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“Staying True To Our Traditions”: President Obama Reminds Us Of Our Better Selves

Our airwaves have been filled lately with calls for war crimes from the likes of Donald Trump and hate-filed screeds against Muslims as Republican candidates for president try to one-up each other on how tough they can sound about dealing with terrorists. Following the shootings in San Bernardino, that has only escalated.

Meanwhile, the American public hasn’t been privy to much of a reasoned discussion of what we can (and can’t) do about ISIL and the threat of terrorism. That is why President Obama chose to give a speech on the topic last night. It was a reminder that yes, we are fighting ISIL by:

1. Launching airstrikes against ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers,     infrastructure.

2. Training and providing equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces  fighting ISIL on the ground.

3. Gathering and sharing intelligence to stop ISIL operations.

4. Pursuing a political resolution to the Syrian civil war.

But perhaps even more importantly, President Obama articulated what we shouldn’t do when it comes to dealing with terrorism. First of all, “we should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want.” Not only that, it wouldn’t work – as we saw in Iraq.

But secondly, he took on the fear-mongering against Muslims directly.

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want…

It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL…

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges – whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks – by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.

For those who were willing to listen, President Obama was basically cutting through all the noise to remind the American people of our better selves. In this season of campaign promises where candidates are expected to outline how THEY can do better, he might be the one person who is best positioned to do that.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 7, 2015

December 8, 2015 Posted by | American Values, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb Bush & Ted Cruz Only Want To Save Christians”: Advocating For The U.S. To Officially Discriminate Based On Religion

The terror attacks in Paris on Friday were a starting pistol for the Republican presidential candidates’ race to the far right on the Syrian refugee crisis, amid concerns that ISIS-trained terrorists could trickle into the United States as easily as they seem to have entered France, resulting in similar carnage.

The lurch to the right has gone so far that two of the major candidates are advocating for the U.S. to officially discriminate based on religion.

Ben Carson said that allowing any refugees into the United States at all “under these circumstances is a suspension of intellect”; Donald Trump said, “We cannot let them into this country, period”; Marco Rubio switched his position from being “open” to the idea of taking refugees to saying, “It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we can’t.” Rand Paul cautioned the U.S. to be “very careful” to not admit refugees “that might attack us” and, on Monday, announced to reporters that he was preparing a bill to halt refugees from countries with jihadist activity; Chris Christie said that not even “3-year-old orphan” refugees should be allowed to enter the country.

But Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush devised a compromise: The U.S. could admit Syrian refugees so long as the refugees are Christians.

“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina.

“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,” Cruz reasoned. “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.”

On Monday, Cruz announced that he will introduce legislation to ban Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the country.

Jeb Bush, who urged a “really tough screening” process for refugees, said Monday, “I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected, because they are being slaughtered in the country and but for us who? Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?”

President Obama responded to Cruz and Bush’s proposal with audible frustration on Monday, at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey.

“Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves, that’s what they’re fleeing,” he said.

And then he seemed to take a direct swipe at Cruz, who has long claimed that his father fled communist Cuba: “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution? That’s shameful. That’s not American. It’s not who we are.

“I think it’s very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

The campaigns of Cruz and Bush did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The process by which refugees can gain entry to the U.S. is not a simple one.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program responsible for refugees, requires applicants to submit to a rigorous screening process which requires all sorts of personal information, from their fingerprints to details about their families and relationships, according to a spokesman.

And if those refugees claim to be fleeing from religious persecution, there is already a system in place to vet their claims.

An official familiar with the process said the DHS uses all “biographic and biometric information” and vets that information against law enforcement, intelligence sources, and other databases in order to check the refugees identity. The refugees are also checked for any criminal history or other “derogatory information, and identify information” during the process.

The refugee cannot travel to the U.S. until all the checks are complete.

The U.S. has been accepting refugees since World War II, when 250,000 of them entered. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 welcomed 400,000 more people.

