Tag Archives: terrorism

Trump Muslim Travel Ban Will Hurt US Standing in World, National Security, Economy at Home

Trump’s Muslim ban barring travelers, students, businesspeople, immigrants, refugees from seven countries makes a mockery of all the Statue of Liberty stands for © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Trump’s Muslim ban barring travelers, students, businesspeople, immigrants, refugees from seven countries makes a mockery of all the Statue of Liberty stands for © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

In one stroke of his pen, Trump overturned and violated foundational American principles and values enshrined in the Constitution that bars favor or disfavor for any religion, that guarantees due process of law and that every person deserves equal justice under law. His ban on travel, immigration and refugee asylum goes against American history and heritage as a nation built by immigrants, many who came as refugees fleeing war and persecution. It ignores the many instances in American history when government violated its own principles, such as its original sins, the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans, going on to the Chinese Expulsion, the Japanese internment, the ramifications of turning back boatloads of Jews fleeing the Nazi Holocaust. Trump would like to go back to those bad ol’ days.

And he did it on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Note: Trump’s statement released on Friday failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism, clearly the imprint of White Nationalist Steve Bannon, Trump’s key advisor.)

Trump, through his dismissive foreign policy tweets concerning NATO, nuclear weapons, climate change, indeed his entire America First policy – reinforced by the new UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in a defiant, “You have our back or we’re taking names” threat; his trade war launched with Mexico which likely will spread to China and others, his stance to pull the US out of global climate action – will turn the US into a pariah among nations, opening the way for China to step up influence in Mexico (a Pacific nation), and Africa, and Russia in the Middle East and Eastern Europe (after all, who will stop Putin’s push to establish a new Soviet Empire?).

The immoral, unconstitutional, anti-American, and ultimately self-destructive impacts of Trump’s Muslim Ban will not make the United States safer, but rather feeds into radical Jihadists’ war cry against the Crusader West, not to mention the misery, anxiety it has imposed on thousands of immigrants and refugees who have already suffered the terror of war and the trauma of leaving homelands, sending them back into dangerous and desperate circumstance.

The callous disregard for the toll on humans because of the horrendous way the order was rolled out – making the first two weeks of the Obamacare roll out look like the 1969 moon landing – gives proof to the lie of Trump as a “businessman” rather than King of Debt who drove his businesses into the ground, while screwing the workers and contractors, and raises real terror than he will in fact run the country as he ran his businesses.

There has been superb reporting on the individuals caught in Trump’s limbo. But I want to focus on the economic and social impacts of undermining travel and tourism, reviving anti-Americanism abroad and undermining the appeal of the United States as a destination.

Trump, with an America First philosophy, says he wants to expand economy and jobs, lower the trade deficit, but his policies already are guaranteed to damage one of the nation’s most vigorous, reliable engines of economic growth, jobs and social mobility, lifting minorities and women into the middle class, not to mention international goodwill: international travel.

Indeed, tourism is part of trade. Travelers coming into the United States are an “import,” and the dollars spent here go a long way to reducing the trade deficit. How much? According to the US Travel Association, travel and tourism generates $2.1 trillion in economic output (2.7% of GDP) from domestic and international visitors (includes $927.9 billion in direct travel expenditures that spurred an additional $1.2 trillion in other industries through a ripple effect). Travel expenditures support 15 million jobs (8 million directly); account for $221.7 billion in wages, and generate $141.5 billion in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, levels that increased significantly over the past eight years, helping to lift the nation out of the Great Recession.

Just as Trump unleashed his ban – catching up people who were already in transit, many after years of vetting, and even green card holders and legal residents who happened to be traveling outside US – I was at the Javits Center for the New York Times Travel Show, a stunning gathering of travel suppliers and representatives from around the world and people who sell travel and value travel.

I stopped at a booth of an operator who organizes trips to Iran (earlier, Iran was cited as one of the “hot” new destinations for Americans, along with Cuba). In response to Trump’s ban on all arrivals from Iran, Iran retaliated with a ban on Americans coming in (Iraq is now talking about expelling Americans, where we have some 5,000 troops, already primed to hate Americans after Trump told the CIA he would like a “second chance at getting Iraq’s Oil” after all, “to the victor belong the spoils.”).

Cuba is another destination that Americans have been flocking to since Obama normalized relations and eased travel restrictions – a way to succeed where 50 years of isolation have failed, to introduce a taste for democracy to Cubans living under a Communist dictatorship. Now that is up in the air.

“If [Trump] makes it look like Mexico is the enemy, people will stop traveling to the enemy,” Alejandro Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group said on a “State of the Travel Industry” panel. “That would hurt us badly, but it would also hurt the United States. Most importantly, it would hurt the humanity and the morals and the principles of the United States.”

Ninan Chacko, CEO of Travel Leaders Group, a travel agency company, noted that on a trip to Mexico recently, he found Mexicans who normally take ski vacations in Aspen and Vail are going to Vancouver, Canada, instead.

The 20% tariff that Trump proposes against Mexico (which would be paid for by American consumers, not Mexico), the second largest trading partner with the US which supports 6 million US jobs,  will likely be retaliated with a tariff on American goods, making them more expensive and unaffordable for Mexicans, whose economy will likely be devastated (already the currency is taking a hit), and further destabilizing the country.

Trump’s domestic and foreign policies have a singular theme: disruption and destabilization. And he doesn’t care who is killed or how many suffer. A bully takes pleasure out of terrorizing vulnerable people.

In just his first few days occupying the Oval Office, Trump has managed to overturn the goodwill, and foment anti-Americanism. A travel insurance company actually came out with an alert to travelers to be more aware. The headline: “What to Be Aware of When Traveling in the Apocalypse; APRIL Outlines Simple Precautions for Traveling in a Post-Trump World”

“It’s not our role to influence or pass judgment on the political process in America, but regardless of personal opinions on Trump’s presidency, travel counselors recall the anti-American sentiments prevalent during the George W. Bush administration. They are therefore cognizant of shifting perceptions of Americans internationally,” explained Jason Schreier, CEO of APRIL USA.

“Vacationing is a staple of American society and one of the primary ways Americans enrich themselves culturally. World events should not deter one from traveling, but vacationers need to be aware of their vulnerabilities and protect themselves accordingly.” Sad.

The value of international tourism goes beyond economic growth, jobs and tax receipts, though these are vitally important – but in essence literally brings peoples together. American travelers are unofficial ambassadors of American values and ideas, fostering good will. In the same vein, Americans who meet people face to face, where they are no longer “others” to be feared, but rather seen as human beings more similar than different. Travelers are the first line of diplomacy, the first line or promoting peace and cooperation.

President Obama understood this, which is why he encouraged young people to study, work and travel abroad and created mechanisms to help them find opportunities to do that; why he encouraged foreign students to attend our schools, to foster people-to-people exchanges, and why he eased restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Trump’s ill-conceived and executed travel & immigration ban is heinous (the chaoic, dysfunctional way it was rolled out – without even consulting his new Defense and Homeland Security Secretaries, without instruction to Customs and Border Patrol agents, making the roll out of Obamacare look like the 1969 Moon Landing), a violation of law (due process, religious freedom) and American values and morals. And though Trump justifies it as keeping Americans safe, it is not designed to do that – none of the 7 countries that are banned have ever been connected to terrorism on US soil, while the countries that have (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan) were not part of this ban. Not to mention that his wall along the Mexico border (where hysterical rightwing conspiracy theorists have said that ISIS has infiltrated) would do nothing to block the actual war-weary refugees that welcoming Canada has taken in.

Trump excuses his callous and grotesque policy as “extr-e-e-e-me vetting.” But these refugees already go through batteries of screening – at least 18 federal agencies – in an intensive process that takes years. And through all of this, Trump has not actually said what he would add to the process to make it more secure. The fact is, none of the refugees that have come through the process set out by the Obama Administration have had anything to do with terrorism in the US. What is happening in Europe, with the flood of hundreds of thousands of refugees that flowed through the continent, has nothing to do with what is happening in the US.

Trump’s America First foreign policies (trade, climate action, weakening NATO for example) are intended to isolate the United States, to put up our own Iron Curtain, our own Bamboo Curtain so that an autocrat can keep its people in darkness, ignorance, fear and insecurity and therefore malleable and controllable, which is what dictators and autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, and the Iranian Ayotollahs.

“President Trump’s travel ban on Iranians is a gift to the Islamic republic and its hard-line rulers,” writes Hadi Ghaemi, founder and executive director of the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran in the Washington Post. “It will not deter terrorism on U.S. soil. Not a single terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks or other fatal terrorist attacks in the United States since then has been of Iranian origin. Instead, Trump’s policy is a collective punishment of a diverse and changing nationality, and will ironically serve the purposes of Iran’s hard-line rulers.”

As for terror, let’s compare the number of Americans killed on American soil as overt acts of radical jihadist terrorism (as opposed to domestic terrorism, such as anti-abortion, anti-Muslims) including the Boston Marathon, San Bernadino and Orlando: there have been 15 deaths since 9/11, compared to 445,000 killed by gun violence on US soil. Toddlers are more lethal than terrorists, killing one person a week.

As for the number of foreign infiltrators, immigrants or refugees who participated in terror attacks in the US? The Washington Post reporting on a study by nonpartisan think tank New America Foundation, of 400 individuals charged with or credibly involved in jihad-inspired activity in the U.S. since 9/11 2001, 197 were U.S.-born citizens, 82 were naturalized citizens, and 44 were permanent residents; just 11 were on a non-immigrant visa, 8 were illegal immigrants, and 12 had refugee status.

Indeed, the United Arab Emirates, Bahamas, France, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Germany are among the countries that issued travel advisories against travel to the US over concerns about epidemic gun violence, mass shootings, police violence, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT attitudes and the Zika virus.

Tina Müller, 54, of Berlin, was quoted in USA Today (“Overseas Travel Warnings about USA Mount”) saying she had no plans to visit the US anytime soon, “They need to get rid of their guns. It would solve a lot of their problems. We have racism and prejudice in Europe, but we don’t have mass shootings and violence on that level.”

Yet Trump bases an unconstitutional ban on refugees, immigrants, green card and visa holders on a slogan of “protecting the safety of Americans”. But if he cared that much for Americans’ health, welfare, national security and safety, he would be signing executive orders for sensible gun restrictions starting with “No Fly, No Buy,” and smart-guns, instead of proposing a “Guns Everywhere” policy; he would be expanding the public option instead of repealing the Affordable Care Act to save tens of thousands of premature, needless death and suffering, and spending money to create vaccines against Zika and Ebola; and he would be expanding trade instead of putting up barriers and launching trade wars, to uplift people around the world from deprivation and poverty rather than exacerbating destabilizing income inequality.

Trump has demonstrated that he intends to rule as he campaigned, by stoking fear and terror and insecurity. That may well serve another goal: keeping Americans insulated from the world so they are kept in darkness and ignorance and malleable to his policies.

That is not a recipe to “Make America Great Again,” nor keeping Americans safe. That is a recipe for widening violence and terror as well as economic insecurity. There will be a domino effect, through the global economy, just as the US mortgage crisis triggered a global meltdown, starting with retaliatory policies such as trade tariffs and travel bans.

