CLEVELAND — Rejecting what he called "cheap political talk" in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Bernie Sanders told a large crowd on the campus of Cleveland State University that he opposes banning refugees from Syria from entering the U.S.
"I am disturbed by some of what I am hearing from my Republican colleagues, and I will just say this: During these difficult times, as Americans we will not succumb to racism. We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia," Sanders said. "We will not turn our backs on the refugees."
Sanders said he supports building an international coalition — including Iran, he said — to fight ISIS on the ground. He said Republicans calling for direct military action are forgetting the lessons of Iraq.
"We will learn the lessons of history. Yesterday, the chairman of the Republican National Committee stated, 'never before have we seen an American president' — meaning President Obama — 'project so much weakness,'" Sanders said. "Well as many of you will remember, back in 2002, we had a president, President Bush. He was very, very tough. But not very smart."
The crowed booed.
"Oh you remember President Bush, do you?" Sanders said, to laughter.
Sanders has expressed concerns about "perpetual war in the Middle East" for months, and he suggested the attacks in Paris had done nothing to shift his focus from that fear.
"Yes, we need to create a worldwide coalition that will defeat ISIS," he said. "But, no, the United States Of America must not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East."
Sanders tacked the refugee remarks to the top of his standard, nearly hour-long stump speech in Cleveland. The setup sent a message as well: Sanders rejected the idea that the terror attacks in France mean Americans are ready for a foreign policy-only campaign.
"There are those, including many Republicans, some in the media, who say that because of this horrific attack that the only thing that we should focus on is defeating ISIS," he said. "And what I say is, yes, we will lead the world in defeating ISIS. But at the same time, we will rebuild the disappearing middle class of this country."