The Slatest

GOP Candidates Call for U.S. to Step up War on Terror in Wake of Paris Attack

A medic tends to a man on Nov. 13, 2015, in Paris. Gunfire and explosions in multiple locations erupted in the French capital with early reports indicating at least 60 dead. 

Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Many of the Republican presidential candidates issued responses on Friday evening to the horrific terrorist attack in Paris, with some calling for more aggressive action in the United States’ war on terror and criticizing Barack Obama’s handling of the campaign against ISIS.

Though it wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible for the attacks, some of the candidates quickly focused on ISIS.

Speaking to radio host Hugh Hewitt, Jeb Bush criticized how the war against the extremist group that controls large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq is currently being undertaken by President Barack Obama.

“This is a war being created by Islamic terrorists and it’s not a law enforcement operation and the mindset [of] that in our country at least needs to change to recognize it for what it is,” Bush said. “This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization and we need to lead in this regard.”

“Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for the president of the United States to actually admit that we need a strategy,” he added.

As Slate’s Joshua Keating noted last month, when Obama announced that the U.S. would be supporting opposition forces in Syria and launching airstrikes there and in Iraq in an effort to combat ISIS, he promised that the mission would not include American combat troops on foreign soil. There is a small force of U.S. military advisers in Iraq, though, supporting the Iraqi army’s fight against ISIS. Last month an American troop was killed on the ground in a combat operation in Iraq and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Arms Services Committee that American troops would continue to support partner attacks on Syria with “direct action on the ground” as well as continued air support. Two days later, the president announced that the U.S. would be sending a small number of special operations forces to advise rebels fighting ISIS in Syria.

In his own call for greater military action in the war on terror after the Paris attacks, Bush reiterated that he’d be willing to consider more troops on the ground depending on the advice of his commanders, but was vague on other points.

“We need to regarner the alliances, fortify those alliances, reconnect with our counterterrorism intelligence capabilities with our European allies and engage in the Middle East to take out ISIS,” he 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.”

In the past, Bush has called for an American enforced no-fly zone over Syria and said he would be open to more ground troops. After the Paris attack he seemed to indicate that he preferred increased military action while also hedging.

“I think closer to the position of a more robust American presence in the world,” he said. “But we don’t have to be the world’s policemen, either.” He cited his father’s 1991 campaign to remove Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait with the support of an international coalition as an example of leadership he’d want to emulate. “We created a clear and pretty compelling strategy, and when we acted on it, we didn’t change the mission,” he said. “We were successful, and we left.” He did not describe how such a scenario might play out in the fight against ISIS that is partly taking place in a country, Iraq, which we previously occupied and have since left.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has made robust calls for increasing the number of ground troops in the region to combat ISIS, also called for the United States to do more to confront Islamist extremist groups after the news of the Paris attacks.

“There is a sickness in the world that has to be dealt with and the civilized world must come together to confront it. America should lead that unity,” he said in a statement.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who like Graham has been running at less than 1 percent in recent polls, also struck a fighting tone.

Ben Carson, one of the current national polling leaders in the GOP field along with Donald Trump, said the U.S. need to “redouble” its efforts to fight such terrorism.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, blamed the attacks on what he reportedly described as a lack of assimilation of France’s Muslim population.

Most of the candidates responded by issuing calls on Twitter for prayer for Paris:

Democrats responded similarly.

In one of the strangest early political responses, 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich—who is not a candidate this time around—seemed to argue that France needed more guns.

As of Friday evening it was being reported that more than 100 people were killed in the Paris concert hall where gunmen produced the most casualties in the wave of attacks. (Update, Nov. 14, 10:20 a.m.: The death toll at the Bataclan is now reported to be 87 people killed.)

Update, Nov. 13, 10:34 p.m.: Ted Cruz has issued a further statement attributing the attack to ISIS and calling for escalating the conflict against the group. Here are the key excerpts:

We must now face the facts. Between the downing of the Russian jet over Egypt and this massive coordinated attack on Paris, we are seeing an unmistakable escalation of ISIS’ ambitions and the scale of their terrorist attacks outside Syria and Iraq. Even as chaos rages in Paris, we need to take immediate, commonsense steps to preserve our own safety. We need to consult closely with our NATO allies who may be targeted for additional attacks. We need to immediately declare a halt to any plans to bring refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS to the United States. We need to redouble our efforts to prevent ISIS agents from penetrating our nation by other means.

Such steps, however, are defensive reactions to an enemy that will continue to try to attack us until they succeed once again. We must immediately recognize that our enemy is not ‘violent extremism.’ It is the radical Islamism that has declared jihad against the west. It will not be appeased by outreach or declarations of tolerance. It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life. We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant.

Hillary Clinton has also issued a statement

All our prayers are with the people of France tonight. We must stand side-by-side every step of the way with France and our allies around the world to wage and win the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism. Even in this darkest night, Paris remains the City of Light. No terrorist attack will ever dim the spirit of the French people or our common commitment to the democratic values we share.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Paris attacks.