The anti-globalism, anti-trade isolationism implicit in Trump’s populism is quite frightening. The undermining of global institutions which effectively prevented World War III – the United Nations, European Union, NATO, even the international cooperation in outer space – edges us closer to the existential apocalypse given the technological capacity in the control of a single person.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

For Obama, Counterterrorism Means ‘Right Makes Might – That’s How We’ll Protect Our Constitution Against all Threats, Foreign and Domestic’

President Barack Obama: “We have to fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Barack Obama: “We have to fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This speech by President Barack Obama at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida spelling out his administration’s approach to counterterrorism may well be one for the history books: a kind of place marker to where we were when Donald Trump came to power and overturned everything. People will be pining for the days when the Commander-in-Chief could give a cogent statement describing mission, success, and reaffirming American values and respect for life. – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Here is a highlighted transcript:

Good afternoon, everybody.  I was just told that was going to be the last “Hail to the Chief” on the road, and it got me kind of sentimental.  I want to first and foremost say thanks to all of you.  Just before I came here, I was able to visit with some of the men and women from MacDill Air Force Base, Central Command, our Special Operations Command to thank them for their extraordinary service.  And so to you and your families, and to the extended family of American servicemembers, let me say that our nation owes you an unbelievable debt of gratitude.  We are grateful for you, and will be praying for you over the holidays.  (Applause.)

As you know all too well, your mission — and the course of history — was changed after the 9/11 attacks.  By the time I took office, the United States had been at war for seven years.  For eight years that I’ve been in office, there has not been a day when a terrorist organization or some radicalized individual was not plotting to kill Americans.  And on January 20th, I will become the first President of the United States to serve two full terms during a time of war.  (Applause.)  Now, we did not choose this fight, but once it came to us, the world saw the measure of our resolve.

The most solemn responsibility for any President is keeping the American people safe.  In carrying out that duty, I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I’ve visited troops around the globe.  I have met our wounded warriors, and I’ve grieved with Gold Star families.  I know better than most that it is because of your service and your sacrifice that we have been able, during these eight years, to protect our homeland, to strike crippling blows against terrorist networks, and fortify our friends and our allies.  So today, I’d like to reflect on that work, and talk about the foundation that we will leave for the next administration.

I came to this office with a set of core convictions that have guided me as Commander-in-Chief.  I believe that the United States military can achieve any mission; that we are, and must remain, the strongest fighting force the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  I believe that we must never hesitate to act when necessary, including unilaterally when necessary, against any imminent threats to our people.  But I have also insisted that it is unwise and unsustainable to ask our military to build nations on the other side of the world, or resolve their internal conflicts, particularly in places where our forces become a magnet for terrorists and insurgencies.  Instead, it has been my conviction that even as we focus relentlessly on dismantling terrorist networks like al Qaeda and ISIL, we should ask allies to do their share in the fight, and we should strengthen local partners who can provide lasting security.

And these convictions guided the policies we pursued both in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When I took office, the United States was focused overwhelmingly on Iraq, where nearly 150,000 American troops had spent years fighting an insurgency and helping to build a democratic government.  Meanwhile, al Qaeda had regrouped in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was actively planning attacks against our homeland.  So we brought nearly 150,000 troops home from Iraq, consistent with the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the previous administration, and we surged our efforts along with our allies in Afghanistan, which allowed us to focus on dismantling al Qaeda and give the Afghan government the opportunity to succeed.

And this focus on al Qaeda — the most dangerous threat to the United States at the time — paid dividends.  Today, by any measure, core al Qaeda — the organization that hit us on 9/11 — is a shadow of its former self.  (Applause.)  Plots directed from within Afghanistan and Pakistan have been consistently disrupted.  Its leadership has been decimated.  Dozens of terrorist leaders have been killed.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  (Applause.)  And, importantly, we have built a counterterrorism capability that can sustain this pressure against any terrorist network in South Asia that might threaten the United States of America.  That was because of the work of our outstanding servicemembers.

Moreover, that early decision to strengthen our efforts in Afghanistan allowed us to build the capacity of Afghans to secure and defend their own country.  So today, there are less than 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan.  Instead of being in the lead against the Taliban, Americans are now supporting 320,000 Afghan security forces who are defending their communities and supporting our counterterrorism efforts.

Now, I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture.  The situation in Afghanistan is still tough.  War has been a part of life in Afghanistan for over 30 years, and the United States cannot eliminate the Taliban or end violence in that country.  But what we can do is deny al Qaeda a safe haven, and what we can do is support Afghans who want a better future, which is why we have worked not only with their military, but we’ve backed a unity government in Kabul.  We’ve helped Afghan girls go to school.  We’ve supported investments in health care and electricity and education.  You have made a difference in Afghanistan, and America is safer for it.  (Applause.)

Of course, the terrorist threat was never restricted to South Asia, or to Afghanistan, or Pakistan.  Even as al Qaeda has been decimated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the threat from terrorists metastasized in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.  And most dangerously, we saw the emergence of ISIL, the successor to al Qaeda in Iraq, which fights as both a terrorist network and an insurgency. 

There’s been a debate about ISIL that’s focused on whether a continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq back in 2011 could have stopped the threat of ISIL from growing.  And as a practical matter, this was not an option.  By 2011, Iraqis wanted our military presence to end, and they were unwilling to sign a new Status of Forces Agreement to protect our troops from prosecution if they were trying to defend themselves in Iraq.  

In addition, maintaining American troops in Iraq at the time could not have reversed the forces that contributed to ISIL’s rise — a government in Baghdad that pursued a sectarian agenda, a brutal dictator in Syria who lost control of large parts of the country, social media that reached a global pool of recruits, and a hollowing out of Iraq’s security forces, which were ultimately overrun in Mosul in 2014.  In fact, American troops, had they stayed there, would have lacked legal protections and faced a choice between remaining on bases or being drawn back into a sectarian conflict against the will of Iraq’s elected government or Iraq’s local populations.

But circumstances changed.  When ISIL made substantial gains first in Mosul and then in other parts of the country, then suddenly Iraqis reached out once again for help.  And in shaping our response, we refused to repeat some of the mistakes of the 2003 invasion that have helped to give rise to the organization that became ISIL in the first place.

We conditioned our help on the emergence of a new Iraqi government and prime minister that was committed to national unity, and committed to working with us.  We built an international coalition of nearly 70 nations, including some of Iraq’s neighbors.  We surged our intelligence resources so that we could better understand the enemy.  And then we took the fight to ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, not with American battalions but with local forces backed by our equipment and our advisors and, importantly, our Special Forces.  In that campaign, we have now hit ISIL with over 16,000 airstrikes.  We have equipped and trained tens of thousands of partners on the ground.

And today, the results are clear:  ISIL has lost more than half its territory.  ISIL has lost control of major population centers.  Its morale is plummeting.  Its recruitment is drying up.  Its commanders and external plotters are being taken out, and local populations are turning against it.  (Applause.)

As we speak, ISIL faces an offensive on Mosul from Iraqi troops and coalition support.  That’s the largest remaining city that it controls.  Meanwhile, in Syria, ISIL’s self-declared capital in Raqqa is being squeezed.  We have attacked ISIL’s financial lifeline, destroying hundreds of millions of dollars of oil and cash reserves.  The bottom line is we are breaking the back of ISIL.  We’re taking away its safe havens.  (Applause.)  And we’ve accomplished all this at a cost of $10 billion over two years, which is the same amount that we used to spend in one month at the height of the Iraq War.  (Applause.)

So the campaign against ISIL has been relentless.  It has been sustainable.  It has been multilateral.  And it demonstrates a shift in how we’ve taken the fight to terrorists everywhere from South Asia to the Sahel.  Instead of pushing all of the burden onto American ground troops, instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we’ve built a network of partners. 

In Libya, where U.S. airpower has helped local militias dislodge a dangerous ISIL cell.  In Mali, where U.S. logistics and intelligence support helped our French allies roll back al Qaeda branches there.  In Somalia, where U.S. operations support an African Union-led force and international peacekeepers.  And in Yemen, where years of targeted strikes have degraded al Qaeda in the Peninsula.

And these offensive efforts have buttressed a global effort to make it harder for terrorist networks to breach our defenses and spread their violent ideologies.  Working with European allies who have suffered terrible attacks, we’ve strengthened intelligence-sharing and cut in half the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL.  We’ve worked with our tech sector to supports efforts to push back on terrorist messages on social media that motivate people to kill.  A recent study shows that ISIL’s propaganda has been cut in half.  We’ve launched a Global Engagement Center to empower voices that are countering ISIL’s perversion of Islam, and we’re working closely with Muslim-majority partners from the Gulf to Southeast Asia.

This is your work.  We should take great pride in the progress that we’ve made over the last eight years.  That’s the bottom line.

No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland.  (Applause.)  And it’s not because they didn’t try.  Plots have been disrupted.  Terrorists have been taken off the battlefield.  And we’ve done this even as we drew down nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today there are just 15,000.

New partnerships have been built.  We’ve respected the rule of law.  We’ve enlisted our values in this fight.  And all of this progress is due to the service of millions of Americans like you — in intelligence and in law enforcement, in homeland security, in diplomacy, in the armed services of the United States of America.  It’s thanks to you — (applause) — thanks to you.  

Now, to say that we’ve made progress is not to say that the job is done.  We know that a deadly threat persists.  We know that in some form this violent extremism will be with us for years to come.  In too many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, there has been a breakdown of order that’s been building for decades, and it’s unleashed forces that are going to take a generation to resolve.  Long-term corruption has rotted too many nation-states from within.  Governance is collapsing.  Sectarian conflicts rage.  A changing climate is increasing competition for food and water.  (Applause.)  And false prophets are peddling a vision of Islam that is irreconcilable with tolerance and modernity and basic science.  And in fact, every one of these trends is at play inside of Syria today.

And what complicates the challenge even more is the fact that for all of our necessary focus on fighting terrorists overseas, the most deadly attacks on the homeland over the last eight years have not been carried out by operatives with sophisticated networks or equipment, directed from abroad.  They’ve been carried out by homegrown and largely isolated individuals who were radicalized online.

These deranged killers can’t inflict the sort of mass casualties that we saw on 9/11, but the pain of those who lost loved ones in Boston, in San Bernardino, in Fort Hood and Orlando, that pain continues to this day.  And in some cases, it has stirred fear in our populations and threatens to change how we think about ourselves and our lives.

So while we’ve made it much more difficult — you have made it much more difficult — to carry out an attack approaching the scale of 9/11, the threat will endure.  We will not achieve the kind of clearly defined victory comparable to those that we won in previous wars against nations.  We won’t have a scene of the Emperor of Japan and Douglas MacArthur in a surrender.  And the reason we won’t have that is because technology makes it impossible to completely shield impressionable minds from violent ideologies.  And somebody who is trying to kill and willing to be killed is dangerous, particularly when we live in a country where it’s very easy for that person to buy a very powerful weapon. 

So rather than offer false promises that we can eliminate terrorism by dropping more bombs, or deploying more and more troops, or fencing ourselves off from the rest of the world, we have to take a long view of the terrorist threat, and we have to pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained.

In the time remaining, let me suggest what I think should guide this approach.  First of all, a sustainable counterterrorism strategy depends on keeping the threat in perspective.  The terrorist threat is real and it is dangerous.  But these terrorists want to cast themselves as the vanguard of a new world order.  They are not.  They are thugs and they are murderers, and they should be treated that way.  (Applause.)   Fascism threatened to overrun the entire world — and we had to wage total war in response.  Communism threatened not only to overturn a world order, but threatened nuclear holocaust — so we had to build armaments and alliances to contain it.  Today’s terrorists can kill innocent people, but they don’t pose an existential threat to our nation, and we must not make the mistake of elevating them as if they do.  That does their job for them.  It makes them more important and helps them with recruitment.

