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“Disgracing Their Party”: The GOP’s Reckless Refugee Rhetoric

Republicans need to reacquaint themselves with Robert Ray.

The Republican governor of Iowa from 1969 to 1983, Robert Ray opened his state to help settle refugees after the Vietnam War, right in the middle of America’s heartland. “I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation,” said Ray. “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

He led when others followed and won another two terms. People have a funny way of rewarding moral courage at the end of the day. After all, it’s so rare to see in a politician.

But in the wake of the Paris attacks, more than two dozen governors—all Republicans, except for New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, a Democrat—announced they did not want to have any Syrian refugees darken their states. One would-be governor, the desperate David Vitter, lost no time in cutting a negative attack ad trying to make it look like President Obama was intentionally importing terrorists to Louisiana. Folding to fear-mongering apparently seems like good politics in 2015. It will look awful in a few decades.

The presidential candidates performed even worse under this policy pressure.

By now it should come as no surprise that Ted Cruz raced to embrace the new low.  The son of a refugee from Cuba announced that he would introduce a bill to ban Muslim refugees from entering the country. Only the most venal political cynicism could explain why he pivoted from calling for more refugees as a way of hitting President Obama’s lack of early action to his 180-degree turn today.

Most of the GOP field has followed suit, smelling political vulnerability in anything less than a Fortress America pose. Jeb Bush, who should know better, aped Cruz by backing a religious litmus test for incoming refugees. Donald Trump doubled down on deporting refugees and said that we should also be looking at closing mosques. Ben Carson continued to be incoherent on the subject of foreign policy. Even the normally sensible Chris Christie fell into the trap of the center-right politicians trying to show that they can be as tough as the crazies by recklessly throwing red meat, telling radio show host Hugh Hewitt that he would not accept Syrian orphans under the age of 5 into the country.

It is worth remembering that it was the body of a 3-year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up dead on a beach in Bodrum, that helped galvanize world opinion in favor of bringing in refugees by shaking us out of our moral myopia.

Of course the refugees fleeing ISIS are themselves victims of terrorist violence.  And as Reason’s Matt Welch detailed, contra claims by Trump and Carson, the majority of Syrian refugees are not “military-aged males,” but women and children.

Part of the ISIS mythology is based on pretending that they represent a clash between Islam and the West, instead of a clash between an apocalyptic death cult and civilization.

The way we will win this long war is not through military means alone, though that is an essential component (and it is ridiculous that the city of Raqqa has been allowed to solidify its role as the ISIS capital for so long). Ultimately, we will succeed by showing that we are different and bigger and better than the “us versus them” stereotypes that terrorists so desperately want the Arab street to believe.

That requires us living up to our best traditions, not solidifying our worst fears. And for those governors and presidential candidates who would seek to turn away refugees from ISIS, I’d recommend that they reacquaint themselves with the poem written by Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

That is the spirit of Liberty. All the reflexive campaign rhetoric about America being a beacon of freedom is now being put to the test. We should screen refugees for security and then welcome them in, letting the process of assimilation work without apology.

That is the American story and it is our responsibility to carry that story forward. Failure to do so represents a rejection of our best traditions, folding in the face of fear. Governors and presidential candidates above all should hold themselves to a higher standard. And if the Statue of Liberty is too lofty a goal to reach in a mean-spirited political season then perhaps they could at least borrow some caucus-proof political courage from the example of Iowa’s own Robert Ray.


By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, November 17, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Republican Governors, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Endangering Christian Lives”: Ted Cruz Demonized Arab Christians Before He Liked Them

Just over a year after giving Middle Eastern Christians advice that could have put them in danger, Sen. Ted Cruz has announced Syrian Christian refugees are not a threat and should be first in line to enter the U.S.

And some of his old critics say that’s a long-overdue change in tone.

On Sept. 10, 2014, Cruz headed to the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington to speak at the gala for a conference called “In Defense of Christians,” which brought together Christian leaders from throughout the Middle East to highlight the brutal persecution their congregants faced at the hands of the Islamic State.

The fact Cruz was speaking there at all caused waves in the conservative Beltway press. It started when the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier that day that some of the conference’s speakers and attendees had controversial affiliations; one speaker had previously defended Hezbollah, and another—years earlier—had touted a conspiracy theory about “Christians with Zionist orientations.”

