credentials are so closely tied to the success of Obama’s current efforts to deal with the ISIS threat. If the American public decides that he’s succeeding, she will prosper. If not, what was once thought to be strength could end up a weakness.
The Republican Response
Needless to say, the Republican candidates for president were taking full advantage of the Obama failures. For many Republican candidates and their supporters, the violence in Paris illustrates what they see as a lack of leadership from Obama.
Not only is this a chance to differentiate themselves from Obama, it is also a winning issue as far as American voters are concerned. A Bloomberg poll released on Wednesday said 53% of Americans oppose the program to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. Only 28% would keep it.
Trump, who has made much of illegal immigration during the campaign, appears to have the advantage in terms of the Syrian refugee resettlement issue. He has also been more aggressive in terms of addressing the ISIS problem. This weekend he tweeted that his early demands for attacks on ISIS-controlled oil fields are being vindicated.
That isn’t all. Trump said on Monday he would “strongly consider” closing mosques if elected. The United States has “absolutely no choice” but to close down mosques where “some bad things are happening…Nobody wants to say this and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions or anything, but you know, you understand it,” Trump said on Fox News’s “Hannity” on Tuesday. “A lot of people understand it. We’re going to have no choice.”
Trump also used the issue to secure his pro-gun credentials. On Saturday Trump told a crowd of supporters it would have been a “much, much different situation” in Paris if residents were allowed to carry guns.
This is an issue that appears to have gained traction with Americans. In the days since the attack, it appears that sales of guns have increased dramatically and sheriff’s offices are seeing an increase in numbers of people seeking permits to carry firearms.
For example, Fox News quoted Texas Guns owners Jerry McCall saying he is seeing “people … in their 70s and 80s who say they have never owned a firearm before but … think [they] need one in the house now.”
And people who might have purchased their first gun ever during the last year – amid the unrest and anxiety of the Ferguson protests or the Baltimore riots – are now buying a second gun to be sure they can protect their families in the event of an attack.
Other GOP presidential candidates have also faulted Obama for his Syrian policies in general. They have especially been hard of the president for allowing more Syrian refugees into the country.
Cruz said the Obama plan to admit “tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees” was “lunacy.” He also called for the US to use “overwhelming air power” in Syria and provide more arms to Kurdish forces.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is sinking fast in the polls, said, “This is the war of our time, and we have to be serious in engaging and creating a strategy to confront it and take it out.” He, however, was softer on the issue of Syrian refugees and said they needed to be let in.
Carson told reporters after the Paris attacks, “We must redouble our efforts and our resolve to resist them, not only to contain them, but to eliminate that kind of hatred in the world.”
Carson said refugees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq should not be allowed into the United States. “To bring them here when we have tens of millions of people who are suffering economically doesn’t make any economic sense,” he said.
Senator Rubio said Americans should stand with the people of France and help the French government find those responsible.
However, it appears that Trump has benefitted most from the attack, as post-Paris-attack polling shows him pulling away from the second place candidate Ben Carson. In a Reuters poll taken after the Paris attack, 36 percent of the Republicans polled said they now have more confidence in Trump’s ability to be president – the largest show of support in the primary field. Only 10 percent said they were less confident in his abilities following the attacks.
The poll also shows 22 percent of voters identified national security issues as a key factor in their thinking about the presidential election and that 36 percent thought ISIS and homegrown terrorism were the biggest threats to the U.S.
The Trump lead is contrary to the political experts’ views that the Paris attacks would prompt voters to rethink their support for Trump. Some had predicted that Republican voters would now gravitate toward establishment candidates like Rubio and Bush. Both are seen as stronger on foreign policy than Trump or Carson, who have no foreign policy experience.
Opposition from Governors
Obama’s Syrian refugee policy has also become a major domestic issue as the majority of state governors have said that they do not want Syrian refugees resettling into their state after the Paris attacks. The governors are concerned that there are ISIS members that are part of the influx.
There is a legitimate concern, especially since FBI Director Comey said in October, “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with “bringing in Syrian refugees.” US authorities have charged at least 66 men and women with ISIS-related terror plots on American soil in the last 18 months – including a handful of refugees – according to the Daily Mail.
