Sanders: Form Global Coalition to Fight ISIS

Sanders: Form Global Coalition to Fight ISIS
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Bernie Sanders Thursday proposed creating an international organization to battle the rise of violent extremism and said wealthy Muslim nations should shoulder more responsibility as part of a global effort to destroy the Islamic State and its followers.

Sanders, at the end of a lengthy speech describing his domestic economic agenda, assured a jam-packed Georgetown University student audience in Washington that if elected president, he would not commit combat troops to “dubious battles with no end in sight.” He told students that U.S. unilateral military action under any circumstances must be a “last resort.”

“I support President Obama’s efforts with air strikes, with Special Forces” to battle ISIS, also known as ISIL or Daesh, the senator said during a speech in which he described his democratic socialist vision.

The Vermont senator, who was escorted from campus behind a police vehicle in a tiny, red Ford Focus with Vermont tags, said he sought to counter accusations that he’s a radical, telling the undergraduates his vision of a political revolution follows a trail of achievements left by President Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Sanders spoke to rousing applause and shouts of “Feel the Bern” at a free, ticketed event held on a leafy campus nestled a stone’s throw from a community populated by the sort of millionaires the senator accuses of rigging America’s economy against the middle class.

“To my mind, it’s clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing,” Sanders said.

He never mentioned Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, and he was not asked about her candidacy during a question-and-answer session.

The senator trails Clinton by more than 20 points in Iowa polls but remains in close competition with the former secretary of state in New Hampshire. Since Saturday, he has adjusted his economic-heavy stump speech to accommodate the international alarm about ISIS following the massacre of 129 people, including one American, in Paris on Nov. 13.

Sanders’ campaign announced later Thursday that one of New Hampshire’s Service Employees International Union branches, Local 1984, endorsed the senator, breaking ranks with the SEIU executive council, which voted Nov. 17 to endorse Clinton for president. The union local represents 11,000 workers and may add valuable heft to Sanders’ ground operation in the Granite State.

In New York Thursday, Clinton delivered a speech of her own describing a strategy against ISIS, arguing more forcefully than she did at the Democratic debate in Iowa Saturday that the United States should remain in the lead against the terror group, working with a coalition of countries to defeat, not contain, the terrorists. Both Democratic candidates said they embraced Obama’s strategy in general, but both said the urgent goal should be ISIS’s extermination rather than an eventual political transition in Syria to remove President Bashar al Assad from power, which the president maintains is required to defeat ISIS.

Sanders argued for a new international organization akin to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that would include nations from the Middle East and would cooperate with NATO, the Arab League, Russia and other partners to defeat ISIS.

He said such a coalition could “confront the threats of the 21st century,” including the root causes of “these brutal acts.”

Wealthy Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, could and should do more to lead the fight “against the soul of Islam,” with the United States and global partners in support, he said. Sanders argued that combat troops from the region, not from the United States, would have to get involved.

“We must ask more from those countries in the Gulf region,” he said. “That must change.”

The Obama administration is pursuing the general contours of international cooperation Sanders described, but has not envisioned a new international entity devoted to the anti-ISIS assault. The president has rejected the idea of U.S. combat troops and frowns on a no-fly zone over Syria and safe zones for Syrian refugees. Both are Clinton proposals.

Syrian refugees, fleeing their war-torn country into neighboring countries and Europe, should be offered entry by the United States after careful scrutiny of their backgrounds, Sanders said, calling it a “moral” decision not to close U.S. borders to men, women and children displaced by the same terrorists the world is battling.

The Vermont senator had sharp words for “some of the Republican candidates” who he said introduced toxic anti-immigration rhetoric prior to this week’s debate about accepting Syrian refugees who might pose risks to America.

“People should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate,” Sanders continued. “Donald Trump and others, who refer to Latinos and people from Mexico as criminals and rapists, if they want to open that door, our job is to shut that door tight,” he said to loud applause and hoots from the university audience.

“This country has gone too far, too many people have suffered and too many people have died, for us to continue to hear racist words coming from major political leaders.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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