Despite the bad press, Cruz took the stage that evening and launched into a speech, saying that everyone present was united by their commitment to defending persecuted Christians and Jews. He criticized ISIS, Hamas, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, all to applause. But then he started talking about Israel.

“Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” he said, to a mixture of boos and applause. “Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hates America.”

A mixture of boos and applause followed.

“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, I will not stand with you,” he concluded, exiting the stage.

The next day, Cruz doubled down, defending his decision to walk out on the group. He even gave a statement to Breitbart saying the evening “deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred.”

“[B]igotry and hatred have no place in this discussion,” he continued in that statement. “Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”

Breitbart’s initial headline of one story even implied the event’s attendees weren’t really Christians.

The event’s organizers—who brought together a historic group of Christian leaders at a moment when their communities faced (and still face) genocide—weren’t impressed.

“He came to a summit in defense of Christians and actually endangered Christian lives,” said the group’s executive director, Andrew Doran, according to the National Catholic Register.

Doran noted to the paper that “standing with Israel”—as Cruz demanded that event attendees do—can make already-vulnerable Christians top targets for Islamist extremists. And in the case of the Syrian civil war, Christian bishops have pushed for their flocks to stay neutral. Middle Eastern geopolitics make for happy hour chit-chat in Washington; for Christians in that region, though, those stances are sometimes matters of life or death.

“People had come here trusting us not to put their lives in danger,” Doran continued to the paper. “People had come here for the sake of unity, and for politicians to take advantage of this for their own agenda is absolutely disgraceful.”

So while Cruz has apologized to conservative political pundits, he has never expressed remorse for demanding that attendees applaud Israel or for characterizing them as hateful bigots.

Since launching his presidential campaign, though, event organizers say Cruz’s tone has changed. In particular, they point to comments he made on Sunday about Syrian Christians.

“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said at a recent campaign stop in South Carolina, arguing that the U.S. should admit Christian refugees but not Muslim ones.

That particular debate arose in the wake of the terror attacks on Paris, as one of the shooters entered France by pretending to be a refugee.

“If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation,” he continued. “But it is precisely the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize that or ask those questions that makes them so unable to fight this enemy. Because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”

An adviser to the In Defense of Christians group told The Daily Beast that this new approach represents a change in tone for the senator, and a welcome one at that.

“Senator Cruz took an unfortunate posture at last year’s IDC Summit considering the lives of some in the room were imperiled by what he said, and since some of the attendees were recent survivors of the invasion by Daesh, and others had lost family members to Daesh,” the advisor said.

“That said, we are pleased to now see Senator Cruz offer more thoughtful and constructive comments to improve, rather than imperil the Christians of the Middle East who seem to be forgotten when it comes to the soundness of the strategies and tactics to defeat Daesh, on the matters of refugee status, and qualifying Middle East Christians as victims of a genocide,” he continued.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz’s campaign, strongly disagreed that the senator’s tone on Middle Eastern Christians has changed.

“Cruz rightly spoke against those who loudly booed his support for Israel,” she said. “The entire purpose of the dinner, of which he was a keynote, was to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East, a cause for which he has consistently and strongly supported. I completely disagree with any assertion that he has changed his ‘tone.’”

Does Ted Cruz talk differently about marginalized populations depending on who’s listening—defending their integrity when it’s convenient and characterizing them as hateful bigots when needed? You decide.


By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, November 18, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Syrian Refugees, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Reality Of Refugee Admissions”: Yes, The Government Vets Them

The political panic over the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, has unleashed a wave of fear-mongering, bolstered by a notion being propagated by the right wing, that Americans couldn’t possibly know who is being let into our country. Thirty-one U.S. governors have said they won’t accept any Syrian refugees into their state, many of them claiming there’s a large inherent risk in doing so.

Of course, there’s a serious fallacy at work here: By the time any Syrian refugee actually arrives in the United States, we do know who that person is. Very well.

