The distended Republican presidential field’s response to the terror attacks in Paris is a conglomeration of policy proposals that look something like this: a ground invasion of Syria and Iraq that will explicitly be less careful about killing civilians, combined with a policy of relief for refugees only if they’re Christians.
One can almost see the Islamic State’s top ideologues and propagandists celebrating. And why not? Muslims the world over, which Isis views (wrongly) as a sea of potential recruits, could be forgiven for viewing the Republican rhetoric as a declaration of holy war against their coreligionists.
I wish my thumbnail descriptions of Republicans’ talking points were a joke, but they’re not. And the policies described by the candidates line up almost exactly with the image of America that Isis seeks to portray in its propaganda. The target for Isis’s messaging was made abundantly clear in a statement last month from the group: “Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims”, said Isis spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.
Florida Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio might as well have had this very idea in mind when he said repeatedly, of the fight against Isis: “This is a clash of civilizations”. Rubio relished in his identification of Isis as an “Islamic” group – a notion President Barack Obama has disavowed. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has otherwise taken to defending his brother’s legacy, however ahistorically , even disavowed George W Bush’s proclamations that the “global war on terror” wasn’t “ against Islam , or against faith practiced by the Muslim people”.
Rubio even challenged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s reluctance to use the term “radical Islam” with an inapt comparison: “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we were afraid to offend some Germans who were members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves”. The Nazis, in this comparison, would be Isis – but no one is contending that any Isis members should be spared the fight.
That the American fight against Isis is one aimed at Muslims, rather than a particular extremist group, was reinforced when the Republican candidates blamed Europe’s acceptance of Syrian refugees for the Paris attacks. Subsuming the news from Paris into their extremist platforms, Republican hopefuls moulded their usual anti-immigrant stances into positions against allowing any Syrian refugees into the country – on the rare occasion that they could demonstrate any knowledge of the specifics of Obama’s plan to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the US.
Donald Trump, for his part, couldn’t quite grasp the scale of Obama’s plan: “Our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria. I mean, think of it. 250,000 people”, Trump told a rally in Texas. But Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush , usually considered a moderate among the zany Republican field, took it a step farther: they urged that only Syrian Christians be allowed to come to America as refugees. (Cruz has staked out this position before .)
That callousness not withstanding, Bush told NBC : “I think we have a responsibility to help, but ultimately the best way to deal with refugees is to have a strategy to take out Isis”, nodding to a declaration of war against the militant group and calling for a plan to “eradicate Isis from the face of the earth”. Other Republicans echoed the call for a stepped-up US military intervention .
So how would America wage this total war? We should “go in on the ground and destroy their caliphate”, said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Ben Carson, the famed neurosurgeon seeking the Republican nomination, said American troops on the ground would “ probably ” help the anti-Isis effort, but was short on other specifics: he said the fight should utilize American “covert resources, military resources, things-that-they-don’t-know-about resources”.
Cruz was perhaps the most explicit in drawing equivalence between Isis and America. He released a statement condemning the Obama administration for being too careful about killing Syrian and Iraqi civilians in the course of its air war against Isis. “It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life”, Cruz said , using the logic of fighting fire – in this case, being unafraid to take civilian lives – with fire.
Isis says we’re waging a war against innocent Muslims, not against its extremist ideology and designs on terroristic dominance in the Middle East. Between trying to curtail innocent Syrians’ routes for escape, stepping-up the war in their country and prosecuting that war with wanton disregard for those very innocents, the Republican candidates for president seem determined to send the same message.
Amid all the warmongering, bigotry and crusading, only one salient fact emerged from the Republican reactions to the Paris attacks: none of the party’s candidates are fit to govern in moments of international crisis.
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