A second and related point is that we cannot follow the path of previous great powers who sometimes defeated themselves through over-reach.  By protecting our homeland while drawing down the number of troops serving in harm’s way overseas, we helped save resources, but more importantly, we saved lives.  I can tell you, during the course of my eight years, that I have never shied away from sending men and women into danger where necessary.  It’s always the hardest decision I make, but it’s one that I’ve made where the security of the American people is at stake.  And I’ve seen the costs.  I’ve held the hands of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  I’ve met the caskets of the fallen at Dover.  And that’s why I make no apologies for only sending our troops into harm’s way when there is a clear mission that is achievable and when it is absolutely necessary.

Number three, we need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness; in the long term, it is our greatest strength.  (Applause.)  The whole objective of these terrorists is to scare us into changing the nature of who we are and our democracy.  And the fact is, people and nations do not make good decisions when they are driven by fear.  These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon.  (Applause.)

And I always remind myself that as Commander-in-Chief, I must protect our people, but I also swore an oath to defend our Constitution.  And over these last eight years, we have demonstrated that staying true to our traditions as a nation of laws advances our security as well as our values.

We prohibited torture, everywhere, at all times — and that includes tactics like waterboarding.  And at no time has anybody who has worked with me told me that doing so has cost us good intelligence.  (Applause.)  When we do capture terrorists, despite all the political rhetoric about the need to strip terrorists of their rights, our interrogation teams have obtained valuable information from terrorists without resorting to torture, without operating outside the law.  Our Article III courts have delivered justice faster than military trials.  And our prisons have proven more than capable of holding the most dangerous terrorists.

Consider the terrorists who have been captured, lawfully interrogated, and prosecuted in civilian courts.  Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square.  Dzohkar Tsarneyev, the Boston Marathon bomber.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber.”  American juries and judges have determined that none of these people will know freedom again.  But we did it lawfully.  And the wheels of justice right now are turning for others — terrorists like Ahmed Warsame, an al-Shabaab commander, and Abu Khatalla, accused leader of the Benghazi attacks.  We can get these terrorists and stay true to who we are.

And, in fact, our success in dealing with terrorists through our justice system reinforces why it is past time to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  This is not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of many military leaders.  During my administration, we have responsibly transferred over 175 detainees to foreign governments, with safeguards to reduce the risk of them returning to the battlefield.  And we’ve cut the population in Gitmo from 242 to 59.  The politics of fear has led Congress to prevent any detainees from being transferred to prisons in the United States — even though, as we speak, we imprison dangerous terrorists in our prisons, and we have even more dangerous criminals in all of our prisons across the country; even though our allies oftentimes will not turn over a terrorist if they think that terrorist could end up in Gitmo; even though groups like ISIL use Gitmo in their propaganda.  So we’re wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to keep fewer than 60 people in a detention facility in Cuba.  That’s not strength.  Until Congress changes course, it will be judged harshly by history, and I will continue to do all that I can to remove this blot on our national honor.  (Applause.)

Number four, we have to fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists.  For example, in a dangerous world, terrorists seek out places where it’s often impossible to capture them, or to count on local governments to do so.  And that means the best option for us to get those terrorists becomes a targeted strike.  So we have taken action under my command, including with drones, to remove terrorists from the battlefield, which protects our troops and has prevented real threats to the American people.  (Applause.)

Now, under rules that I put in place and that I made public, before any strike is taken outside of a warzone, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.  And while nothing is certain in any strike, and we have acknowledged that there are tragic instances where innocents have been killed by our strikes, this is the highest standard that we can set.  Nevertheless, we still have critics who suggest that these strikes are wrong.  And I say to them, you have to weigh the alternatives.  Drone strikes allow us to deny terrorists a safe haven without airstrikes, which are less precise, or invasions that are much more likely to kill innocent civilians as well as American servicemembers.

So the actions that we’ve taken have saved lives at home and abroad.  But the point is, is that we do have to be careful to make sure that when we take actions, we’re not alienating local populations, because that will serve as recruitment for new terrorists.   

Number five, transparency and accountability serve our national security not just in times of peace, but, more importantly, in times of conflict.  And that’s why we’ve made public information about which terrorist organizations we’re fighting and why we’re fighting them.  We’ve released assessments of non-combatants killed in our operations, taken responsibility when mistakes are made.  We’ve declassified information about interrogation methods that were wrong so we learn from past mistakes.  And yesterday, I directed our government for the first time to release a full description of the legal and policy frameworks that guide our military operations around the world. 

This public information allows for a more informed public debate, and it provides a potential check on unfettered executive power.  The power of the presidency is awesome, but it is supposed to be bound by you, our citizens.  (Applause.)  But here’s the thing:  That information doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t work if the people’s representatives in Congress don’t do their jobs, if they’re not paying attention.  (Applause.)

Right now, we are waging war under authorities provided by Congress over 15 years ago — 15 years ago.  I had no gray hair 15 years ago.  (Laughter.)  Two years ago, I asked Congress, let’s update the authorization, provide us a new authorization for the war against ISIL, reflecting the changing nature of the threats, reflecting the lessons that we’ve learned from the last decade.  So far, Congress has refused to take a vote. 

Democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war.  (Applause.)  That’s not good for our military, it’s not good for our democracy.  And, by the way, part of the reason that’s dangerous is because today, with our outstanding, all-volunteer force, only one percent of the population is actually fighting.  (Applause.)  Which means that you are carrying the burden.  Which means that it is important for us to know what it is that we’re doing and have to explain what we are doing to the public, because it becomes too easy to just send one percent of the population out to do things even if they’re not well thought through.

If a threat is serious enough to require the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, then members of Congress should at least have the courage to make clear where they stand -– not on the sidelines — (applause) — not on cable TV shows, but by fulfilling their constitutional duty and authorizing the use of force against the threats that we face today.  That’s how democracies are supposed to work.

Number six, alongside our outstanding military work, we have to draw upon the strength of our diplomacy.  Terrorists would love to see us walk away from the type of work that builds international coalitions, and ends conflicts, and stops the spread of deadly weapons.  It would make life easier for them; it would be a tragic mistake for us. 

Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot.  We’ve rolled back Iran’s nuclear program.  That’s not just my assessment, that’s the assessment of Israeli intelligence, even though they were opposed to the deal.  We’ve secured nuclear materials around the globe, reducing the risk that they fall into the hands of terrorists.  We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program.  All of these steps have helped keep us safe and helped keep our troops safe.  Those are the result of diplomacy.  And sustained diplomatic efforts, no matter how frustrating or difficult they sometimes appear, are going to be required to resolve the conflicts roiling the in Middle East, from Yemen, to Syria, to Israel and Palestine.  And if we don’t have strong efforts there, the more you will be called upon to clean up after the failure of diplomacy.

Similarly, any long-term strategy to reduce the threat of terrorism depends on investments that strengthen some of these fragile societies.  Our generals, our commanders understand this.  This is not charity.  It’s fundamental to our national security.  A dollar spent on development is worth a lot more than a dollar spent fighting a war.  (Applause.)

This is how we prevent conflicts from starting in the first place.  This is how we can ensure that peace is lasting — after we’ve fought.  It’s how we stop people from falling prey to extremism — because children are going to school and they can think for themselves, and families can feed themselves and aren’t desperate, and communities are not ravaged by diseases, and countries are not devastated by climate changes.

As Americans, we have to see the value of empowering civil societies so that there are outlets for people’s frustrations, and we have to support entrepreneurs who want to build businesses instead of destroying.  We have to invest in young people because the areas that are generating terrorists are typically having a huge youth bulge, which makes them more dangerous.  And there are times where we need to help refugees who have escaped the horrors of war in search of a better life.   (Applause.)  Our military recognizes that these issues of governance and human dignity and development are vital to our security.  It’s central to our plans in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.  Let’s make sure that this wisdom is reflected in our budgets, as well.

And finally, in this fight, we have to uphold the civil liberties that define us.  Terrorists want us to turn on one another.  And while defeating them requires us to draw upon the enormous capabilities of all of our government, we have make sure changes in how we address terrorists are not abused.  This is why, for example, we’ve made extensive reforms in how we gather intelligence around the world, increasing oversight, placing new restrictions on the government’s ability to retain and search and use certain communications so that people trust us, and that way they cooperate and work with us.

We don’t use our power to indiscriminately read emails or listen to phone calls just targeted at folks who might be trying to do us harm.  We use it to save lives.  And by doing so, by maintaining these civil liberties, we sustain the confidence of the American people and we get the cooperation of our allies more readily.  Protecting liberty — that’s something we do for all Americans, and not just some.  (Applause.)

We are fighting terrorists who claim to fight on behalf of Islam.  But they do not speak for over a billion Muslims around the world, and they do not speak for American Muslims, including many who wear the uniform of the United States of America’s military.  (Applause.)

If we stigmatize good, patriotic Muslims, that just feeds the terrorists’ narrative.  It fuels the same false grievances that they use to motivate people to kill.  If we act like this is a war between the United States and Islam, we’re not just going to lose more Americans to terrorist attacks, but we’ll also lose sight of the very principles we claim to defend.

So let my final words to you as your Commander-in-Chief be a reminder of what it is that you’re fighting for, what it is that we are fighting for.  The United States of America is not a country that imposes religious tests as a price for freedom.  We’re a country that was founded so that people could practice their faiths as they choose.  The United States of America is not a place where some citizens have to withstand greater scrutiny, or carry a special ID card, or prove that they’re not an enemy from within.  We’re a country that has bled and struggled and sacrificed against that kind of discrimination and arbitrary rule, here in our own country and around the world.

We’re a nation that believes freedom can never be taken for granted and that each of us has a responsibility to sustain it.  The universal right to speak your mind and to protest against authority, to live in a society that’s open and free, that can criticize a President without retribution — (applause) — a country where you’re judged by the content of your character rather than what you look like, or how you worship, or what your last name is, or where your family came from — that’s what separates us from tyrants and terrorists.

We are a nation that stands for the rule of law, and strengthen the laws of war.  When the Nazis were defeated, we put them on trial.  Some couldn’t understand that; it had never happened before.  But as one of the American lawyers who was at Nuremberg says, “I was trying to prove that the rule of law should govern human behavior.”  And by doing so, we broadened the scope and reach of justice around the world.  We held ourselves out as a beacon and an example for others.

We are a nation that won World Wars without grabbing the resources of those we defeated.  We helped them rebuild.  We didn’t hold on to territory, other than the cemeteries where we buried our dead.  Our Greatest Generation fought and bled and died to build an international order of laws and institutions that could preserve the peace, and extend prosperity, and promote cooperation among nations.  And for all of its imperfections, we depend on that international order to protect our own freedom.

In other words, we are a nation that at our best has been defined by hope, and not fear.  A country that went through the crucible of a Civil War to offer a new birth of freedom; that stormed the beaches of Normandy, climbed the hills of Iwo Jima; that saw ordinary people mobilize to extend the meaning of civil rights.  That’s who we are.  That’s what makes us stronger than any act of terror. 

Remember that history.  Remember what that flag stands for.  For we depend upon you — the heirs to that legacy — our men and women in uniform, and the citizens who support you, to carry forward what is best in us — that commitment to a common creed.  The confidence that right makes might, not the other way around.  (Applause.)

That’s how we can sustain this long struggle.  That’s how we’ll protect this country.  That’s how we’ll protect our Constitution against all threats, foreign and domestic.

I trust that you will fulfill that mission, as you have fulfilled all others.  It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your Commander-in-Chief.  I thank you for all that you’ve done, and all that you will do in the future.  May God bless you.  May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Starkest Contrast Between Clinton, Trump Comes in Plans to Defeat ISIS, Radical Jihadism

Hillary Clinton, at the Commander-in-Chief Forum aboard the USS Intrepid, managed to get out the broad outlines of her detailed, nuanced plan to defeat ISIS and Radical Jihadism, despite being cut off by moderator Matt Lauer © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton, at the Commander-in-Chief Forum aboard the USS Intrepid, managed to get out the broad outlines of her detailed, nuanced plan to defeat ISIS and Radical Jihadism, despite being cut off by moderator Matt Lauer © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The stark contrast between the two major candidates for President could not be sharper as in their proposals to defeat ISIS and the scourge of terrorism. And it is probably the singular issue – shorthand – which stands in for the rest: a detailed, nuanced policy borne of first-hand experience and due diligence, and an off-the-cuff hyperbolic non sequitur. In essence, a plan versus no plan at all.

