# Syria

Weekend open thread: Threat assessments

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Arguments over the appropriate U.S. response to refugees from Syria were a hot topic this week in personal conversations as well as in the news media. I saw some longtime friendships strained over heated Facebook threads about the question. Governor Terry Branstad’s order “to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans” provoked commentaries in several major newspapers and an unusually strong statement from Iowa’s four Catholic bishops.

The U.S. House vote to in effect stop the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq generated passionate comments from supporters and opponents of the measure. Dozens of Iowans expressed their disappointment on the thread under Representative Dave Loebsack’s official statement explaining his vote. In an apparent response to negative feedback from progressives, Loebsack’s Congressional campaign sent an e-mail to supporters the following day, trying to distinguish his position on refugees from the Middle East from that of many Republicans, and assuring that “we will not turn our backs on those in need.” (Scroll to the end of this post to read that message.)

Calls by some politicians to admit only certifiably Christian refugees from the Middle East triggered strong emotions in many American Jews this week. I saw it on my social media feeds, where many people reminded their non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that the U.S. turned away a ship carrying hundreds of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a rare statement on a political matter (enclosed below), urging “public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees [from Syria] as a group.”

I’ve seen many people object to that analogy, saying reluctance to admit Syrian refugees is grounded in legitimate fears for public safety, unlike the prejudice that influenced U.S. immigration policy during the 1930s. But as historian Peter Shulman explained in this commentary for Fortune magazine,

Opposition to Jewish refugees was not simply timeless bigotry. With today’s talk of “Judeo-Christian” values, it is easy to forget the genuine alienness and threat to national security these refugees represented. […]

Behind these [1939 poll] numbers [showing widespread hostility toward Jews] lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism, and anarchism, of course, but also (paradoxically) a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay not from abroad, but within.

One author of a recent letter to the Des Moines Register called for vetting Syrian refugees at the U.S. facility for holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay: “My Irish ancestors went through a similar process at Ellis Island. The vetting procedure was very different for them. They were checked to be sure they weren’t carrying diseases into America. We need to be sure that the refugees coming into our country don’t come with a mind disease goal of killing us, instead of seeking a new life for themselves, like my Irish ancestors did.” Here’s some news for letter-writer Janet Boggs: when the first large waves of Irish ancestors entered this country during the 1840s and 1850s, many native-born Americans considered them and other Catholic immigrants an existential threat to this country, not harmless migrants seeking a better life. Read up on the Know-Nothing Party.

Today’s Sunday Des Moines Register includes a letter to the editor from Republican State Representative Steve Holt, who thanked Branstad for making “the safety of Iowans” his priority. Holt warned, “If we expect Western civilization to survive, we must abandon political correctness and educate ourselves on the realities of Islam, and the instrument of its implementation, Sharia law.” Holt represents half of GOP State Senator Jason Schultz’s constituents in western Iowa; Schultz has been beating the “Sharia law” drum for months while agitating against allowing any more refugees from the Middle East to settle in Iowa. UPDATE: I should have noted that today’s Register also ran a letter to the editor from Democratic State Representative Marti Anderson, who made the case for welcoming refugees. I’ve added it after the jump.

Speaking of security risks, yesterday Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on questions surrounding the threat assessment teams many universities formed after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know that the University of Iowa sent “a detective with the campus threat assessment team” to a fake news conference communications Professor Kembrew McLeod organized in August to poke fun at efficiency measures outside consultants recommended for Iowa’s public universities. I had forgotten about the lawsuit stemming from false accusations that a whistleblower employee in the Iowa State College of Engineering’s marketing department might be a “potential terrorist or mass murderer.” Officials spreading such rumors about the employee included the former boss whose shady conduct he had exposed. Excerpts from Foley’s article are below, but click through to read the whole piece.

