Of all the Sunday talk shows, Face the Nation on CBS with John Dickerson offered the most intelligent and enlightening discussion of last week’s terrorism in Paris and other places and what to do about it.
In the first half-minute of his program, Mr. Dickerson showed a weekend news conference with President Obama, who spoke with more resolve than he did last week about the terrorist massacres in Paris.
“We will destroy them,” Mr. Obama said of the ISIS terrorists. “They’re a bunch of killers with good social media.”
But the best quote of the day came from NBC’s Meet the Press when Ron Fournier of National Journal spoke with host Chuck Todd about the political passions in the United States.
“If this week is a reflection of how our leaders are going to respond to the next 9-11, I really think we’re one hit away from a national unraveling,” Mr. Fournier said.
Themes running through most of the shows included the malignant fantasies of Donald Trump, who leads most Republican Presidential polls despite inflammatory versions of false history; the peevishness of President Obama, who got tired of reporters asking him the same questions in different words at a news conference in Turkey; and the increasingly strange utterances of Ben Carson, a Republican candidate now showing himself to be embarrassingly shallow and vapid.
‘We’ve got refugees coming in and no one’s confident we can vet them, and, yet, we’re told ‘Don’t be a bigot. Don’t be a racist. Don’t be a xenophobe.”
And the most distasteful comment might have come from radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, who often urges war from his studio in Florida. On Fox News Sunday, the recovering drug addict and modern Father Coughlin told host Chris Wallace: “The purpose of war and the purpose of military is to kill people and break things.”
Longtime listeners will remember the non-combatant Mr. Limbaugh using the same, glib, flip line in 2003 when he cheered on President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Mr. Limbaugh also played a song parody of the old hit “Jesus is Just Alright with Me.”
He called it “ISIS is Just All Right with Me” as if sung by President Obama. What, you ask? Is there anything distasteful about taking cheap shots at the Commander-in-Chief of the United States while the blood of 130 terrorist victims is still being mopped up in the City of Light?
After saying of ISIS the Cheney-like “I would hit their oil. I’d hit their oil depots. I would hit their oil tankers,” Mr. Limbaugh spoke on behalf of bigots, racists and xenophobes and their views on refugees from the Syrian Civil war.
“We’ve got these refugees coming in and no one’s confident that we can vet them,” Mr. Limbaugh said, “and, yet, we’re told ‘Don’t be a bigot. Don’t be a racist. Don’t be a xenophobe.’”
Mr. Wallace did ask Mr. Limbaugh one challenging question: Is Dr. Ben Carson ready to be President?
“Um—phew!—probably not at this stage,” Mr. Limbaugh said of the sleepy-eyed, bull-manure-dropping con artist who ranks second in most GOP polls behind Mr. Trump.
On CBS—Instead of examining the terror in the narrow frame of the Presidential campaign—Mr. Dickerson brought two elected officials who might have a clue about what to do.
They were Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California), an experienced voice on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and Rep Michael McCaul, (R-California), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee.
Ms. Feinstein urged action from the President of her party.
“We need to be aggressive now,” she said. “ISIL is a quasi-state. It’s getting funding. It’s a big, big problem. It’s enormously stronger and has to be dealt with in a strong manner. This has gone on for too long.”
Referring to the Syrian city of Al-Raqqah, the current ISIS capital, Ms. Feinstein said “The head of the snake… has to be cut off.”
She also said encryption devices allow terrorists to work internet communication on “a black web and there’s no way of piercing it.”
“The terrorists could use Playstation to communicate and there’s nothing that can be done about it,” she said. “I have visited with all the general counsels of all the tech companies just to try to ask them to take bomb-building recipes off the internet… We’re not crying ‘Wolf!’ People are dying all over the world.”
Mr. McCaul agreed with her about terrorists “using these dark platforms in dark space to communicate.” When asked whether refugees are a real threat, Mr. McCaul replied: “I take ISIS at its word when it says ‘We want to exploit the refugee program to infiltrate the West.’”