The outlines were presented during the Commander in Chief Forum where – despite moderator Matt Lauer’s best effort to cut off Clinton from her response, she stated:

“We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal. And we’ve got to do it with air power. We’ve got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS. We have to squeeze them by continuing to support the Iraqi military. They’ve taken back Ramadi, Fallujah. They’ve got to hold them. They’ve got to now get into Mosul.

“We’re going to work to make sure that they have the support — they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help.

“They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops. So those are the kinds of decisions we have to make on a case-by-case basis.

“And, remember, when I became secretary of state, we had 200,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’m very grateful that we have brought home the vast majority of those. We have a residual force, as you know, in Afghanistan. We have built up several thousands of the folks that I’ve talked about who are assisting in the fight against ISIS.

“But it is in our national security interest to defeat ISIS. And I intend to make that happen.

“And as part of it, we’re going after Baghdadi, the leader, because it will help us focus our attention, just like going after bin Laden helped us focus our attention in the fight against Al Qaida in the Afghanistan- Pakistan theater.”

Then, Clinton was asked, with just about a minute left of her time, how she would deal with “terror attacks on our soil,” either directed by ISIS or inspired by ISIS, and “Would your message as the next president of the United States or potential next president be to Americans that we simply are living in the reality that those attacks will happen? And can you guarantee people that after four years of a Clinton presidency, they will be safer on the streets of San Bernardino or Boston than they are today?”

Clinton responds, “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that that’s the result. I’m not going to, you know, promise something that I think most thinking Americans know is going to be a huge challenge, and here’s why. We’ve got to have an intelligence surge. We’ve got to get a lot more cooperation out of Europe, out of the Middle East. We have to do a better job of not only collecting and analyzing the intelligence we do have, but distributing it much more quickly down the ladder to state and local law enforcement.

“We also have to do a better job combating ISIS online, where they recruit, where they radicalize. And I don’t think we’re doing as much as we can. We need to work with Silicon Valley. We need to work with our experts in our government. We have got to disrupt, we have got to take them on in the arena of ideas that, unfortunately, pollute and capture the minds of vulnerable people. So we need to wage this war against ISIS from the air, on the ground, and online, in cyberspace.

“And here at home, for goodness’s sakes, we have to finally pass a law prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from being able to buy a gun in the United States of America. So we’ve got work to do. I know we can do that work. I’m meeting with a group of terror experts, counterterrorism experts.

“But I want to just say one additional thing… Matt Olsen, the former director of the National Center on Counterterrorism, has a great article out today saying the last thing we need to do is to play into the hands of ISIS. Going after American Muslims, defaming a Gold Star family, the family of Captain Khan, making it more difficult for us to have a coalition with Muslim majority nations that is not going to help us to succeed in defeating ISIS and protecting our American homeland.”

In contrast, Donald Trump denigrated the generals, suggested he would install his own generals and demand a plan within 30 days which may or may not be as good as his secret plan which he will not detail because it is better to be “unpredictable.” He suggested that ISIS would not exist at all if Obama had only seized Iraq’s oil reserves – “To the victor belong the spoils” – which actually would be a war crime and a violation of international and US law. And instead of saying what he would do (beyond convening a new pack of generals to come up with a plan), he only could attack Obama and Clinton. He also suggested that he was “shocked” after his classified briefing, that the briefers indicated that Obama had rejected their advice (something that would never have happened since briefers don’t give policy advice), and that if he were president, Osama bin Ladin would have been killed before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Here are Trump’s remarks:

“Sure. I mean, part of the problem that we’ve had is we go in, we defeat somebody, and then we don’t know what we’re doing after that. We lose it, like as an example, you look at Iraq, what happened, how badly that was handled. And then when President Obama took over, likewise, it was a disaster. It was actually somewhat stable. I don’t think could ever be very stable to where we should have never gone into in the first place.

“But he came in. He said when we go out — and he took everybody out. And really, ISIS was formed. This was a terrible decision. And frankly, we never even got a shot. And if you really look at the aftermath of Iraq, Iran is going to be taking over Iraq. They’ve been doing it. And it’s not a pretty picture.

“The — and I think you know — because you’ve been watching me I think for a long time — I’ve always said, shouldn’t be there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.”

Lauer asks, “How were we going to take the oil? How were we going to do that?”

Trump replies, “Just we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil. They have — people don’t know this about Iraq, but they have among the largest oil reserves in the world, in the entire world.

“And we’re the only ones, we go in, we spend $3 trillion, we lose thousands and thousands of lives, and then, Matt, what happens is, we get nothing. You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils. Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: Take the oil.

“One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is ISIS would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.”

Donald Trump, Republican candidate for President, on how he would defeat ISIS: “I have a plan. But I want to be — I don’t want to — look. I have a very substantial chance of winning. Make America great again. We’re going to make America great again. I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is...And let me tell you, if I like maybe a combination of my plan and the generals’ plan, or the generals’ plan, if I like their plan.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Donald Trump, Republican candidate for President, on how he would defeat ISIS: “I have a plan. But I want to be — I don’t want to — look. I have a very substantial chance of winning. Make America great again. We’re going to make America great again. I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is…And let me tell you, if I like maybe a combination of my plan and the generals’ plan, or the generals’ plan, if I like their plan.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Lauer then asks about Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS. “When we’ve met in the past and we’ve talked, you say things like I’m going to bomb the expletive out of them very quickly. And when people like me press you for details like that gentleman just said on what your plan is, you very often say, I’m not going to give you the details because I want to be unpredictable.”

“Absolutely. The word is unpredictable,” Trump interjects.

When Lauer asks whether Trump’s “secret plan” to defeat ISIS he has been “hiding this whole time” is actually “to convene my top generals and they will have 30 days to submit a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS,” Trump replies. “No. But when I do come up with a plan that I like and that perhaps agrees with mine, or maybe doesn’t — I may love what the generals come back with. I will convene…

“I have a plan. But I want to be — I don’t want to — look. I have a very substantial chance of winning. Make America great again. We’re going to make America great again. I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.

“And let me tell you, if I like maybe a combination of my plan and the generals’ plan, or the generals’ plan, if I like their plan, Matt, I’m not going to call you up and say, “Matt, we have a great plan.” This is what Obama does. “We’re going to leave Iraq on a certain day.”

Lauer presses, “But you’re going to convene a panel of generals, and you’ve already said you know more about ISIS than those generals do.”

Trump replies. “Well, they’ll probably be different generals, to be honest with you.”

Hillary for America campaign followed up with a reminder of the detailed plan Hillary Clinton introduced months ago: 

“The threat we face from terrorism is real, urgent, and knows no boundaries. Hillary Clinton knows that ISIS cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” Hillary for America campaign said in a statement. “Doing so takes more than empty talk and a handful of slogans. It takes a real plan, real experience, and real leadership. Donald Trump lacks all three. He won’t even say what his plan to defeat ISIS is.

Hillary Clinton has laid out a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS and keep American safe at home.  She understands that it’s not enough just to take out specific groups or leaders – we must have a comprehensive strategy to win the long game against the global terrorist network and its ideology.

First, we need to take out ISIS’s strongholds in the Middle East by intensifying the coalition air campaign, supporting our partners on the ground, and pursuing diplomacy to end Syria’s civil war and close Iraq’s sectarian divide, because those conflicts are keeping ISIS alive.

Second, we need to lash up with our allies to dismantle the global network that supplies money, arms, propaganda and fighters to the terrorists.  This means targeted efforts to root out ISIS hubs and affiliates and preventing terrorist organizations from establishing hubs elsewhere, choking off the networks that facilitate their growth and expansion.

And third, we need to harden our defenses at home, including by launching an intelligence surge to ensure law enforcement has the information they need to detect and disrupt plots, working with Silicon Valley to shut down terrorist propaganda online, and keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists.  Hillary has also proposed establishing a “lone wolf” task force to identify and stop radicalized individuals who may or may not have contact and direction from any formal organization.

“As we do all of this, we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values or allowing us to be driven by fear to embrace policies that would actually make us less safe.  Hillary knows that all communities need to be engaged in the fight against ISIS.  As the Director of the FBI told Congress recently, anything that erodes trust with Muslim-Americans makes the job of law enforcement more difficult.  American Muslims are on the front lines of efforts to combat radicalization, and we need to increase trust and cooperation with law enforcement.  Since 9/11, law enforcement agencies have worked hard to build relationships with Muslim-American communities. They are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it’s too late, and the best positioned to help us block it. Hillary knows we should be intensifying contacts in those communities, not scapegoating or isolating them. And as we engage in this fight, we will be stronger with our allies and partners standing with us, particularly in the Muslim world, as we cannot win this fight alone.”

They also took note that various pundits have praised Clinton’s plan:

  • New York Times’ David Brooks: “This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.… [Clinton] is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward.”
  • CNN: “Michael Desch, an expert in international security at Notre Dame University, said that Clinton’s speech was polished and showed her to be ‘head and shoulders’ above Republican candidates on framing an anti-ISIS strategy.”
  • US News & World Report’s Dave Catanese: “A strong performance delivered with the poise of an incumbent president”
  • Politico’s Roger Simon: “Hillary gives one of her best speeches ever on world terror. So presidential, they practically played ‘Hail to the Chief.’”
  • Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “[Clinton’s speech is the] Most comprehensive and detailed Mideast/Isis plans I’ve heard from any US leader so far, of late”
  • Quartz: “…talking about how to actually tackle Islamist extremism is complicated and politically fraught. It’s easier to play to fears about outsiders than to develop a substantive program. At least one US politician has given some thought to an idea about what to do: Presidential contender and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton delivered a speech today (Nov. 19) outlining her plan to battle the nexus of Islamist ideology that ISIL has created in the Middle East’s failed states… It’s a cohesive approach…”
  • New York Times’ David Brooks: “This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.… [Clinton] is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward.”
  • CNN: “Michael Desch, an expert in international security at Notre Dame University, said that Clinton’s speech was polished and showed her to be ‘head and shoulders’ above Republican candidates on framing an anti-ISIS strategy.”
  • US News & World Report’s Dave Catanese: “A strong performance delivered with the poise of an incumbent president”
  • Politico’s Roger Simon: “Hillary gives one of her best speeches ever on world terror. So presidential, they practically played ‘Hail to the Chief.’”
  • Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “[Clinton’s speech is the] Most comprehensive and detailed Mideast/Isis plans I’ve heard from any US leader so far, of late”
  • Quartz: “…talking about how to actually tackle Islamist extremism is complicated and politically fraught. It’s easier to play to fears about outsiders than to develop a substantive program. At least one US politician has given some thought to an idea about what to do: Presidential contender and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton delivered a speech today (Nov. 19) outlining her plan to battle the nexus of Islamist ideology that ISIL has created in the Middle East’s failed states… It’s a cohesive approach…”

Former CIA Chief, Major General, Govt Official Contrast Clinton Counterterrorism Strategy with Republicans

Hillary Clinton campaigning for president. Clinton has offered a detailed strategy for defeating terrorism while attacking Republican opponents saying,“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”  © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton campaigning for president. Clinton has offered a detailed strategy for defeating terrorism while attacking Republican opponents saying,“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and candidate for president, declared  “Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”

Today, Hillary for America held a press call to contrast the differences in the former Secretary of State’s approach to that of GOP hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in counterterrorism and offer a strong argument that Clinton brings the skills, experience and judgment to be president and commander-in-chief. The call featured former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta, Major General Tony Taguba (ret.), and former senior U.S. government official Rand Beers built upon the address Clinton delivered yesterday at Stanford University, in which she detailed her strategy to defeat ISIS and terrorism. The officials addressed more broadly the challenges the nation faces, arguing that Clinton brings the experience and steady leadership that will be vital, in contrast to  the dangerous rhetoric and plans being peddled by the leading Republican presidential candidates.

