Gov. Christie accused President Obama on Tuesday of downplaying threats posed by ISIS and the acceptance of Syrian refugees, ramping up his security-focused campaign message in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
As he spoke of a "dark and dangerous" world, the Republican governor portrayed himself as tough on terrorism, invoking his experience as New Jersey's U.S. attorney in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks while continuing his argument for expanded intelligence capabilities.
Christie reiterated his opposition to accepting Syrian refugees, asserting that Obama had undermined "genuine concerns about the safety and security of America."
Criticizing "many of the policy makers here in Washington" and "thought leaders in the press," Christie said, "If you ask for a pause on the entry of Syrian refugees" to ensure they can be vetted, "you're accused of xenophobia. . . . If you insist that we enforce the immigration laws, you're accused of nativism."
Christie charged that Obama and his administration had underestimated ISIS - a "cult of evil" that has "visited too many places, in addition to Paris."
"I don't want them to look that tall . . . in cities like New York or Washington, Chicago or Los Angeles, San Francisco or Minneapolis," he said.
Pledging to protect "American interests," Christie said, "Our homes and our neighborhoods have to be safe and secure. . . . Despite what the president says, do we feel that way today? Do we feel that we're as safe as we can or we should be?"
Christie said his focus was "different" from the president's and suggested Obama's administration had "forgotten" Sept. 11. But "I see it in the eyes of people in my state every day," he said.
Christie did not give a specific prescription for combating ISIS, saying in a question-and-answer session after the speech he would work with a NATO alliance "to bring the full effect that we could have both diplomatically, but also militarily and from an intelligence perspective."
Americans need to realize "this is going to take a very long time," he said.
Christie's foreign policy approach would differ from President George W. Bush's in "a number of ways," he said, but "concerning the fight on terrorism, there are a lot of similarities." He cited support for more expansive antiterrorism "tools," including the National Security Agency's metadata program.
"I would say President George W. Bush, in combating terrorism and stopping attacks on American soil, I think that record's pretty good," Christie said.
The speech was a more formal version of the appeals Christie has made to voters at town-hall meetings in New Hampshire, touting his law enforcement and leadership credentials as Republicans in polls continue to show preference for a political outsider - Donald Trump.
Christie - who is hoping the added focus on terrorism after the Paris attacks will favor his message and boost his trailing campaign - tried to make the case for experience Tuesday. "New is untested. New is not necessarily reliable," he said during his speech.
A criticism of Obama doubled as a shot at GOP rivals tied to Washington, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. "Less than one term in the United States Senate has proven to be woeful training" for the presidency, Christie said.
As he has before when defending his opposition to Syrian refugees, Christie drew on remarks by FBI Director James Comey. "When the FBI director stands up and says that he cannot assure the American people that Syrian refugees can be effectively vetted, that ends the conversation for the moment," Christie said.
Comey told Congress that he could not give "absolute assurance" that admitting Syrian refugees would carry no risk.
Refugees shouldn't be accepted "just because there are some folks who believe that it will make our country look better," Christie said. He then referred to New Jersey's Muslim population: "Muslim Americans are not nearly that sensitive," Christie said. "They understand the safety and security of their family is at risk."
Administration officials have said Syrian refugees undergo rigorous screening before gaining admittance.
While Christie, as governor, has said he will not accept Syrian refugees, legal experts say the issue is a federal matter. As of last week, 75 Syrian refugees had been resettled in New Jersey this year.
Christie said the United States should keep Syrians safe in Syria, repeating his call for a no-fly zone and safe zone.
While he pledged not to partner with Vladimir Putin in Syria so long as the Russian president supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "I don't have an answer to who is the group you would put in charge of Syria," Christie told a questioner after the speech. He said Obama "has left us with a situation that is on your best day too complex and too problematic for a two-minute answer."