There is a clear difference between refugees in the United States and refugees in Europe, namely that refugees can’t simply walk or use small boats in order to get to the U.S. By contrast, Europe has a flood of humanity getting displaced into their borders, who may enter one of the countries without getting screened — thus creating the danger that even one ISIS terrorist can disguise himself among the people fleeing his cohorts, as French officials believe did occur with at least one attacker.

But the U.S. actually has the advantages of distance and time to pick and choose before anyone from such a faraway land can set foot over here.

That process involves a multitude of complex steps, starting with an initial screening by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which possibly leads to a referral to the United States and a gauntlet of security checks, personal interviews, medical screening, and matching with a sponsor agency in the U.S. itself. It is far from the mysterious influx of unknown people that the many governors and Republican presidential candidates are making it sound like.

As noted by defense policy researcher Josh Hampson in The Hill: “In fact, there have been no recorded terrorist attacks committed by refugees. The U.S. has admitted 1.5 million refugees from the Middle East since September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11 have been committed either by American natives or non-refugee immigrants.”

A State Department spokesperson told The National Memo in an emailed statement:

The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive, or that either has to be pursued at the expense of the other. To that end the refugee security screening and vetting process has been significantly enhanced over the past few years. Today, all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime.

On a conference call Tuesday, an unnamed senior administration official confirmed to the press that the average time for processing a person through that entire gamut of interviews and background checks takes an average of 18 to 24 months. “As you know, we are trying to look at the process and see if we can make it more efficient without cutting corners on security.”

And yet at a congressional hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch still had to explain to House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — who had seized upon recent comments by FBI Director James Comey about the difficulties of the vetting process — that the Justice Department and others in the government do have a “significant and robust screening process in place,” which Europe has not been able to set up.

On Tuesday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump posted a message to Instagram, with The Donald shouting to the camera with his typical bombast: “Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria! We don’t even know who they are! They could be ISIS, they could be anybody! What’s our president doing — is he insane?”

And in the Louisiana gubernatorial race, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is running this ad — complete with clips of panic in the streets of Paris — ahead of the election this weekend: “One of the Paris ISIS terrorists entered France posing as a Syrian refugee. Now, Obama’s sending Syrian refugees to Louisiana.”

Newly-crowned House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trying to be a bit more low-key, although catering to the same doubts, as he told reporters Tuesday: “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

One can perhaps “forgive” Trump for being utterly clueless, and simply expect that Vitter, in the homestretch phase of his campaign, would act like a demagogue. But shouldn’t the Speaker of the House act like he already knows the government has vigorous vetting procedures in place? And for that matter, what does a “pause” even mean when it comes to admitting in refugees who have taken up to two years to be screened?


By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, November 17, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Refugees, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Today’s Useful Idiot; John Kasich”: Turns Out He’s As Loony As Any Of His Companions In The GOP Presidential Race

Too bad: John Kasich, the Republican presidential aspirant who seemed comparatively sane, turns out to be as loony as any of his companions on the GOP debate stage – perhaps even loonier. On Tuesday, the Ohio governor boldly proposed a new federal agency to “promote Judeo-Christian values” overseas. Evidently Kasich believes that this religiously-based propaganda initiative – which he would direct toward the Mideast, Russia, and China – should promote “Judeo-Christian Western values of human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion [!] and freedom of association” as a counter-terrorist measure.

Of course, if such an “Agency to Promote Judeo-Christian Values” were sent forth to advance the Christian and Jewish religions abroad, that effort would not only alienate Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and adherents of other faiths, but would raze the constitutional “wall of separation between church and state” built by the nation’s founders.

While any such program would be destined to fail miserably as public diplomacy, Kasich’s articulation of this terrible idea must have excited the propaganda specialists of ISIS and jihadis everywhere, since it confirms their claims that the West has mounted a “crusade” against Islam. (No doubt it also thrilled the “strict constitutionalists” on the Republican far right, whose embrace of religious liberty only ever protects their own beliefs.)

That’s why Kasich, a “moderate” mindlessly pandering to the extreme right, is today’s useful idiot.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 18, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Fear Is Electoral Gold For The GOP”: Will The GOP Candidates Try To Reignite Voters’ Fears?