“We are living at a time in the 21st century when the United States is facing an unprecedented number of threats and challenges in the world – serious flash points that threaten the security of the US – including a growing threat from ISIS-aligned terrorists who have proved a capability to strike at heart of Western Europe and who are a clear and present danger,” stated former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta.

“In addition, there are failed states such as in Yemen, breeding grounds for extremists. The regime in Iran which in spite of the nuclear agreement, continue to test missiles with “death to Israel’ painted on the side, which violate the ban. Iranians use cyberattacks to go after infrastructure. There is an unpredictable leader in North Korea, renewed challenges from Putin’s Russia, China’s territorial claims in South China Sea. And no question, we need to worry about battlefields of the future: cyberattacks that can be used by nation-states and terrorists to virtually cripple our country.

“To confront these challenges, US must provide strong leadership and must have a commander-in-chief with experience,  judgment, steady hand to keep us safe. The most qualified person to assume the duties and provide the necessary world leadership on Day 1 is Hillary Clinton. Her speech at Stanford [ about countering ISIS and terrorism],  which built on 5 previous speeches, outlined key objectives: intensify the military campaign against ISIS in Syria; go after their people, territory, infrastructure in Iraq. Keys to defeating ISIS include go after their leadership (announced today, ISIS’ #2 commander was killed, which is encouraging because we have to decimate ISIS leadership and remove them from territory, from Mosul to Rakka.

“We need a surge in intelligence and law enforcement to penetrate before there is an attack – beefing up intel is absolutely critical. We need to attack the global financial networks, recruitments networks. Lastly, we need to counter the narrative that brings new individuals to their cause.

“We don’t yet know the scope of network that carried out Brussels attacks, but American network, in close coordination with allies in Europe, NATO and the Mideast will be critical in the long term to defeat ISIS.

“[In this strategy], there is a clear contrast between Sec. Clinton’s approach which is serious, comprehensive and tough, to those proposals that are being proposed Republican candidates.

“The choice for president is the most important decision the American people will make, largely because the next president will be commander in chief and have the ability to decide between war and peace

“What we are hearing from the Republican side are dangerous, irresponsible proposals that will put our national security at risk, further divide us from the very allies we need to win war against ISIS.

“Trump’s plan is to torture people, bomb families, walk away from NATO, build walls around Muslims, keep Muslims out of the country. These are not serious proposals,  they are political slogans, not strategies for dealing with this threat. Reckless and won’t work.

“Ted Cruz’ recommendation that police officers infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods is hard to understand, sounds like violation of 4th amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and further antagonizes those who we need on our side.

Both [Republican] candidates offer  shoot-from-the-hip slogans that demonstrate a stunning lack of knowledge about security and our values.

“Thomas Jefferson believed a president’s first duty was to protect the nation. We need a president who will protect the nation, take the fight to terrorists in smart, effective way. I believe Secretary Clinton understands her first duty as president will be to protect the American people.”

Former Senior U.S. Government Official Rand Beers, who spent 42 years in government in counter insurgency, counter terrorism, counter narcotics, said, “I have deep concern with the remarks from Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. I find the statements that Cruz is making about increased surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods is completely wrong headed . He thinks he’s found a solution for catching terrorists? His is a strategy that will create more terrorists.

“We know from the array of information about terrorist individuals who have been captured and brought to trial in this country that in each and every instance, there is some behavior that is noticed by a family member or friend or someone in religious community that is in fact a precursor of mobilization toward violence. What we need to do is create environment where those individuals will come forward, know who to come to. – law enforcement community and community leaders. Putting more enforcement, fomenting more reactions by the rest of America to the Muslim community is counter-productive. Our Muslim Americans are part of our critical line of defense, and need to be part of strategy.

“As a country, we are capable of keeping our people safe and living up to our values at the same time.

“What we are hearing from this election from the Republican opposition is simply appalling – banning Muslims, cordoning them off will simply not result in a successful strategy. Sec. Clinton understands this, has spoken out. Her comments make very clear that all these solutions proposed by other side will make matters worse.

“I have sat with Sec. Clinton in the Situation Room discussing counter-terrorism issues, and seen the steady, knowledgeable hand of a person who has studied these issues. Without a doubt, she is  the best candidate for president of US.”

Major General Tony Taguba (ret.), who led the investigations into torture by US personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, addressed his horror over the topic of torture once again entering the conversation. “It took this country almost 12 years, before the Senate Select Committee found use of torture is not very effective, and actually is counter productive. It led Senators McCain and Feinstein to co-sponsor landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforced the ban on torture, including waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, that Republican candidates are [now] saying is a tool.

“We cannot go back in time where we clearly violated our own laws, the Constitution, international laws – and broadcast throughout the world, especially to our enemies that a candidate, a future Commander-in-Chief  is more than happy, if not condone, torture and waterboarding in violation of our law and international law. It puts more of our troops, our nation in danger. I believe that Sec. Clinton’s approach of having a steady, measured hand in leadership – not use torture – but the strategy she has indicated is the way to fight terrorism…”

Asked what responsibility President Obama and Secretary Clinton might have for the “perils we see in the world,” Panetta said, ““These threats have developed over these last number of years, terrorism has metastasized. You can’t lay blame on any person. You have to confront the threat. We’ve been dealing with threat from North Korea for 60 years – you can’t lay that at anyone’s feet. Challenge from Russia, China. Look at the threats out there, everybody has to accept some responsibility but more importantly, accept the responsibility for having to deal with that. We need a president, a commander in chief, who can build relationships with other countries to confront these threats. These are not just threats against security of US, all are threats against the world.” The next commander in chief, he said, needs to be somebody who can build alliances to confront this very threat. “The only person is Sec. Clinton.”

Are Obama and Clinton responsible for the rise of terrorism? Panetta said, “Whether Boko Haram, al Shabaab, ISIS, Al Qaeda….. Terrorism has developed in those countries because of the conditions present in those countries – that kind of terrorism is something we need to confront not just on the military battlefield, but the root causes of what creates that kind of attraction to terrorism. One area we haven’t been as effective is how we go after the narrative, the root causes in the world that contribute to development of terrorism. That is something Clinton has said is important to defeat ISIS.”

Asked to comment on candidate Bernie Sanders’ plan to combat terrorism, Beers said, “Sen. Sanders has a very distinct focus on the economy and a limited focus and perspective on international issues. Sec. Clinton has given a number of foreign policy speeches, specifically on terrorism, and has responded immediately in that arena to the major attacks that have occurred. Sen. Sanders does not have that background. Is more focused on the economy, and that is clearest indication – Sen. Clinton is the most capable candidate in terms of addressing the full range of issues, but particularly, the national security issues that face this country.”

Asked whether there is any validity to the claim that the rhetoric coming from Cruz and Trump is troubling to world leaders, Panetta said, “Almost everywhere I go, responsible leaders express deep concerns about the kind of rhetoric that they are hearing in campaigns from Trump and Cruz and it deeply concerns them that that kind of rhetoric is divisive and hurts our ability to develop the kinds of alliances we absolutely need in order to confront a dangerous enemy. I know the candidates sometimes think they are just talking to their voters in this country, but that is the worst mistake they can make, because the rhetoric they are using is damaging the US abroad, creating concerns about where this country is going in the future.”

See also:

HILLARY CLINTON: ‘DEFEAT ISIS THROUGH PRINCIPLED AMERICAN LEADERSHIP’

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News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email editor@news-photos-features.com. Like’ us onfacebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Hillary Clinton: ‘Defeat ISIS Through Principled American Leadership’

Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for president, here at a NYC rally, laid out a detailed strategy to defeat ISIS © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for president, here at a NYC rally, laid out a detailed strategy to defeat ISIS © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”

That small section from Hillary Clinton’s speech at Stanford University is getting a lot of play, but the former Secretary of State Democratic presidential candidate laid out an incredibly detailed, rational vision for defeating ISIS and terrorism  “through principled American leadership.”

The speech came in the wake of the terror attacks at the Brussels international airport and a metro station, reigniting American fears in a way that attacks in Turkey and in other parts of the world never seem to do.

In her speech, she refers to “radical jihadist terrorists<” rather than the term preferred by the Republican candidates, “Radical Islamists” – as if semantics  like “War on Terror” or “War on Drugs” or “political correctness” are the cause of the problem or the solution.

Instead, she detailed her strategy for defeating ISIS and the indispensable role of steady American leadership, of reinforcing our alliances, and of doing what actually works. Indeed, many point to the isolation, alienation and discrimination of the Muslim community in Brussels, with unemployment at 40%, as a reason why Belgium has sent some 1500 radicalized people to become trained by ISIS (some 400 have returned), while on a per capita basis, the US, with its well assimilated Muslim community, has had only a handful radicalized (indeed, there are more White Supremacists than radical jihadists).

Her speech was a rebuke to those who have responded to the terrorist attacks in Brussels exactly as its perpetrators would hope, trafficking in bigotry and bluster, and capitalizing on voters’ fears.

With an unequivocal rejection of such fear-mongering, she declared Americans “will not turn on each other, turn on our allies, or turn away from our principles.”

Here are highlights from her remarks on March 23, 2016:

“Yesterday’s attack in Brussels was the latest brutal reminder that our fight against ISIS and radical jihadist terrorism is far from finished.  More than 30 innocent people are dead — men and women hurrying to catch a plane or waiting for a train or meeting a loved one.  Hundreds more are wounded, including three Mormon missionaries from Utah, a U.S. Air Force Officer, his wife and four children, and other Americans.

“It’s understandable that Americans here at home are worried.  The threat we face from terrorism is real, it’s urgent, and it knows no boundaries.  Even as Brussels grieves, the memories of Paris and San Bernardino are painfully fresh as well.  On Saturday, a bombing in Istanbul killed four people, including two U.S.-Israeli dual citizens.  Many other places have been targeted by terrorists in the past year alone.  Hotels in West Africa.  Beaches in Tunisia.  A market in Lebanon.  A Russian passenger jet in the Sinai.

“ISIS is attempting a genocide of religious and ethnic minorities.  It beheads civilians. It enslaves, tortures, and rapes women and girls.   

“Walls will not protect us from this threat.  We cannot contain ISIS – we must defeat ISIS.

This will be one of the most important challenges facing the next President who takes office on January 20.  Our new Commander-in-Chief will walk into the Oval Office and find a world of hard choices and complex problems.  That president  will sit down at that desk and start making decisions that will affect the lives and livelihoods of every American and people around the world.  So the stakes could not be higher.

“Today, I want to emphasize three points:  First, we face an adversary that is constantly adapting and operating across multiple theaters, so our response must be just as nimble and far-reaching.  Second, to defeat this transnational threat, we need to reinforce the alliances that have been core pillars of American power for decades.  And third, we need to rely on what actually works, not bluster that alienates our partners and doesn’t make us any safer.