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State Senator Jason Schultz still stirring up fear and loathing of Syrian refugees

State Senator Jason Schultz continues to lead the charge against Iowa accepting any refugees from war-torn Syria. He gained attention last month for warning on a popular conservative talk radio program that migrants from the Middle East “want to live under Sharia law,” and their presence would constitute “an invasion” spreading Muslim “ideology by force.” This week, Schultz beat the drum again as a guest on Jan Mickelson’s WHO Radio program.  

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Some Perspective on the Refugee "Crisis"

(Thanks for this commentary by someone who has been working with Burmese refugees in Iowa for some time. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

He was Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year old boy with endless possibilities. Aylan was a baby boy before he was a refugee, and he could’ve been the next Norman Borlaug – not the next burden of the State. I say “refugee” because that’s the easiest word to use… Let’s not forget that they are people who need help who also happen to be refugees, not refugees who just so happen to be people.

I posted earlier about the refugee crisis here in Iowa. Obviously, the international spotlight has shifted towards refugees in Syria, in large part due to the lifeless 3 year old body of Aylan Kurdi, who tragically drowned during the dangerous journey towards a better life.

I was wrong to call the refugee situation in Iowa and around the world a “crisis,” but here’s why: A ‘crisis’ implies a sense of suddenness of a given situation. That is not the case. Syria has been falling apart for years, and the same goes for the dozens of other countries around the world where refugees languish in dangerous, understaffed, and undersupplied camps for well over a decade before they are resettled to a more peaceful, secure country.  

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IA-Sen: First Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that’s channel 95).

I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I’ll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.

UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.

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U.S. begins bombing ISIS targets in Syria

This evening a U.S. military official confirmed to news media that airstrikes have begun in a part of Syria largely controlled by the terrorist group ISIS. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are partnering with the U.S. on the airstrikes, though the extent of their cooperation is not yet clear. The Obama administration had previously announced plans for “targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria — including its command and control, logistics capabilities, and infrastructure,” according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. I don’t understand the endgame, since the Obama administration has vowed not to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last week, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate authorized the Obama administration to train and arm “moderates” in Syria and Iraq. But in a pathetic act of cowardice, Congress approved the president’s request as part of a huge must-pass spending bill, rather than as a stand-alone measure. Why should anyone respect the separation of powers if most members of Congress would rather punt than have a serious debate over whether to get the country more directly involved in a civil war? Especially since no one seems to know who these moderate Syrian rebels are. For all we know, we will be inadvertently training the next group of terrorists in the region, or supplying weapons that will fall into the wrong hands.

The funding bill containing the military authorization language passed the U.S. House by 273 votes to 156, with bipartisan support and opposition. Iowans Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) were among the 114 House Democrats who voted yes. Representatives Tom Lataham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) were among the 159 Republicans who voted yes.

When the same bill passed the U.S. Senate by 78 votes to 22, Senators Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D) both voted yes. Rebecca Shabad and Ramsey Cox reported for The Hill, “The ‘no’ votes included several senators seen as prospective presidential candidates in both parties, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and is considering a presidential campaign, voted no. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, considered a possible presidential candidate if Hillary Clinton does not run, voted yes.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I will update this post as needed with Iowa political reaction to the airstrikes in Syria. But don’t hold your breath: last week I did not see any official statement from anyone in Iowa’s Congressional delegation about having voted to authorize weapons and training for rebel groups in Syria and Iraq.

IA-03: Republicans try oldest trick in the book against Staci Appel

UPDATE: Appel’s response ad is here.

For decades, Republicans have tried to win elections by painting Democrats–especially Democratic women–as soft on crime or weak on national defense. So no one should be surprised by the smear at the heart of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s latest attack on Staci Appel in Iowa’s third district. Taking out of context comments Appel made during her first debate with David Young, the NRCC is claiming Appel supports “passports for terrorists.”

Background and details are after the jump, along with the latest ads from both sides. Politico’s “Morning Score” reported on September 18 that David Young’s campaign has “gone dark”–not airing any television commercials–for the time being. It’s not clear whether the Young campaign is running short of funds or simply taking a break while the NRCC does the heavy lifting. Typically candidates will run positive ads while outside groups run attacks. The NRCC already has a positive spot running about Young as well as the misleading ad they’ve launched against Appel.