The tone got stronger when Mr. Dickerson interviewed Brett McGurk, the Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
“Absolutely, we’re at war with ISIS,’ he said in response to Mr. Dickerson’s characteristically short question. He assured viewers the Americans would help “Destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.”
But when Mr. Dickerson pressed Mr. McGurk as to how many of the promised 50 special operations troops have arrived in Syria, Mr. McGurk responded: “Well, they’ll be going in very soon. In fact. I was just in Northern Iraq –“
MR: DICKERSON: “They’re not there yet?”
Mr. McGURK: “ —talking with the task force. We’re not going to preview when they’re going to go in. Obviously, that is sensitive information.”
Later in the conversation, Mr. McGurk said: “As we suffocate and strangle them in the (Middle Eastern) core, we’re also going to work to strangle their international networks (in places like Europe and the United States). John, we’ve never seen anything like this.”
He said 300,000 fighters from 100 countries have joined ISIS. He said, “We welcome Russia’s efforts against ISIL,” and that the ideal end game would include better sharing of information among nations, a cease-fire and an 18-month transition to a new Syrian government.
Another expert, Frances Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to Mr. Bush, warned of the refugees: “You leave these people in desperate circumstances, and you cede the battlefields that are the refugee camps to the recruitment of ISIS and al Queda.”
Over the long term, she said, the children in those camps will be potential recruits for Islamic terrorism to attack our children and grandchildren.
In the panel discussion, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post summed it up with: “This was a very ugly week for Republicans in terms of their response on refugees and I think it was something that was exacerbated by the failure of President Obama to explain to people that we weren’t crazy to be nervous but to understand their nervousness and to explain it away.”
‘The Republican caucus is more frightened as a political matter by the N.R.A. than they are of ISIS. They don’t want to buck the N.R.A.’
FOX POLL SHOWS CARSON DIP: Fox News Sunday showed Mr. Carson down five points to 18 percent in a national survey of Republicans, 10 points behind Mr. Trump, with Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tied for third at 14 percent. Mr. Rubio got to sit in Fox’s picture window Sunday and defend his earlier support of refugees and immigration, an idea upon which he has flip-flopped. When Sen. Cruz appeared on a clip saying Democrats were “pushing a massive amnesty plan,” Mr. Rubio said, “Ted Cruz himself used to support the legalization of people that were here illegally.” In a simplistic and barbed remark, George Will said “The President remains unshakeable in his belief that our principal national security threat is climate change.” (Might Mr. Will have been thinking of Bernie Sanders?)… On the same panel, token liberal Juan Williams was allowed to say that current politics are “so anti-immigrant it’s becoming hysterical, all this fear, almost to the point of xenophobia.” (Ya think?)
TRUMP ON ABC PHONE LINE: Mr. Trump, as is his habit, called at least one show, This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He called the refugees “a Trojan Horse” and said “they should not come in” because they are “big, strong men” and not women and children senior citizens and handicapped people they appear to be. Mr. Trump also said he would bring back the waterboarding technique to question ISIS, the same torture that stained the Bush administration after it invaded Iraq. “It’s peanuts compared to what they do,” Mr. Trump said of ISIS. Unless strong measures against Muslims in America are enacted and mosques are spied upon, Mr. Trump warned “You’re going to see buildings coming down all over New York.” Mr. Trump also said when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11 he saw cheering from thousands of Arab residents of Jersey City, New Jersey. (Several commentators said Sunday there is no evidence of this). Asked whether he might consider a third-party bid for the White House, Mr. Trump said, “I’m going to have to see what happens. I have to be treated fairly.” (If Mr. Trump were to run as a third-party candidate and Mr. Carson as the Republican nominee against Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump might carry several Confederate states not yet ready to vote for an African-American man or a white woman for President). Also interviewed was Dr. Carson, who was asked if people on the terrorist watch list who can’t board airplanes should still be allowed to buy guns, as they are now. “I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment,” said Dr. Carson who last week compared religious terrorists to rabid dogs… Later, Democratic operative David Axelrod said “The Republican caucus is more frightened as a political matter by the N.R.A. (National Rifle Association) than they are of ISIS. On this question, they don’t want to buck the N.R.A.”