“Let’s begin by being clear about what we are facing: ISIS controls a shrinking but still sizeable territory in Iraq and Syria.  It leads a far-flung network that includes affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa, and cells in Europe, Asia, and even here in North America.  It’s also part of a broader ideological movement that includes other terrorist groups.  We need to do battle on all these fronts.

“Last year, in speeches in New York and Minneapolis, I laid out a three-part plan to defeat ISIS in the Middle East, around the world, and here at home.  Recent events have only reinforced the urgency of this mission.

“First, we do have to take out ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria.  We should intensify the coalition air campaign against its fighters, leaders, and infrastructure, step up support for local Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground, and coalition efforts to protect civilians.  And pursue a diplomatic strategy aimed at achieving political resolutions to Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s sectarian divide.

Second, we must dismantle the global network of terror that supplies money, arms, propaganda, and fighters.   This means targeted efforts to deal with ISIS affiliates from Libya to Afghanistan.  It means going after the key enablers who facilitate illicit financial transactions and help jihadists arrange travel, forge documents, and evade detection.  And it means waging online battles with extremists to discredit their ideology, expose their lies, and counter their appeals to potential recruits in the West and around the world.

[If Republicans really were serious about defeating ISIS versus making President Obama look bad – -perhaps even inviting a terror attack here which they believe will bolster their ability to win back the White House – the Senate would have already confirmed the appointment of Adam Szubin’s as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, the post in charge of tracking down and stopping the funds going to terrorist organizations.]

Third, we must harden our defenses and build our resilience here at home.  We need to counter each step in the process that can lead to an attack, deterring would-be terrorists and discovering and disrupting plots before they’re carried out.

“Our enemies are constantly adapting, so we have to do the same.  For example, Brussels demonstrated clearly we need to take a harder look at security protocols at airports and other sensitive so called “soft sites,” especially areas outside guarded perimeters.

“To do all this, we need an intelligence surge, and so do our allies.

“We also have to stay ahead of the curve technologically.  That does mean working with the brightest minds here in Silicon Valley to more effectively track and analyze ISIS’s social media posts and map jihadist networks online.  When other candidates talk about building walls around America, I want to ask them: How high does the wall have to be to keep the Internet out?

“And we also have to tackle a thorny challenge that is top-of-mind here in the Bay Area – navigating the security and civil liberties concerns surrounding the encryption of mobile devices and communications.

“Impenetrable encryption provides significant cybersecurity advantages, but may also make it harder for law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals to investigate plots and prevent future attacks.  ISIS knows this too.  At the same time, there are legitimate worries about privacy, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors – including terrorists – can exploit.

“There may be no quick or magic fix.  In the Apple case, the FBI may have found a work-around, but there will be future cases with different facts and different challenges.  So the tech community and the government have to stop seeing each other as adversaries and start working together to protect our safety and our privacy.  A National Commission on Encryption, like Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Mike McCaul are proposing, could help.  And our security professionals could use the advice and talents of technology professionals to help us figure out how we do stay ahead of the terrorists.

“Our fight against radical jihadist terrorists will be long, and there is very real risk of future attacks here at home.  But pursuing this comprehensive strategy will put us in the best position to defeat ISIS and keep our families and communities safe.  This is a very personal issue for me, having served as a Senator from New York on 9/11. Having seen the horrors that were produced by a well-planned and executed attack on our country, knowing how important it is that we do stay ahead of those who wish to do us great harm, without panic, without paranoia, but with resolve not to give in to the very behavior the terrorists are hoping to engender.

“We can’t let fear stop us from doing what’s necessary to keep us safe – nor can we let it push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.

“For example, it would be a serious mistake to stumble into another costly ground war in the Middle East.  If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.  We can, I argue, must support them, but we can’t substitute for them.

“It would also be a serious mistake to begin “carpet bombing” populated areas “into oblivion.”  Proposing that doesn’t make you sound tough, it makes you sound like you’re in over your head. Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.

“To do that, we need to strengthen America’s alliances in Europe, Asia, and around the world. And that is the second point I want to emphasize.

“On 9/11, NATO treated an attack against one as an attack against all.  On September 12, headlines across Europe, most notably in Le Monde proclaimed, “We are all Americans.”  There were very few planes in the air that day – but one was a British jet carrying the UK’s top national security leaders to Washington to offer any help they could.

“Now it’s our turn to stand with Europe.  We cherish the same values and face the same adversaries – so we must share the same determination.

“This is especially true at a time when Europe faces multiple overlapping crises, from President Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, to the massive influx of refugees, to continuing economic challenges, to the rise of right-wing nationalist parties.  We have made so much progress together toward the goal of a Europe that is free, whole, and at peace, and we can’t risk letting it fall apart now.

“For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have understood that America’s alliances make us stronger.  Secretary Shultz compared the slow, steady work of building diplomatic relationships to gardening.  He knew that when you cultivate effective partners, you can can harvest real rewards.

“Allies extend our reach, share intelligence, provide troops in conflicts like Afghanistan, offer bases and staging areas around the world for our military, and serve as a bulwark against competitors like Russia and China.  And by the way, both Moscow and Beijing know our global network of alliances is a significant strategic advantage they can’t match.

“NATO, in particular, is one of the best investments America has ever made.  From the Balkans to Afghanistan and beyond, NATO allies have fought alongside the United States, sharing the burdens and the sacrifices.  In the 1990s, Secretary Perry helped guide NATO’s expansion based on the alliance’s core tenets of collective defense, democracy, consensus, and cooperative security.   They became known as the “Perry Principles,” and they’re still at the heart of what makes NATO the most successful alliance in history.

“Turning our back on our alliances, or turning our alliance into a protection racket, would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike.  Putin already hopes to divide Europe.  If Mr. Trump gets his way, it’ll be like Christmas in the Kremlin.  It will make America less safe and the world more dangerous.

“When it comes to the struggle against ISIS, we need our allies as much as ever.  We need them to be strong and engaged, for they are increasingly on the frontlines.  London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Istanbul – they’ve all been hit by terrorism.  And, as we saw when a terrorist cell in Hamburg carried out the 9/11 attacks, what happens in Europe has a way of making it to America.  So it’s essential that we have strong partners who can work with us to disrupt plots and dismantle networks in their own countries before they lead to attacks in ours.

“America needs European intelligence services working hand-in-hand with our own, including where they may have better reach and expertise like in North Africa.  We need European banks to stop terrorist financing.  We need European planes flying missions over Iraq and Syria, and European special forces helping train and equip local anti-ISIS forces on the ground.

“We need European diplomats and development experts working to improve governance and reduce the appeal of extremism across the wide arc of instability that stretches from West Africa all the way to Asia.  Together, we can do more — and more urgently — to support moderate voices and stand with Tunisians, Libyans, Kurds, and others in the region who are trying to do the right thing.

“And as we should, of course, be closely consulting with Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East, we also have to extend our consultations to Arab partners as well.

“All of this will make America safer and help defeat ISIS.

“There is much we can do to support our European partners – helping them improve intelligence and law enforcement, facilitating information sharing, working more closely at every level.  There’s also more they can do to share the burden with us.  We’d like to see more European countries investing in defense and security, following the example Germany and others have set during the Obama administration.

“The most urgent task is stopping the flow of foreign fighters to and from the Middle East.  Thousands of young recruits have flocked to Syria from France, Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.  Their European passports make it easier for them to cross borders and eventually return home, radicalized and battle-hardened.  We need to know the identities of every fighter who makes that trip and start revoking passports and visas.

“Stemming this tide will require much better coordination among every country along the way.  Right now, many European nations don’t even alert each other when they turn away a suspected jihadist at the border or when a passport is stolen.  And Turkey, a NATO ally, still has more work to do to control the border where most foreign fighters cross into Syria.

“After the Paris attack, France and Belgium pledged to move forward together on reforms, but that’s difficult without the European Union.  In January, the EU announced a new integrated counterterrorism center.  But intelligence cooperation still lags and the EU keeps delaying a vote to share traveler information between member states.  It’s actually easier for the United States to get flight manifests from EU nations than it is for EU nations to get them from their own neighbors, thanks to an agreement the U.S. negotiated when I was Secretary of State.

“There also has to be a special emphasis on identifying and investing in the hot spots — the specific neighborhoods, prisons and schools, where recruitment happens in clusters, as we’ve seen in Brussels.  And it’s time to make good on the promise of establishing a new unified European Border and Coast Guard to strengthen the continent’s external borders, which are under unprecedented pressure from refugees and migrants.

“Now this is a heart-breaking crisis.  Last year, the world was horrified by the photo of a drowned toddler lying on a Turkish beach.  In the months since then, hundreds more children have died trying to reach safety.  We’ve seen Europe and Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East struggle under the weight of this challenge.  It’s too big for any one country or even continent to handle alone.  I’m glad that the EU and Turkey are now working closely together, and the United States should do whatever we can to support that.

“The only truly effective answer is to go to the source, end the conflict that is displacing all these people.  So we have to support and maintain the ceasefire in Syria.  And we should also work with our coalition partners and opposition forces on the ground to create safe areas where Syrians can remain in the country rather than fleeing toward Europe.   

“In the meantime, it would be wrong to shut our doors to orphans or to apply religious tests for people fleeing persecution.  That’s not who we are.   But of course we have to be vigilant in screening and vetting everyoneWe can’t allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations.  But we also have to be smart and vigilant about how we process people into our country: it would be doubly cruel if ISIS can not only force families from their homes and but also prevent them from ever finding new ones.

“And that brings me to my third point: In our fight against radical jihadism, we have to do what actually works.   

 

“One thing we know that does not work is offensive, inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes all Muslims.  There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in this country.  These Americans are a crucial line of defense against terrorism.  They are the most likely to recognize the warning signs of radicalization before it’s too late, and the best positioned to block it.

“Last year in Minneapolis, I met parents, teachers, imams, and others in the Somali-American community who are working with law enforcement and mental health professionals to intervene with young people at risk of being radicalized.  Efforts like that deserve more local and national support.

“Since 9/11, law enforcement has worked hard to build trustful and strong relationships with American Muslim communities.  As the Director of the FBI told Congress, anything that erodes that trust makes their job more difficult.

“We need every American community invested in this fight, not fearful and sitting on the sidelines.  So when Republican candidates like Ted Cruz call for treating American Muslims like criminals, and for racially profiling predominantly-Muslim neighborhoods, it’s wrong, it’s counter-productive, it’s dangerous.  As a spokesman for the New York Police Department pointed out last night, that kind of blanket bigotry would treat the city’s nearly 1,000 Muslim police officers as threats.  “It’s hard to imagine a more incendiary, foolish statement,” he said.

“Commissioner Bill Bratton of the NYPD was even more blunt this morning.  He said Senator Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.” 

“Demonizing Muslims also alienates partners and undermines moderates we need around the world in the fight against ISIS.  There’s been a lot of talk from both Republicans and Democrats about the importance of building coalitions with Muslim nations.  Having actually done this, I can tell you, insulting allies and partners is not a good way to start.

“Another thing we know that does not work, based on lots of empirical evidence, is torture. Many intelligence, military and law enforcement experts have attested to this fact. It also puts our own troops and increasingly our own civilians at greater risk.

“I’m proud to have been a part of the administration that banned torture after too many years in which we had lost our way. And if I’m President, the United States will not condone or practice torture anywhere in the world.  Even when we’re up against opponents who don’t respect human life or human rights, torture is not the right choice.  As Senator John McCain has said, the high standard to which we hold ourselves “isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us.  It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.”

“America is a great nation.  And this is a time for American leadership.  Smart, strong, steady leadership.

“No other country can rally allies and partners to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadist terrorism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale in defense of our people and our values.

“America doesn’t cower in fear or hide behind walls.  We lead and we succeed. 

