CLEVELAND -- As Republican governors moved Monday to close off their states to Syrian migrants, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders decried “demagoguery and fear mongering” in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, telling a crowd of more than 7,000 people here that the country should not “turn our backs on the refugees.”
The Republican governors appeared motivated by fears that people flowing from Syria’s civil wars could shelter potential terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State, the group behind Friday night’s violence, which killed 129 people in a series of coordinated assaults.
Appearing in Ohio for the first time since becoming a presidential candidate, Sanders said he was “disturbed” by what he was hearing from “my Republican colleagues.”
“During these difficult times, we will not succumb to racism,” the Vermont senator said, drawing loud cheers from a crowd at Cleveland State University. “We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia.”
Sanders said that it’s essential that the United States work as part of an international coalition, including Muslim nations, to destroy ISIS -- and said the country must act in a way that is “tough but not stupid.”
“Yes, a worldwide coalition must defeat ISIS,” Sanders said. “But no, the United States must not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”
He blamed former president George W. Bush for leading the nation into a misguided war in Iraq, which Sanders said bred “massive instability in the region, chaos which allowed the rise of ISIS.”
“He was very, very tough -- but not very smart,” Sanders said of Bush.
Sanders’s remarks come as he tries to navigate the new landscape of the Democratic contest following the Paris attacks.
The Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has far more foreign policy experience, having served as secretary of state, and Sanders’s campaign has been focused largely on economic issues to this point.
“I understand there are some who think that because of this attack we no longer have the capability to address the collapse of the American middle class,” he told the crowd here. “I disagree. Our country and the world can and will defeat ISIS, and at the same time we will rebuild the disappearing middle class of this country.”
After devoting the first section of his remarks to foreign policy, Sanders delivered a version of his stump speech that ran more than an hour.
He was introduced here by Nina Turner, a leading Ohio Democrat who until recently was a Hillary Clinton supporter.