For instance, a 2013 ABC News investigation revealed that several dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some who were believed to have targeted U.S. troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the U.S. as Iraq and Afghanistan War refugees, among the tens of thousands of innocent immigrants. In Kentucky, two Iraqi refugees who settled in Bowling Green turned out to be al Qaeda-linked terrorists who had probably killed Americans in the Middle East.
The argument from Washington is that the states have no authority to control the immigration of Syrian refugees into their state as the US Constitution gives Congress the “Power to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.”
However, the Constitution doesn’t address immigration per say. The power to determine who shall be citizens — is different from the power over immigration of non-citizens. And, the only implication is found in a clause that was written into the Constitution to control slavery over 200 years ago – Article I, Section 9. The inference is that Congress can control immigration and the courts have ruled that immigration is an inherent power of the federal government.
However, that doesn’t mean that the states have no power to regulate Syrian refugee resettlement. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can’t do anything that imposes a cost on the states. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a Syrian refugee, who is resettled into a state that doesn’t want them, can be eligible for any state benefits. This could cause Syrian refugees to voluntarily move to another state that allows them to receive state benefits.
States also have considerable powers in regards to zoning, health, and safety issues. A state could, make resettlement difficult by refusing to grant occupancy permits to residences or forcing stringent health inspections on the facilities or refugees. Since they regulate corporations, they could also influence the actions of corporations that have federal resettlement contracts.
However, the most likely route that the states will take is in the courts, which have already taken a jaundiced view of Obama’s executive action on immigration.
The Refugee Act of 1980 says that the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is supposed to work in cooperation with state and local governments in resettling refugees. The law states that the recommendations of the state must be taken into consideration and that there is no major impact on the area from the refugee resettlement.
Clearly, the federal government hasn’t consulted with the state and local governments. In fact, the Obama Administration has refused to tell governors where the refugees are being resettled in their states. Nor, has anyone looked at the impact of resettlement on local communities. This leaves the Obama policy ripe for a court challenge.
The other part of the Syrian refugee issue is their status after the 2016 presidential election. As we see from the pronouncements of the GOP candidates, the current program is likely to be radically changed.
For instance, while speaking in Knoxville, Tennessee Monday night, Trump said if elected president, he would deport all Syrian refugees who settle in the U.S.
“Anybody that’s brought into this country from the migration is going to be out,” Trump said. “We’re not gonna do it. We’re gonna have a country again. We’re gonna have borders. We’re gonna have a country again. Right now we don’t have a country.”
Trump said he would prefer the U.S. construct safe zones with Syria to protect refugees.
It’s important to remember that under American law, refugee status isn’t permanent and a new president could revoke any or all of the Syrian’s refugee status, forcing them to leave the country. In addition, a new president could institute more rigorous security checks and then deport any Syrians seen as security risks.
In the meantime, the biggest risk for the Obama Administration is political. Many Democrats are concerned with what Obama’s unpopularity has done to the Democratic Party at the congressional and state levels. The Democrat party has few young and up-and-coming politicians because they have been so devastated at the local and state level. Without new politicians coming up from the state and local level, the party will be unable to attract the young voters necessary for future electoral victories.
Polls show that American voters aren’t in favor of Obama’s refugee resettlement program because they fear terrorists coming in. Should that fear be confirmed by some terrorist act being committed by a Syrian refugee between now and the election, chances are that many Democrats at federal, state, and local levels will lose as voters punish them for their support of Obama’s policies.
No wonder so many Democrats are abandoning Obama’s Syrian policies and calling for stricter refugee immigration standards.
Tunisia Deserves America’s Concrete and Committed Support
By Anthony B. Kim and Joshua Meservey
November 13, 2015
Issue Brief #4483
On November 13, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Tunisia to hold the second U.S.–Tunisia Strategic Dialogue. Following the inception of the critical dialogue between the two countries in April 2014, the second session of the dialogue is expected to focus on how to ensure Tunisia’s ongoing transition to a stable, free-market democracy. Secretary Kerry’s visit comes at an opportune moment for the United States to reassure Tunisia of its continued and even reinvigorated commitment, as well as to challenge Tunisia to take decisive action on implementing much-needed reforms.