“Throughout our history, we have stared into the face of evil and refused to blink.  Whether it was Fascism, the Cold War, and or hunting down Osama bin Laden.  And we will defeat ISIS too.  No enemy or adversary should ever underestimate the determination of the American people.

“I will never forget what it was like to arrive in Brussels for the first time as Secretary of State in March of 2009. I was on my way to NATO. NATO headquarters was buzzing.  Hundreds of young people at the European Parliament had stood and cheered, not for me, but for the idea of American leadership – for the promise of an alliance that delivered unprecedented peace and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

“That’s what we need to remember today.  Americans cannot and I believe will not turn on each other, turn on our allies, or turn away from our principles.

“We’re in it for the long haul.  And that means We’re going to work together.  And we’re going to prevail.

This may be another one of the long struggles we have confronted from time to time in our history; but like all the rest of those, if we can forge a bipartisan consensus, if we can bring our people to understand what this struggle means to us, if we can maintain our alliances and our partnerships, we will be successful.

“And that will benefit not only our country but the world. And that, when you boil it down is what American leadership has to be about.

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News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email editor@news-photos-features.com. Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

What Obama Administration is Doing to Fight ISIS

President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, "But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing." © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

Clearly, the Republican candidates for President are using their own ignorance and the ignorance of most Americans concerning what the US is doing to combat ISIL and terrorism in order to sow fear that they are betting will profit them in gaining votes. 

Most significantly is the truth behind President Obama’s statement from the 2015 State of the Union and this year’s State of the Union, that the US-led coalition has stopped ISIL’s expansion and in fact, has regained 40 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. And you have to wonder what the Republican candidates would do differently. Even their own words, though filled with bravado and threats, do not really suggest doing anything more than the US is already doing: building a coalition, training and supplying fighters, striking targets including oil facilities and training camps. And the US would be more successful in cutting off their funding sources if the Republicans in Congress would confirm Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department’s efforts to cut off the funding that ISIS and other terrorist organizations need to carry out attacks (Adam Szubin was nominated more than 230 days ago, see more). 

The United States has also been the leader toward a diplomatic effort to accomplish the essential political transition in Syria, and also the leading donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Here is a Fact Sheet from the White House that describes what the US is doing (highlights added): 

FACT SHEET: MAINTAINING MOMENTUM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIL 

Over the last year, the 65-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, led by the United States, has intensified the fight to liberate ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and has made significant progress in its campaign to degrade and destroy this abhorrent terrorist group. 

As we move into 2016, President Obama and the broader Administration remain fully committed to eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and will continue to pursue a strategy that strikes ISIL at its core, degrades its networks, and constrains its prospects for expansion. We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multi-year fight and there will be challenges along the way. But we are united with our Coalition partners and are making progress together to degrade and destroy ISIL.

Background

  • In the summer of 2014 ISIL had surged into Iraq, directly threatening Baghdad and Erbil, including locations where U.S. personnel were located, and calling for the systematic destruction of the Yezidi people. We witnessed atrocities, beheadings, crucifixions, and immolations. ISIL is like no terrorist threat we have confronted before.
  • ISIL has not had any major strategic victories in Iraq or Syria since May 2015. In fact, with the Coalition supporting local partners on the ground, ISIL has lost approximately 40 percent of populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. 
  • ISIL is being defeated by brave local forces in Iraq and Syria who are reclaiming and defending their villages, cities, and ultimately, their countries, with the support of the United States and our Coalition partners.  ISIL’s freedom of movement across borders has been significantly reduced and we are making progress in cutting supply lines between ISIL strongholds in ar-Raqqah and Mosul.

Military Efforts

  • U.S. and Coalition military efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL have ramped up significantly throughout 2015.

o   Seventeen Coalition members have joined the United States in deploying military personnel to assist the Iraqi government in building partner capacity and train, advise, and assist missions. To date Coalition partners have trained nearly 17,000 Iraqi security forces.

o   Twelve Coalition members have conducted over 9,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, including over 630 in support of the liberation of Ramadi by Iraqi Security Forces. These airstrikes have taken out over 3,450 ISIL vehicles and tanks, over 1,120 artillery and mortar positions, 1,170 oil infrastructure components to include tanker trucks, oil storage tanks, collection points, and well heads, and more than 13,500 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, staging areas and barracks, including 39 training camps, in Iraq and Syria. 

o   In December 2015 alone, Coalition airstrikes killed dozens of senior ISIL leaders, including external operations planners, explosives facilitators, financial emirs, and other key positions.

o   Most recently, the ongoing progress in Ramadi illustrates an empowered Iraqi military working side-by-side with local Sunnis to retake their city.  While there is still a great deal of work to be done to secure and hold Ramadi, the Iraqi Security Force have dealt a blow to ISIL.

o   In Syria, Kurdish and Arab groups aligned against ISIL seized Kobane, Tal Abyad, al-Hawl, and the Tishreen Dam, cutting ISIL’s access to all but 98 kilometers of the Turkish border and helping to isolate ar-Raqqah.

o   Nineteen Coalition nations have provided supporting aircraft, including transport, surveillance, and aerial re-fueling capabilities.

o   We have made significant progress in degrading ISIL’s ability to benefit from energy resources. The Coalition has conducted 68 airstrikes in Operation Tidal Wave II in Syria, targeting oil infrastructure, supply lines, and hundreds of tanker trucks that transit oil directly from ISIL. These strikes have taken out key fields in Deir-ez-Zour that once accounted for more than half of ISIL’s monthly oil revenue.  Coalition strikes have reduced ISIL oil revenues by about 30 percent since November 2015.

Political, Stabilization and Humanitarian Efforts

  • The United States continues to support the Iraqi government’s progress toward effective and inclusive governance, stabilization efforts, and reconciliation.

o   Over a dozen Coalition partners have collectively contributed over $50 million to the Funding Facility for Iraq Stabilization.

o   The retaking of Tikrit in April 2015 and the successful return of 90 percent of its residents to date provided valuable lessons that will guide stabilization efforts in newly liberated areas.

o   The U.S. and our Coalition partners, working with the Iraqi government, have now retrained more than a thousand Iraqi police officers to provide security in liberated areas.

  • The United States also continues to be the largest single-country donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, providing more than $5.1 billion to date.

o   In Syria, the U.S. Government has provided more than $4.5 billion to date and USAID is providing emergency assistance to 5 million Syrians every month, including 4 million people inside Syria. USAID is also providing food assistance to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

o   In Iraq, the U.S. Government has provided more than $603 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people including critically needed relief items, food, shelter, clean water, and medical services.

  • The United States continues to lead the international diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated political transition that removes Bashar al-Asad from power and ultimately leads to an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians.  The Asad regime’s continued brutality against the Syrian people drives the influx of foreign fighters who join extremists’ ranks, including ISIL.  Also, the Asad regime’s purchase of oil from ISIL and its unwillingness to target extremists have helped ISIL and other terrorist groups to flourish.

o   So long as Asad remains, foreign fighters will continue to flow into Syria.  This is why we have brought together partners in the region, Europe, Russia, and Iran to work towards a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria.

o   Members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have agreed to a notional timeline for a political transition, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in December 2015.  

Civilian Efforts to Counter ISIL

  • The United States and our Coalition partners have made progress stemming the flow of foreign fighters, and disrupting ISIL’s propaganda machine and its financial networks.

o   The Counter ISIL Coalition Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters (WGFTF), co-led by the Netherlands and Turkey, is working with member countries to implement the obligations and recommendations set forth in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178.  Today approximately 45 countries have enacted laws or amendments to create greater obstacles for traveling into Iraq and Syria, at least 35 countries have arrested foreign terrorist fighters or aspirants, and 12 countries have successfully prosecuted foreign terrorist fighters.

o   At least 50 countries plus the United Nations now contribute foreign terrorist fighter profiles to INTERPOL, a 400 percent increase over a two-year period.  Fifty-two countries are sharing foreign fighter profiles through INTERPOL’s Counterterrorism Fusion Center, and the United States has bilateral arrangements with 40 international partners for sharing terrorist travel information.

o   To counter ISIL’s online propaganda and recruitment network, the State Department has launched a Global Engagement Center to integrate and synchronize our communications against violent extremist groups, including ISIL and al-Qa’ida. This new center will shift focus on countering violent extremist messaging away from direct messaging and toward a growing emphasis on empowering and enabling partners, both government and non-government, across the globe.

o   The Counter ISIL Finance Group (CIFG), which the U.S. co-leads with Italy and Saudi Arabia, is an integrated part of the broader Coalition and made up of 30 members worldwide focused on disrupting ISIL financing.  As part of its ongoing work, the CIFG is specifically focusing on information exchange, targeting ISIL’s oil revenues, combatting the financing of ISIL affiliates, and addressing ISIL sales of antiquities, among other topics.

o   The United States chaired a special meeting of the UN Security Council with finance ministers in New York on combating ISIL finance and all forms of terrorist financing.  At this meeting, Security Council finance ministers unanimously adopted a Security Council resolution that improves the international community’s ability to disrupt ISIL financing and to counter the financing of terrorism more broadly.

Domestic Efforts

  • Since 2014, the Department of Justice and the FBI have arrested approximately 65 individuals in ISIL-related matters.
  • Domestically, since the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) last February, the United States has strengthened our efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and mobilizing recruits.

o   The CVE Task Force announced in January 2016 will be a permanent interagency task force hosted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with overall leadership provided by DHS and the Department of Justice, with additional staffing provided by representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other supporting departments and agencies. The CVE Task Force will (1) integrate whole-of-government CVE programs and activities; (2) leverage new CVE efforts (3) conduct ongoing strategic planning; and (4) assess and evaluate CVE programs and activities.

o   The DHS Office for Community Partnerships continues to find innovative ways to support communities that seek to discourage violent extremism and undercut terrorist narratives.

  • In 2015 alone, the Treasury and State Departments sanctioned more than 30 ISIL-linked senior leaders, financiers, foreign terrorist facilitators, and organizations, helping isolate ISIL from the international financial system.
  • The U.S. government worked closely with Iraqi authorities to ensure that approximately 90 bank branches within ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq are completely cut off from the Iraqi and international financial systems.
  • Working with the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Iraq, we have put in place information exchanges and safeguards to deny ISIL access to U.S. banknotes.  This led to the isolation of key exchange houses within Iraq that previously had access to several million dollars.  As part of this effort, the Government of Iraq has prohibited over 100 exchange houses located in ISIL-controlled territory or associated with ISIL from accessing the currency auctions, disrupting one of ISIL’s primary means of accessing and moving its funds.

“Over the next six months we will continue to accelerate our counter-ISIL strategy across all of our lines of effort. We will work with Coalition partners to drive out ISIL from the remaining stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border it has seized; clear and stabilize the Euphrates River Valley; cut off the remaining connections between ar-Raqqah and Mosul; increase the number of Iraqi Sunnis in the fight against ISIL by integrating them into the army, local police, and tribal mobilization structures; as well as advance the stabilization of newly liberated areas, facilitating the safe, voluntary return of thousands of internally displaced persons and restoring local communities. ”

“For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology,” President Obama said during the State of the Union,. “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”

But he added, “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  Take a vote.

“But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.”

For more information on the President’s strategy to fight ISIL and the work the Global Coalition is doing, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/isil-strategy.