NBC DISCUSSES FIREARMS: On Meet the Press, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, “If Congress really wants to do something instead of just talking… help us out with not the terrorist watch list but those thousands of people that can purchase firearms in this country. I’m more worried about them than I am about Syrian refugees.” Mr. Todd, the host, said “the Republicans have been playing on the politics of fear.” One of the sound bites showed Mr. Cruz declaring: “Those planes that flew into the Twin Towers weren’t piloted by a bunch of ticked-off Presbyterians” …Mr. Todd showed a video clip of Mr. Rubio calling the current crisis “A clash of civilizations.” Then he showed of clip of President Bush in 2001 saying after 9-11 “There is no clash of civilizations.” Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly, said Mr. Bush “would be considered an outcast in today’s Republican Party.”
BUT NOT LEAST
The increasingly desperate Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey teed off on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on State of the Nation with Jake Tapper on CNN. “Maybe he should be mayor of Damascus,” Jumbo said. A more serious guest was former Defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who said ISIS defies military solution and that we are up again an ideology and a “set of dynamics we’ve never seen before” …On Mr. Tapper’s panel, radio man Hugh Hewitt said five words now define this administration: “Leading from behind,” “JV” and “contain”. (Beware of people who can explain everything on a bumper sticker) …Mr. Tapper’s show ended with a peculiar and poignant reflection on Paris from the pages of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. It’s about Paris, Mr. Tapper said, and it’s a best seller in France that has been left on sidewalk shrines. They showed a quote from the book about bright young Americans there in the Roaring 20s: “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept together warmly and loved each other.”
Fareed Zakaria GPS opened with the host saying “ISIS is not as strong as the hysteria of the moment suggests. It is surrounded by deadly foes on all sides… Its territory is shrinking and its message is deeply unpopular to most within its lands.” Mr. Zakaria interviewed Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, who said: “American secularism was to protect religion from the state while our secularism was to protect the state from the religion because it was the fight against the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th. Century.” He added that French culture will never adapt to demands by Muslim citizens to have different swimming times for men and women. He rejected Muslim criticism that French culture is decadent. “We have to send a message of joie de vivre,” he said. “We are a center of abomination for these guys and our intention is to remain such.” …One of Mr. Zakaria’s most interesting guest was Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, who said “When religion turns violent, it begins by murdering its enemies. It ends by murdering its co-religionists and it then inflicts a self-imposed injury on faith itself. Religion becomes its own most serious victim.” The rabbi said moderate and peaceful Muslims he knows “are looking for another way, another voice, something that will speak to the better angels of their nature.”
Now, for media writing about media talking about media: On Media Buzz with Howard Kurtz on Fox, there came a collage of voice clips, with Mr. Trump sneering to Fox’s Sean Hannity and saying “I would blast the hell out of them” and later, Fox’s Shepard Smith musing “In the face of terror, will we panic or be calm? Will we abandon our freedoms and rights granted to us by our Creator? Or will we welcome huddled masses, yearning to be free?”
And on Reliable Sources on CNN, Brian Stelter and his guests agreed that more context is needed when reporting Middle East and ISIS stories. Jeff Greenfield said “You have a 1,300-year schism in the Islamic world. You have 100 years of maps which were drawn of the Ottoman Empire that divided tribes in ways that made no sense.” …CNN is aggressively promoting the December 15 Republican debate as the “last this year.” You see names and faces of candidates whooshing toward you as percussion reaches a loud peak. Tacky!
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.