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Iowa reaction to Obama's speech on fighting ISIS

During prime-time last night, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation about the U.S. response to the terrorist group ISIS. You can read the full text of his remarks here. I don’t have a lot of confidence that airstrikes will weaken support for ISIS where they are powerful, nor do I know whether there are enough “forces fighting these terrorists on the ground” for our support to matter. At least the president isn’t sending massive numbers of ground troops back to Iraq.

After the jump I’ve posted comments from several members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation as well as candidates for federal office. I will update this post as needed later today. Feel free to share your own thoughts about the appropriate U.S. policy in the region.

UPDATE: Added more comments below. As of Thursday evening, I have not seen any public comment on the president’s speech from Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01 and the Democratic nominee from U.S. Senate), IA-01 Democratic nominee Pat Murphy, his Republican opponent Rod Blum, IA-02 GOP nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks, or Representative Steve King (IA-04). I would think anyone who represents or wants to represent Iowans in Congress would want to weigh in about this policy, at least on whether the president should be able to act without Congressional authorization.

I agree with State Senator Matt McCoy, who posted on Facebook, “The President did not make a credible case for sending 475 Americans into IRAQ. The bar should be set very high before a President takes action without Congressional authorization. This crisis needs more dialog and study.”

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Belated Harkin Steak Fry discussion thread

I didn’t make it to the Harkin Steak Fry this year, but I’m sure lots of Bleeding Heartland readers were there. Feel free to share your thoughts and observations in this comment thread. Thanks to O.Kay Henderson who posted the audio at Radio Iowa, I finally had a chance to listen to the speeches by Ruth Harkin, Senator Tom Harkin, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and Vice President Joe Biden. Harkin was funny and passionate, as usual. Castro’s message about protecting the American Dream wasn’t particularly creative or memorable, but he delivered it well.

Listening to the vice president brought back a lot of Iowa caucus memories. From what I’ve observed, most Iowa Democrats love Joe Biden, even if he didn’t do well on caucus night 2008. He stayed for a long time to talk with and pose for pictures with Iowans who came to the Warren County fairgrounds. I don’t see him running in 2016 if Hillary Clinton takes another shot at the presidency, but if she doesn’t run next time around, he would be tough to beat in the caucuses. Incidentally, to my ear Biden’s praise of Secretary of State John Kerry (in the context of the recent crisis in Syria) did not come across as a slap at Clinton.  

New thread on Iowa political views about intervention in Syria (updated)

Depending on how a possible diplomatic breakthrough develops, the U.S. House and Senate may not take any vote on authorizing the use of military force in Syria. However, several members of Congress and Iowa Congressional candidates have made additional comments on the situation since last week’s news roundup. I’ve posted the latest statements about military action in Syria after the jump and will update this post as needed.

UPDATE: Added reaction to President Barack Obama’s televised address on Syria this evening.

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Iowa political views on a possible attack against Syria (updated)

Several members of Congress from Iowa spoke out about potential U.S. intervention in Syria last week, and Bleeding Heartland sought comment on the issue from the declared Congressional candidates. News clips and the statements I’ve received so far are after the jump. I will update this post as needed. Note: most of the comments enclosed below came before President Barack Obama confirmed on August 31 that he will seek Congressional authorization for a strike on Syria. (He never sought approval for military action in Libya two years ago and he believes he has “the authority to carry out this military action [in Syria] without specific congressional authorization”.)

I am 100 percent convinced that both the House and the Senate will approve the use of force in Syria, perhaps after revising the administration’s first draft, which “is not particularly constrained.”  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I am no expert on foreign policy or the Middle East, but my gut feeling is that military intervention will not accomplish anything good in Syria. It’s a “tall order” to “mount a limited, targeted, and effective strike that will indeed deter Assad without drawing the United States deeper into the ongoing civil war, causing unacceptable unintended consequences.” By the way, former State Department official William Polk wrote the most interesting analysis I’ve read so far about the situation there.  

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