The terrorist bombings in Brussels Tuesday that killed at least 30 people and left dozens of others injured quickly permeated the U.S presidential campaign. Republicans renewed their criticism of President Obama’s handling of the war on ISIS, with the GOP candidates proposing a number of extreme measures to protect the U.S. from similar attacks.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for U.S. authorities to “close up our borders” to prevent the infiltration of terrorists, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) proposed authorizing police surveillance of neighborhoods with large numbers of Muslim residents to try to ferret out conspiracies of future attacks.
“We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant Al Qaeda or ISIS presence,” Cruz said in a statement. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
Although the Texas Republican didn’t get specific, Cruz is likely focused on refugees from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries wracked by terrorist activities.
Trump created a stir earlier this year by proposing to bar most Muslims from entering the country until the government got a better handle on the terrorist threat to the U.S. Speaking on Fox News’s Fox and Friends program Tuesday morning, he said, “We have to be very, very vigilant with who we let into this country … We are taking in people without real documentation … We don’t know who they are or where they’re from.”
Trump is under fire for two of his positions on national security at the moment. Yesterday, he switched his position on whether the U.S. ought to commit ground troops to the fight ISIS. Two weeks ago he advocated sending up to 30,000 troops, but yesterday twice denied that he would deploy U.S. combat soldiers. He also dodged a question about the use of tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS forces in an interview with The Washington Post editorial board on Monday.
Trump also called for the U.S. to scale back its involvement in the North Atlantic treaty Organization, and appeared to suggest that the U.S. should make the kinds of military support it offers friends and allies contingent on their willingness to pay for it.
The controversy exposed sharp differences among the Republicans, with Cruz and Kasich pouncing on Trump’s comments yesterday on scaling back U.S. financial commitment to NATO as a sign that he is soft on national security. Trump, meanwhile, used the tragedy to renew his call for using waterboarding and other forms of torture to interrogate captured terrorists.
“If they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding,” Trump told NBC News. “You have to get the information from these people.”
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton was caught in a bind of having to voice outrage and concern about the lethal bombings in Brussels while standing up for Obama’s performance thus far in waging war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq and protecting the homeland from attacks similar to the ones in Belgian and Paris late last year.
Obama was in Cuba for an historic meeting with Cuban leaders to reestablish relations between the two countries for the first time since the Communist revolutions more than six decades ago. He had to respond to the somber news of the latest terrorist attacks while engaging in celebrations and attending a baseball game.
“This is yet another reminder the world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama said in remarks from Cuba. “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”
GOP presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich criticized Obama’s decision to remain in Cuba, saying, “What I hope he will say, he's leaving Cuba and heading back to the White House, he’s going to begin to organize meetings with the leaders around the world and at the same time get himself in the position of where we can send teams of people immediately to Europe to begin to dig in terms of what we need to do to address the vulnerabilities we have.”
Kasich later cautioned against the instinct to tar all Muslims with the brush of terrorism.
“We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with radical Islam,” Kasich said in Minnesota Tuesday. “The last thing we need is more polarization because, frankly, those who want to preserve Islam as a religion that is not at war with the West — we alienate them, how are we supposed to ever get the information we need, that law enforcement needs?”
Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had a largely apolitical response to the attacks in a statement issued Tuesday.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this barbaric attack and to the people of Brussels who were the target of another cowardly attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. We stand with our European allies to offer any necessary assistance in these difficult times.
“Today’s attack is a brutal reminder that the international community must come together to destroy ISIS. This type of barbarism cannot be allowed to continue.”
On Capitol Hill, the reaction was a mix of anger and urgent calls to take more aggressive action to counter ISIS. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement that read, in part, “Time has never been on our side in this conflict, and the failure to recognize the urgent realities of the war against ISIL will carry a grave price for our nation and our people.”