Democratic Candidates Comment On Paris Attacks At The Second Presidential Primary Debate

Following a wave of deadly attacks in the capital city of Paris, France, conversation surrounding Saturday's second Democratic primary debate shifted to accommodate a larger discussion on foreign policy and national security. For current front-runner Hillary Clinton, the shift may have come as a welcome relief, given her previous tenure as Secretary of State — certainly, Clinton's past experiences would allow her to use the moment to her advantage. However, despite Clinton's edge, all of the Democratic candidates' comments on the Paris attacks at the CBS-hosted event were equally as stirring and impassioned.

The sudden change-up was a necessary one. On Friday evening, French authorities reported a string of gruesome attacks at six separate locations throughout the 10th and 11th arrondissements (districts) in central Paris, with witnesses relaying the bloody scenes to multiple news outlets across the country. According to police, at least 10 separate gunmen and suicide bombers detonated explosives and indiscriminately opened fire on civilians at a popular Cambodian restaurant, Petit Cambodge, several bars, and the nearby Stade de France, where the French football team was hosting Germany in a friendly match. The hardest hit of all the locations was the Bataclan concert hall, where attackers took some 100 victims hostage and detonated two suicide bombs, killing 89.

At a press conference on Saturday, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins released the official death toll. In total, across all six locations hit on Friday night, 129 people were killed and an additional 352 were injured. French President Francois Hollande called the attacks "an act of war" and promised that the country would be "pitiless" in its efforts to fight back against the Islamic State, which earlier in the day had claimed responsibility for the atrocities.

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During Saturday's Democratic primary debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders opened the evening by remarking on the attacks and calling the Islamic State "barbarous."

"Together leading the world," Sanders said, "this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS." He then cited that the disastrous invasion of Iraq had "unraveled" the region, leading to the rise of al-Qaeda and, subsequently, the Islamic State, and that it was the United States' "moral" responsibility to address the problem.

In a similar vein, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley lamented the devastation, calling on the United States to "work collaboratively" with its global allies in order to battle this "new sort of challenge" from spreading further. "This is actually America’s fight," he said. "ISIS is an evil in this world [and] we have a lot of work to do to lead."


In contrast her two Democratic rivals, Clinton took a harder stance early on in the debate, pushing for Middle Eastern leaders such as Syrian president Bashr al-Assad to work actively with the United States to stamp out extremism in their home countries. While the Paris attacks were tragic, she said, mourning the loss simply wasn't enough.

"Our prayers are with the people of France, but that is not enough," said Clinton, insisting that the world deserved "no less" than the most resolute attempts at stability. "We have to have resolve to bring the world together to root out the radical jihadist beliefs." Clinton also made sure to elaborate on the issue later in the debate, emphasizing that the issue would take more than a simple "boots on the ground" incursion to prevent future violence. "I think we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terrorist network," she explained. "It cannot be contained, it must be defeated ... and we've got to understand the complexity [of the problem]."

O'Malley agreed, delving into the endless cycle of oppressive regimes and bloody revolution. "It is not about just getting rid of the dictator," said O'Malley, noting many foreign policy experts' beliefs that the Islamic State's roots could be traced back to the disbandment of the Iraqi Army in 2003.


For the most part, all three candidates seemed to agree that closing country borders and making blanket statements about Muslims would not do anyone any favors. "I don’t think we’re at war with Islam, I think we’re at war with Jihadists," said Clinton. "We are at war with violent extremism, but I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush."

Both Sanders and O'Malley echoed those statements and pleaded with voters to keep their hearts open on the matter. "This is a war for the soul of Islam," said Sanders. Adding to his rival's statements, O'Malley warned, "Let’s not fall into this trap of thinking that our Muslim American neighbors are our enemies."