It’s easy to believe that the way things are today is the way they’re going to stay, to be swayed by the momentary intensity of a situation into thinking its effects will be longer-lasting than they are. So it might be that a few months from now, the attacks that took place in Paris on Friday will have exerted no meaningful pull on American policy and American politics. But a few days out, it sure feels familiar. Fear—its presence among the people, but even more so its exploitation by politicians—is back.

No one was more energized by the news from France than the Republicans running for president, who fell all over each other trying to see who could sound the toughest. Marco Rubio declared, “This is a clash of civilizations,” as though ISIS were in fact its own civilization. Ben Carson, displaying his usual commitment to factual accuracy, attacked the Obama administration for “bringing 200,000 people over here from that region,” even though the actual number of refugees we plan to take in is only 10,000. Speaking of which, Ted Cruz said that we should accept only Christian refugees, a position made all the more heartwarming by the fact that he said it at a “rally for religious liberty.” Mike Huckabee released a statement saying that because of the attack we should revoke the nuclear agreement with Iran, I guess because all Muslims are scary.

And Jeb Bush, super-macho-man that he is, said “We should declare war” on ISIS, apparently because he doesn’t know what it actually means to declare war. And that’s not to mention the inane attacks on Hillary Clinton for her unwillingness to repeat the words “radical Islam,” as though doing so would actually accomplish anything.

Watching these candidates talk about an unexpected terrorist attack overseas, it’s hard not to think they feel just a bit of relief that the discussion can move back to more advantageous ground for them. I found myself thinking about September 2004, when Chechen terrorists took control of a school in Beslan, and in the end more than 300 people died, most of them children. The two situations are not the same—we don’t have much to fear from Chechen separatists, while it’s possible ISIS could try to mount an attack in the United States. But at the time, I heard from pollsters that voters, particularly women, kept bringing up the Beslan school massacre in focus groups and citing their general feeling of fear and unease.

That fear almost certainly helped George W. Bush get re-elected that year, despite the fact that Osama bin Laden was still at large and neither the Afghanistan nor Iraq War was going well at all. The Republicans worked hard to convince voters that their lives were still in danger from terrorists, and only Bush, their strong and vengeful father figure, could keep them safe from harm. No television ad was aired more often in that campaign than one called “Ashley’s Story,” which told of a young girl whose mother was killed on 9/11 and whose life was changed when Bush came to her town and hugged her. “He’s the most powerful man in the world,” she says in the ad, “and all he wants to do is make sure I’m safe.” In fact, psychologists exploring “terror management theory,” which looks at how our fear of death affects our thinking, found in experiments that simply reminding subjects of their own mortality could increase the degree to which they supported Bush over John Kerry.

Republicans understand full well that having sober, detailed discussions about foreign policy and terrorism don’t play quite as well for them. Fear, though? Fear is electoral gold for the GOP.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that we have nothing to fear from ISIS. There’s no question they’ve changed their strategy, and now they’re striking out beyond the areas they control to conduct terrorist attacks against those countries opposing them. We’re on that list. Geographic distance makes it somewhat harder to mount an attack in the United States than in Europe, but on the other hand, anyone wanting to commit a terrorist attack here has only to walk into a gun show and they can leave with all the tools they’ll need, no matter how grandiose their ambitions. On this web site I counted 41 gun shows around the country just this past weekend; there’s a show very soon not too far from you, wherever you are and whatever you’re looking to buy.

As Kevin Drum helpfully documented, prior to the Paris attacks the Republican candidates were actually quite tentative when it came to how we ought to fight ISIS; most insisted that we wouldn’t need ground troops, or if we did it would be a small number. But as Michael Hirsh wrote, “It’s safe to assume we’re about to grow more even more interventionist in mood, and Obama, as is his wont, may well follow the public temper, stepping up the minimalist approach he’s taken to countering Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so far.”

That may be, and it’s fair for anyone, Republican presidential candidates included, to say that the attacks in Paris should fundamentally change the approach we take to ISIS, and we have to be willing to commit ground troops—some of whom will die—to that effort. They can make that case, and we can judge how persuasive it is. But what’s more likely is that they’ll once again appeal to voters’ basest emotions—their anger, their suspicion, and most of all their fear. After all, it’s worked before.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, November 15, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, GOP, ISIS | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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