WASHINGTON — Following a visit from the French ambassador to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, the panel’s top Democrat, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, reaffirmed his support for President Obama’s foreign policy in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
“The president has been very aggressive on that through the use of our military and our airstrikes,” Cardin told reporters in a Senate hallway. “I would hope we’ll have a broader coalition because the more countries that join us in this effort, the stronger we will be.”
French Ambassador Gerard Araud met with Senate leaders Tuesday morning and during a brief press availability said he was moved by the support the American people have shown following a series of attacks in Paris Friday that killed at least 127 people.
“We are not only allies but we are friends and unfortunately we are facing the same threat,” Araud said.
Cardin emphasized the need to destroy the terrorist group ISIL, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“We need to speak with a strong policy, first and foremost, that we will not only contain and shrink and destroy ISIL in the Middle East, and we will find terrorists wherever they are and we will destroy terrorists wherever they are,” the senator said.
Amid heightened criticism of his foreign policy, Obama remained confident in his strategy to defeat ISIL primarily with airstrikes and counter-intelligence measures, arguing that a massive invasion of ground troops would be a mistake.
“It is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries,” Obama said at a press conference at Monday’s G20 summit in Turkey.
The president has also taken sharp criticism, predominantly from Republicans, for the United States’ program to accept refugees from the Syrian conflict, which has forced more than 4 million Syrians to leave their country.
Despite a growing chorus of Republican governors, including Maryland’s Larry Hogan, calling for a halt to refugee resettlement, Cardin said he would not support a pause in the program, maintaining that the crisis is “clearly a federal issue.”
The lawmaker added that the United States has a more thorough vetting process than Europe and it can take between 18 and 24 months for refugees to be accepted. Cardin said the administration will brief senators Wednesday on the process of screening refugees and lawmakers will “determine the safest way to move forward.”
Cardin also argued that the refugee program is just one of several areas that must be reviewed to ensure terrorists cannot gain access to the United States. One of the principal threats, he said, is people with American or European passports travelling to the Middle East to train with terrorists and then returning legally to plot an attack. He also emphasized the threat of terrorists coming in as temporary visitors, an entry method with a much greater volume of people than the refugee program.
To prevent these threats, Cardin said the U.S. needs better intelligence gathering and more intelligence sharing among allies around the world.
“What I want to make sure of, as far as America is concerned, is that any person who is a foreign fighter trained by terrorists, that we know who they are and if they attempt to come into our country that they are apprehended and arrested before they can do any harm,” Cardin said.