US President Barack Obama warned the American people against succumbing to the fear that gripped the world after militants rampaged through Paris last week, sparking fierce debate across the country over how to handle an influx of refugees from conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Swiftly after the attacks, which killed 129 and wounded hundreds more, the House of Representatives passed a bill with bipartisan support that would effectively pause the Obama administration’s plan to resettle up to 10,000 asylum seekers. The bill was prompted after one of the Paris attackers was revealed to have entered France under the guise of refuge.
While the White House seeks to resettle only a small fraction of the millions of Syrians now displaced, Obama says the effort is consistent with American values and that rejecting them wholesale is an abdication of the country’s responsibilities.
“I understand that people worry that something similar can happen here,” Obama said, hosting France’s President Francois Hollande at the White House. But the American people cannot allow fear, he said, to divide us, “for that’s how terrorists win.”
“Americans will not be terrorized,” he said. These organizations “will not defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us at home.”
“We must uphold our ideals now -– each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith of every background,” Obama said. “On the statue of liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are words we know so well: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free. That’s the spirit that makes us America. That’s the spirit that binds us to France. That’s the spirit we need today.”
The president said the US homeland was being protected by the world’s best security professionals, after the State Department on Monday night issued a worldwide travel alert warning US citizens to be vigilant traveling during the holiday season.
In a morning meeting in the Oval Office, Obama and Hollande discussed their strategy against Islamic State (Daesh). Both nations are part of a 65-country coalition that has dropped over 8,000 bombs on the group over the last year.
“France came under attack for what it represents, for what it stands for,” Hollande said at their joint press conference. “But by targeting France, the terrorists -– the murderers -– were targeting the world.”
Hollande said that, militarily, France would continue to strike at Raqqa, Syria, which Islamic State has declared the capital of its nominal caliphate. Paris has sent its aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, to facilitate the strikes.
Diplomatically, Hollande and Obama expressed hope that the negotiations under way in Vienna between world powers could lead to a realistic political transition away from Bashar Assad, the embattled Syrian president who has presided over the war and who both men feel is its primary belligerent.
“We cannot imagine Syrians getting together, gathering around the leader who is responsible for most of 300,000 dead,” Hollande stated. “It must lead to Assad’s departure.”
By Michael Wilner