Cruz and Rubio lead Republican charge against Obama over Syria policy
Ted Cruz led Republican criticism of White House policy on Syria on Saturday, in light of , deriding Barack Obama’s pledge to take more refugees and calling for intensified action against Islamic State. Marco Rubio took a different tack, however, in declaring “a civilizational conflict with radical Islam”.
“This is not a grievance-based conflict,” Rubio said in a video released by his presidential campaign. “This is a clash of civilizations. And either they win, or we win.”
Cruz and presidential candidates including Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal and seized on the news to demand drastic action on immigration, a hot-button issue on the campaign trail. Rubio, however, has made foreign policy a central focus of his run for the White House. In that light, he said the attacks in Paris were “a wake-up call”.
“They literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical, Sunni Islamic view of the future,” the Florida senator said. “They do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East.
“They hate us because of our values. They hate us because young girls here go to school. They hate us because women drive. They hate us because we have freedom of speech, because we have diversity in our religious beliefs. They hate us because we’re a tolerant society.”
Cruz, the senator from Texas who is riding high with rightwing voters, unleashed a scathing indictment of Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America: it is nothing less than lunacy,” he said, in an interview with Fox News.
He later said the US should “not allow jihadists to come back to America using US passports to murder innocent men and women”.
Rubio also criticized the president for lacking a strategy against Isis. The Florida senator called for a more aggressive tack against the militants, although he placed the onus on Sunni countries to defeat Isis “ideologically and militarily” with the US playing a supporting role.
Other candidates kept their focus on the implications of the attacks for immigration policy. The Kentucky senator Rand Paul went directly after Rubio, who two years ago co-authored a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Paul said he had offered an amendment to Rubio’s bill that would have applied “special scrunity” to immigrants coming to the US from countries “that have large jihadists”.
He then accused Rubio of having done a “secret deal” with Democrats to block any amendments to the bill.
“My amendment ... was defeated because Rubio was more intent on working with Chuck Schumer than he was in working with conservatives,” Paul said.
Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, disputed the claim.
“I don’t know what Senator Paul is talking about. The Senate voted on amendments, including conservative ones,” Conant told the Guardian. “It would appear Senator Paul is trying to change the subject away from his dangerous isolationist agenda and proposals to cut defense spending.”
But in a sign that the immigration debate would continue to dominate the Republican primary, other contenders reacted to the Paris attacks with calls to ramp up security along US borders.
At a rally in Beaumont, Texas, Donald Trump said: “With the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people, some of whom are going to have problems, big problems, is just insane.”
Elsewhere, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal “to close our borders and keep our people safe from these radical, evil terrorists”. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said: “We don’t just have open borders like they do in Europe.”
In September, the White House said in the fiscal year starting on 1 October 2015, up from less than 2,000. Refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war have caused a crisis in Europe, where rightwing politicians .
that one of the gunmen who carried out the Paris attacks was a Syrian who passed through Greece as a refugee last month.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for , in which 129 people were killed and 352 wounded, 99 of them critically. The group said it had acted in response to French involvement in Syria.
On Saturday, the US military said an airstrike had .
Speaking to reporters ahead of a “rally for religious liberty” in Greenville, South Carolina, Cruz said of the victims of the Paris attacks: “They were not injured by some faceless menace. They were not injured by some abstract and inchoate violent extremism.
“They were injured by radical Islamic terrorism, an evil that is at war with the people of America, that is at war with freedom-loving people across the globe.”
Repeating a common charge against Obama regarding semantics as much as policy, Cruz added: “We need a commander-in-chief willing to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ because it is the Islamists who embrace this extreme political and theological philosophy that … will murder or try to forcibly convert anyone that doesn’t share their extreme view of Islam.”
Cruz continued: “I call on Congress to pass the Expatriate Terrorist Act, legislation I’ve introduced that says that any American who goes and takes up arms and joins Isis to wage jihad against the United States of America, that by doing so they forfeit their American citizenship.
“We should not allow jihadists to come back to America using US passports to murder innocent men and women.”
Huckabee – who, unlike Cruz, is well off the pace in polls of the 2016 field and missed out on this week’s prime-time Republican debate – said Syrian refugees should be provided a safe haven, but it did not have to be in the US.
“We need to have a better process,” Huckabee said on CNN. “We don’t just have open borders like they do in .”
Huckabee also attacked Obama for saying recently that Isis had been “contained” and said the president was more concerned with “image of Islam” than defeating extremist terror groups.
The former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, , said he was uniquely qualified to lead the US in the effort against Islamic State because “no other presidential candidate ”.
Promising a major offensive against Isis if he made it to the White House, he said: “They know who I am and I know who they are.”
In South Carolina, Cruz advocated a similar course of action and invoked a familiar Republican exemplar, saying: “What is the answer to radical Islamic terrorism? It is, to paraphrase President Ronald Reagan with regard to the Cold War, very simple. We win, they lose. That is the only appropriate resolution to this.”
He continued: “It would start with a commander-in-chief laying out the objective that we will utterly destroy Isis. The next thing that would happen would be using overwhelming air power. You know, in the first Persian Gulf war we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. Overwhelming air power.
“Right now, President Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. It is pinprick air assault. It is photo-op foreign policy. It makes for a good shot on CNN, but it doesn’t actually do anything to stop the terrorists.”
On Friday, which appeared to suggest that airstrikes that risked killing innocent civilians would be acceptable, given the nature of the threat.