Force against ISIS Is the Wrong Tactic
By Emma Ashford
November 16, 2015
The tragic acts of terrorism committed in Paris on Friday have led to renewed calls for a more aggressive campaign against ISIS. Such calls are understandable given the shock and horror which always follows such barbarism. But simple revenge risks repeating the strategic mistakes of the last decade. As we learned from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, military victory is easy. Securing the peace can be almost impossible. If we truly want to defeat ISIS, we must focus not on military victory, but on what comes after ISIS. Without resolution of the diplomatic and political conflicts which have allowed ISIS to bloom, what replaces it could be just as bad—or worse.
Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat
By Alex Nowrasteh
November 18, 2015
Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States and none was successfully carried out. That is one terrorism-planning conviction for a refugee for every 286,543 of them who have been admitted. To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014. The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough. The brutal terrorist attack in France last Friday reignited a debate over accepting refugees from Syria and the Middle East. A Syrian who applied for asylum could have been one of the attackers although his passport was a forgery. (As of this writing, all identified attackers have been French or Belgian nationals.)
Paris, ISIS, and the Long War Against Extremism
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 14, 2015
It is one of the grim ironies of the terrorist attacks in Paris that only a few hours earlier, the media had been calling to ask if the reported killing of “Jihadi John” had somehow marked a “turning point” in the war against terrorism. The tragedy in Paris has now led to the other side of this routine: focusing on the immediate risk of future disasters while losing interest in the victories against the Islamic State in Sinjar. Politicians and some “experts” have followed the same pattern – overreacting to the most recent event and losing sight of the reality that there are not going to be any turning points in the near future. Years of new tragedies like Paris are almost inevitable, and the struggle against extremism is going to be a long, long battle of attrition.
Winning the War of Ideas
By Juan C. Zarate and Farah Pandith
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 16, 2015
There is a broad consensus that the United States and the West are losing the messaging war against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and like-minded terrorists. Indeed, there has been much focus on terrorists’ use of social media to spread their message and attract thousands of followers from the heart of the Middle East to America’s heartland. The challenge from this ideology and global movement, however, is often reduced to a problem of messaging or public diplomacy. The reality is that we are losing more than just a battle in the media and on the Internet.
Strategic Implications of Assad’s Victory at Kweiris
By Aron Lund
November 10, 2015
As I write this, news has just broken that President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed by the Russian Air Force, has reached Kweiris Airbase east of Aleppo. The long since defunct landing strip had been under siege for nearly three years, with a small band of soldiers left to stave off a variety of rebel groups. In 2014, the surrounding countryside came under the sole control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has since then repeatedly tried to blast its way into Kweiris. Today, Assad finally broke the siege, dealing a humiliating defeat to the Islamic State.
Refugees and the Making of an Arab Regional Disorder
By Maha Yahya
November 9, 2015
Wars in Iraq and Syria have displaced around 12 million Syrians and 4 million Iraqis as of June 2015, marking a historic turning point for the region. The increasingly sectarian nature of these conflicts is dismantling the idea of a nation-state built on societal diversity and is affecting the refugee policies of Lebanon and Jordan, the two Arab countries hosting the most refugees. A substantial new underclass of citizens has emerged, along with an evident expansion in militant identities. Without effective policies, these trends will have profound repercussions on regional and international stability.
Targeting Europe’s Refugees Is Not the Answer
By Aaron Y. Zelin
November 16, 2015
In light of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the question of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe has come into sharp focus — and been politicized by European and U.S. politicians and commentators across the spectrum. Indeed, this past summer, an exponential increase occurred in the number of individuals making these difficult journeys. The flights were spurred in part by the Assad regime and its allies’ continued assaults on civilian populations and in part by increasing territorial gains by the jihadist groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Many individuals living in refugee camps thus despaired that they would ever actually return home. Given that most refugees simply want a safer and better life for their children, and that current media and policy discussions are not considering this issue’s many facets, clarification is essential on misconceptions related to ISIS, refugees, and potential future challenges within Europe in particular.