Paris attacks cast shadow on US presidential race

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Nov 15, 2015 21:34 IST
Democratic US presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders (L), former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley bow their heads in a moment of silence for the recent attacks in Paris ahead of the second official 2016 US Democratic presidential candidates debate in Des Moines, Iowa. (Reuters Photo)

The Paris carnage has loomed large over US politics, dominating the Democratic presidential debate on Saturday as candidates fielded questions on the Islamic State and terrorism.

Off the stage, but staying on the topic, Republican candidates vied with each other to present a national security posture supposedly more muscular than President Barack Obama’s.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders tried to link frontrunner Hillary Clinton to the rise of the IS, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks on Friday that killed nearly 130 people, because of her vote in support of the Iraq war as senator in 2002.

“Let me have one area of disagreement with the secretary (former secretary of state Clinton),” Sanders said. “I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq — something that I strongly opposed — has unravelled the region completely and led to the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS.”

Read:Obama vows effort to eliminate IS as G20 seeks common Syria strategy

Clinton has said before that the vote was a mistake, but critics continue to hold her to it, pairing it with their criticism of Obama’s decision to leave Iraq without a residual force to stop the country from sliding back into chaos. She was his secretary of state at the time and, therefore, they argue, equally responsible for the pullout.

The third Democratic candidate in the fray (there are only three of them left now), former governor Martin O’Malley, went for her record as secretary of state without saying so explicitly. He made it sound like a criticism of the Obama administration.

“Libya is a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess,” he said.

Clinton defended herself aggressively and, post-debate polls indicate, quite effectively. She blamed the birth and rise of the IS on the Iraq war: “If we’re ever going to really tackle the problems posed by jihadi extreme terrorism, we need to understand it and realise that it has antecedents to what happened in Iraq.”

The Paris attacks dominated the race on the Republican side too. Candidates re-wrote prepared remarks for their campaign events to work it into their criticism of Democrats, namely Obama and Clinton.

“President Obama said ‘ISIL continues to shrink’ in an interview just hours before the horrible attack in Paris. He is just so bad! CHANGE,” Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said in a tweet.

Senator Ted Cruz, who is rising in polls, tweeted: “We’re facing an enemy who is at war with us even if our own President does not understand that it is at war with us.”

Republicans candidates, including Trump, urged the President to rethink the decision to admit Syrian refugees, arguing it would be impossible to screen all of them. The US has said it plans to take in 10,000 refugees.

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