WASHINGTON: With dust from the California massacre barely settled, the killings are sharpening the US political divide over gun control and spurring attacks on President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.
As Obama prepared to address the nation on his plans to keep Americans safe and defeat IS, Republican foes lined up on the Sunday talk shows to attack his leadership.
In the wake of Wednesday’s attacks by a young Muslim couple believed to have embraced radical ideology, Republican presidential contenders slammed the president for pushing stricter gun laws while failing to tackle the threat from extremism head-on.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Obama’s refusal to designate “radical Islam” as the enemy was a roadblock.
“We are having a tremendous problem with radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program which aired Sunday. “And we have a president that won’t issue the term. He won’t talk about it.”
“Until he admits that this is a problem, we’re never gonna solve the problem.”
The billionaire presidential hopeful stands accused of whipping up xenophobia in the wake of the Paris attacks, including by calling for the creation of a Muslim registry, and insisting “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered on 9/11, a claim that has been widely debunked.
Tashfeen Malik, 29, and Syed Farook, 28 — a married Muslim couple with a baby girl and no known history of radicalism — gunned down 14 people at a social services center in San Bernardino, before dying in a shootout with police.
While it has not claimed the assault, the Islamic State group hailed the couple as “soldiers” of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
In his CBS interview Trump said that political correctness should not prevent the “profiling” of Muslims perceived as a threat.
“If you have people coming out of mosques with hatred and with death in their eyes and on their minds, we’re going to have to do something,” Trump said.
Asked about Obama’s avoidance of the term “radical Islam,” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton cast her support strongly behind the president.
“The problem is, that sounds like we’re declaring a war against religion. That’s number one, wrong” she told ABC’s “This Week.”
But Clinton distanced herself from the Obama administration’s strategy on IS, saying that “clearly we have to have a much more robust air campaign against ISIS targets.”
In the Republican camp, meanwhile, presidential candidates painted the administration’s strategy on IS as deeply flawed.
“The left has a hard time recognizing what this is, this a fight for Western civilization” said establishment candidate Jeb Bush, whose campaign has struggled to get off the ground.
“The president has created directives from the White House that create all sort of bureaucratic challenges for air strikes,” Bush told ABC’s “This Week.”
He criticized what he said was a large percentage of sorties that “came back without dropping their ordnances because there was such a concern about making sure there were not civilian casualties.”
The California rampage, which also wounded 21, was the worst mass shooting in three years in a country where such killings have become routine.
The New York Times on Saturday published a front-page editorial — the first since 1920 — in response, calling for controls to end “the gun epidemic in America.”
But a powerful conservative movement — spearheaded by Trump among others — is pushing for just the opposite.
Trump argued that in San Bernardino, as in Paris last month, the victims were “like sitting ducks” because they were unarmed.
“In Paris, they had no guns. In California they had no guns. Only the bad guys had the guns,” he said.
Former neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson echoed his remarks.
“California has some of the strictest gun control laws. And the semiautomatic weapons that were used were banned. The magazines were banned. It was a gun-free zone. And yet it still happened,” Carson told Fox News.
The two candidates’ statements echo comments made by the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby’s president right after the attacks.
“When evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power that no other people on the planet share: the full-throated right to defend our families and ourselves with our Second Amendment,” NRA head Wayne LaPierre said in a video.