Up until November 15, foreign policy was more of an addendum to the presidential hopefuls’ policy platforms. Besides the question of immigration, the presidential candidates were sticking close to home and the economy. Then, on Saturday night, 6 simultaneous terrorist attacks exploded in Paris They killed at least 129 and injured hundreds of others. The Islamic State lost no time in claiming responsibility for the attacks.
The Islamic State has been a constant, though not painfully urgent, topic in the recent presidential debates. Concerns focused more on the Russian presence in Syria, aiding President Bashar al-Assad against the Islamic State. The Paris terror attacks could change everything for the POTUS candidates.
How Did The Leading POTUS Candidates Respond To The Paris Terror Attacks?
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is the Republican candidate currently leading the polls. He says that the Paris terror attacks “[remind] us that there are those out there who have a thirst for innocent blood in an attempt to spread their philosophy and their will across this globe.” He adds:
“I would be working with our allies using every resource known to man […] in an attempt not to contain them but to eliminate them before they eliminate us.”
In those interests, Carson proposes banning all Syrian refugees from entering the United States. First, he says, it “doesn’t make any economic sense.” Second, jihadists would be bound to take advantage of the open borders. The Paris terror attacks are a disadvantage to Carson, since he has relatively less political experience than other candidates.
Sanders is well known to be against any form of war that requires American boots on the ground. On social media, he protests the Paris terror attacks by saying, “We are all horrified by the cowardly attacks against innocent victims in Paris.” However, Sanders remains adamant that climate change is the highest national security threat.
“When you have drought, when people can’t grow their crops, they’re going to migrate into cities, and when people migrate into cities and they don’t have jobs, there’s going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al-Qaeda and ISIS are using right now.”
The Paris terror attacks are no help to this Democratic candidate. At a time when emotions and sentiments against the Islamic State are running high, his response may feel more like topic avoidance than rationality. Even worse for his campaign, it may sound like he does not know how to handle the situation.
Donald Trump reacted to the Paris terror attacks by stating it was the strict gun laws that enabled the terrorist suspects to kill so many. “Nobody had guns but the bad guys. Nobody had guns. Nobody.” In terms of policy, Trump criticized President Obama’s promise to increase the openness of the borders to Syrian refugees.
“We all have heart and we all want people taken care of, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000–some of whom are going to have problems, big problems–is just insane. We have to be insane. Terrible. […] Anyone that’s brought into this country from the migration is going to be out.”
Like Carson, Trump may find the presidential fight a bit more difficult due to the Paris terror attacks, despite the agreement coming from his supporters. His lack of political and foreign policy experience puts him at a disadvantage when matched against candidates such as Marco Rubio and even Jeb Bush. However, his support remains intact due to his rhetoric.
Hillary Clinton’s experience as former Secretary of State for the present administration is one of her advantages. One of her campaign strengths is that she consistently aligns herself with the Obama administration. In the case of the Paris terror attacks, however, she benefits more by outlining where she disagrees with the administration’s foreign policy.
“We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained; it must be defeated. […] I did say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates early on. Because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum.”
Clinton’s experience could be an advantage to her in this new twist in the presidential race. However, she cannot fully shift position on the issue if she wants to keep the Obama voting bloc she has been courting. Clinton promises the full support of the United States to any nation fighting the Islamic State, but continues to resist placing boots on the ground.
How The Other POTUS Candidates Responded To The Paris Terror Attacks
The other presidential candidates’ reactions to the terror attacks can best be summed up as “violent.” Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee called for an instant ban on any Syrian refugees to the country. Jeb Bush claims that national security measures, such as counterintelligence, should be strengthened at once.
Some, such as John Kasich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, approve of extreme measures to take out the Islamic State. Others, like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, do not necessarily want American boots on the ground, but they do want American arms and expertise to be increased in the region.
The biggest question at the moment is whether or not the Paris terror attacks changes anything for the current ranking of the presidential candidates. The two leading Republican candidates have been praised for being unpoliticized. Now, their lack of experience might be a disadvantage. On the Democratic side, the situation is flipped: the one with the most experience is already leading. It remains to be seen whether she can take full advantage of the opportunity.