In 1979, 110,000 Vietnamese refugees came into the country, and 97,000 followed in 1980. During the same period, 120,000 came from Cuba.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the number of refugees entering the U.S. declined. The New York Times notes that in 2002, only 27,131 came. The system for gaining entry to the U.S. is so complex that, as the Times wrote, “most refugees need at least a year and sometimes two to navigate” it.

Sarah Demant, the senior director of the Identity and Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International, told me that the group was “concerned” by the presidential candidates “politicizing” a human-rights issue.

“Human beings who are most vulnerable—refugees and asylum seekers—shouldn’t be used as political maneuvering,” she said. “Human rights are not political.”

“People of all religions are at risk… particularly in Syria with the Syrian refugee crisis. Christians and Muslims and people of all faiths are at risk,” she added. “The U.S. policy should be that all asylum seekers are allowed to seek asylum, no matter what their religion. The value of nondiscrimination is not just a human-rights value, it’s an American value.”


By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Discrimination, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scared Of Widows And 3-Year-Old Orphans”: Obama Offers GOP A Lesson In What ‘Tough’ Actually Means

President Obama has heard the Republican reactions to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, and it seems safe to say he’s unimpressed.

“When candidates say we shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans, that’s political posturing,” Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila – making a veiled reference to GOP candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “When people say we should have a religious test, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive, and contrary to American values.”

He added, taking another jab: “These are the same folks often times that say they’re so tough that just talking to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or staring down ISIL (ISIS) or using some additional rhetoric will solve the problem – but apparently they’re scared of widows and 3-year-old orphans.”

Obama added, “At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”

And while these comments were no doubt emotionally satisfying for those who’ve grown tired of watching Republicans try to exploit fear and ignorance to advance their own demagogic agenda, the president’s comments were also constructive on a specific front.

“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks,” Obama said. “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. They’ve been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it’s irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching.”

This wasn’t just empty rhetoric. The point about ISIS “recruitment tools” is of particular importance because it offers American political leaders a timely reminder: if you’re making things easier for ISIS, you’re doing it wrong.

The enemy is not some inscrutable foe with a mysterious worldview. As they’ve made clear many, many times, ISIS leaders want to be described in explicitly religious terms. They want to be characterized as a “state” and an existential threat to the West. They want to turn the West against refugees. ISIS leaders have a narrative – that Western leaders hate their faith – and they’re desperate to have their enemies reinforce that narrative as often, and as enthusiastically, as possible.

And in response, Republicans want to describe ISIS in explicitly religious terms. American conservatives keep describing ISIS as a “caliphate” and an existential threat to the West. The right has turned against refugees. Some Republicans have gone so far as to suggest Christians should explicitly be given preferential treatment over Muslims, effectively providing fodder for the very ISIS narrative the terrorists are eager to push.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Republicans are somehow deliberately trying to bolster ISIS’s agenda. That’s absurd; there are no ISIS sympathizers in mainstream American politics.

Rather, the point is that Republicans are inadvertently making things easier for ISIS when they should be doing the opposite. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, went so far yesterday as to argue that American conservatives are “materially undermining the war against terrorism” and making a challenging situation worse.

All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists. […]

[I]f U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States’ (already complicated) task in the Middle East.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp added that turning away Syrian refugees specifically helps ISIS.

ISIS despises Syrian refugees: It sees them as traitors to the caliphate. By leaving, they turn their back on the caliphate. ISIS depicts its territory as a paradise, and fleeing refugees expose that as a lie. But if refugees do make it out, ISIS wants them to be treated badly – the more the West treats them with suspicion and fear, the more it supports ISIS’s narrative of a West that is hostile to Muslims and bolsters ISIS’s efforts to recruit from migrant communities in Europe.

The fewer refugees the West lets in, and the chillier their welcome on arrival, the better for ISIS.

I’m not blind to the complexities of national-security policy in this area, and I’m reluctant to be blithe in over-simplifying matters, but I’d ask U.S. policymakers and candidates to consider a straightforward test:

  1. Are you doing exactly what ISIS wants you to do?
  2. If the answer is “yes,” stop.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 18, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP, ISIS, President Obama, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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