 

In contrast to GOP Opponents, Hillary Clinton Presents ‘360 Degree Strategy to Keep America Safe’

Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, detailing a "360 degree strategy to keep America safe," said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, detailing a “360 degree strategy to keep America safe,” said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We’ve heard a whole lot from the Republican presidential hopefuls, one more absurd than another, of what they would do to “keep our nation safe” – devoting an entire 2 hour debate to the subject. Donald Trump would bring back waterboarding and torture, would kill family members of suspected terrorists. Ted Cruz would “carpet bomb” cities held by ISIS, even if there are tens of thousands of civilians being occupied by the terrorists. Chris Christie, staring into a camera to “intimidate” Vladimir Putin, says he would create a no-fly zone and shoot down any Russian plane that penetrates it (“That’s great if you want a candidate to start World War III,” was Rand Paul’s response.) Carly Fiorina would rehire generals who have resigned or retired.

And yet, Republicans in Congress refuse to do some of the most basic things to actually keep us safe. Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmation – and gone home for the holidays – of Adam Szubin as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, the post in charge of tracking down and stopping the funds going to terrorist organizations. And Republicans in both houses have blocked legislation which would keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists on the no-fly list (if there is a problem with the list, they should fix it by giving the individual recourse to defend themselves, and that would be sufficient in fact to uncover actual terrorists).  But there is no common sense. It makes you wonder whether Republicans like an atmosphere of terror because they think that fear whips up votes in their favor.

The Republicans also have been stingy in funding the very services they are faulting for being inadequate – visa services, State Department security (Benghazi, Benghazi).

But in a speech on the same day as the Republican debate, December 15, Hillary Clinton,  Democratic candidate, gave a thoughtful speech outlining her previously stated overall anti-terrorism strategy, and a more intensively focused “360-degree strategy to keep America safe.” The speech received virtually no coverage, but she repeated the strategy in an op-ed published December 18.

Hillary for America released a new web video comparing Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks in Minnesota with Republican candidates, who were exposed as unfit and ill-prepared during this week’s Republican debate. In the remarks, Clinton said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief. Republican candidates, on the other hand, have offered fear instead of facts. (Here are some other reviews of the Republicans’ performance this week HERE)

Here are highlights from Hillary Clinton’s speech in Minneapolis:

“I want to begin by saying, we cannot give in to fear.  We can’t let it stop us from doing what is right and necessary to make us safe, and doing it in way that is consistent with our values.

We cannot let fear push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.  Americans are going to have to act with both courage and clarity…..

 

The threat we face is daunting.  But America has overcome big challenges many times before.  Throughout our history, we’ve stared into the face of evil and refused to blink.  We beat Fascism, won the Cold War, brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

So no one should ever underestimate the determination of the American people.  And I am confident we will once again choose resolve over fear.  And we will defeat these new enemies, just as we’ve defeated those who’ve threatened us in the past.

Because it is not enough to contain ISIS, we must defeat ISIS, break its momentum and then its back.  And not just ISIS, but the broader radical jihadist movement that also includes al Qaeda and offshoots like al Shabaab in Somalia.

Now, waging and winning this fight will require serious leadership.  But unfortunately, our political debate has been anything but serious.

We can’t afford another major ground war in the Middle East.  That’s exactly what ISIS wants from us.  Shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy.  Promising to carpet bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound strong, it makes you sound like you’re in over your head.  Bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming Commander-in-Chief.

And it is hard to take seriously senators who talk tough but then hold up key national security nominations, including the top official at the Treasury Department responsible for disrupting terrorist financing.

Every day that’s wasted on partisan gridlock could put Americans in danger.  So, yes, we need a serious discussion.  And that’s why in a speech last month before the Council on Foreign Relations I laid out a three-part plan to defeat ISIS and the broader extremist movement.

One, defeat ISIS in the Middle East by smashing its stronghold, hitting its fighters, leaders, and infrastructure from the air, and intensifying support for local forces who can pursue them on the ground.

Second, defeat them around the world by dismantling the global network of terror that supplies radical jihadists with money, arms, propaganda, and fighters.

And third, defeat them here at home by foiling plots, disrupting radicalization, and hardening our defenses.

Now, these three lines of effort reinforce one another.  So we need to pursue all of them at once, using every pillar of American power.

It will require skillful diplomacy to continue Secretary Kerry’s efforts to encourage political reconciliation in Iraq and political transition in Syria, enabling more Sunni Arabs and Kurdish fighters to take on ISIS on both sides of the border, and to get our Arab and Turkish partners to actually step up and do their part.

It will require more U.S. and allied airpower, and a broader target set for strikes by planes and drones, with proper safeguards.

It will require Special Operations units to advise and train local forces and conduct key counterterrorism missions.

What it will not require is tens of thousands of American combat troops.  That is not the right action for us to take in this situation.

So there is a lot to do, and today, I want to focus on the third part of my plan, how we defend our country and prevent radicalization here at home.

We need a comprehensive strategy to counter each step in the process that can lead to an attack like the one in San Bernardino.

First, we have to shut down ISIS recruitment in the United States, especially online.

Second, stop would-be jihadists from getting training overseas, and stop foreign terrorists from coming here.

Third, discover and disrupt plots before they can be carried out.

Fourth, support law enforcement officers who risk their lives to prevent and respond to attacks.

And fifth, empower our Muslim-American communities, who are on the front-lines of the fight against radicalization.

This is a 360-degree strategy to keep America safe, and I want to walk through each of the elements, from recruitment to training to planning to execution.

First, shutting down recruitment.  We have to stop jihadists from radicalizing new recruits in-person and through social media, chat rooms, and what’s called the “Dark Web.”

To do that, we need stronger relationships between Washington, Silicon Valley, and all of our great tech companies and entrepreneurs.  American innovation is a powerful force, and we have to put it to work defeating ISIS.

That starts with understanding where and how recruitment happens.  Our security professionals need to more effectively track and analyze ISIS’s social media posts and map jihadist networks, and they need help from the tech community.

Companies should redouble their efforts to maintain and enforce their own service agreements and other necessary policies to police their networks, identifying extremist content and removing it.

Now, many are already doing this, and sharing those best practices more widely is important.

At the State Department, I started an interagency center to combat violent jihadist messages, to have a better way to communicate on behalf of our values, and to give young people drawn to those messages an alternative narrative.

We recruited specialists fluent in Arabic, Urdu, and Somali to wave online battles with extremists to counter their propaganda.

Now, those efforts have not kept pace with the threat, so we need to step up our game, in partnership with the private sector and credible moderate voices outside government.

But that’s just some of what we have to do.  Experts from the FBI, the intelligence community, Homeland Security, DOD, the State Department, and the technology industry should work together to develop a unified national strategy to defeat ISIS in cyberspace, using all of our capabilities to deny jihadists virtual territory, just as we work to deny them actual territory.

And at the same time, we also have to do more to address the challenge of radicalization, whatever form it takes.

It’s imperative that the Saudis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis and others stop their citizens from supporting radical schools, madrassas and mosques around the world, once and for all, and that should be the top priority in all of our discussions with these countries.

Now, second, we have to prevent ISIS recruits from training abroad, and prevent foreign jihadists from coming here.

Most urgent is stemming the flow of fighters from Europe and America to Iraq and Syria, and then back home again.

The United States and our allies need to know the identities of every fighter who makes that trip, and then share information with each other in real time.

Right now, European nations don’t always alert each other when they turn away a suspected extremist at the border or when a passport is stolen.  They have to dramatically improve intelligence sharing and counterterrorism cooperation.  And we’re ready to help them do that.

We also need to take down the network of enablers who help jihadists finance and facilitate their travel, forge documents, and evade detection.  And the United States and our allies should commit to revoke the passports and visas of jihadists who have gone to join ISIS or other groups, and bring the full force of law against them.

As I’ve said before, the United States has to take a close look at our visa programs.  And I am glad the administration and Congress are stepping up scrutiny in the wake of San Bernardino.  And that should include scrutinizing applicants’ social media postings.  We also should dispatch more Homeland Security agents to high-risk countries to better investigate visa applicants.

For many years, America has waived visa requirements for travelers from countries with reliable security procedures, including key allies in Europe and Asia.  That makes sense.  But we also have to be smart.  Except for limited exceptions like diplomats and aid workers, anyone who has traveled in the past five years to a country facing serious problems with terrorism and foreign fighters should have to go through a full visa investigation, no matter where they’re from.

We also have to be vigilant in screening and vetting refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security and diplomatic professionals.  Rigorous vetting already takes place while these refugees are still overseas, and it’s a process that historically takes 18 to 24 months.

But Congress needs to provide enough resources to ensure we have sufficient personnel deployed to run the most thorough possible process.

And just as important, we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations.

Turning away orphans, applying a religious test that discriminates against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee; that is not who we are.  We are better than that.

It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from finding new ones.  So after rigorous screening, we should welcome families fleeing Syria just as the Twin Cities and this state have welcomed previous generations of refugees, exiles, and immigrants.

Of course, the key is to prevent terrorists also from exploiting our compassion and endangering our security.  But we can do this.  And I think we must.

Third, we have to discover and disrupt jihadist plots before they can be carried out.  This is going to take better intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing.  I’ve proposed an “intelligence surge” against ISIS that includes more operations officers and linguists, enhancing our technical surveillance of overseas targets, intercepting terrorist communications, flying more reconnaissance missions to track terrorists’ movements, and developing even closer partnerships with other intelligence services.

President Obama recently signed the USA Freedom Act, which was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress.  It protects civil liberties while maintaining capabilities that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to keep us safe.  However, the new law is now under attack from presidential candidates on the left and right.  Some would strip away crucial counterterrorism tools, even with appropriate judicial and congressional oversight.  Others seem eager to go back to discredited practices of the past.

I don’t think we can afford to let either view prevail.  Now, encryption of mobile devices and communications does present a particularly tough problem with important implications for security and civil liberties.  Law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals warn that impenetrable encryption may make it harder for them to investigate plots and prevent future attacks.  On the other hand, there are very legitimate worries about privacy, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit.

I know there’s no magic fix to this dilemma that will satisfy all these concerns.  But we can’t just throw up our hands.  The tech community and the government have to stop seeing each other as adversaries and start working together to keep us safe from terrorists.   And even as we make sure law enforcement officials get the tools they need to prevent attacks, it’s essential that we also make sure jihadists don’t get the tools they need to carry out attacks.

It defies common sense that Republicans in Congress refuse to make it harder for potential terrorists to buy guns.  If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun, period.   And we should insist on comprehensive background checks and close loopholes that allow potential terrorists to buy weapons online or at gun shows.  And I think it’s time to restore the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

I know this will drive some of our Republican friends a little crazy.  You’ll probably hear it tonight.  They will say that guns are a totally separate issue, nothing to do with terrorism.  Well, I have news for them, terrorists use guns to kill Americans.  And I think we should make it a lot harder for them from to do that ever again.

And there’s a question, a question they should be asked:  Why don’t the Republican candidates want to do that?   You see, I have this old fashioned idea that we elect a President in part, in large part, to keep us safe, from terrorists, from gun violence, from whatever threatens our families and communities.  And I’m not going to let the gun lobby or anyone else tell me that’s not the right path for us to go down.

Now, the fourth element in my strategy is supporting law enforcement officers who risk their lives to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

In San Bernardino, city, county, state, and federal authorities acted with speed and courage to prevent even more loss of life.  Like Detective Jorge Lozano, a 15-year police veteran, who assured terrified civilians, “I’ll take a bullet before you do.”  There is no limit to the gratitude we owe to law enforcement professionals like that Detective Lozano who run toward danger to try to save lives.  And not just in the immediate wake of an attack.  Our police, firefighters, and emergency responders will keep putting their lives on the line long after the cameras move on.

It’s disgraceful that Congress has thus far failed to keep faith with first responders suffering from the lasting health effects of 9/11.  Many of them were men and women I was so proud to represent as a Senator from New York.  The Zadroga 9/11 Health Act never should have been allowed to lapse.  It looks like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have finally dropped his opposition.  And I hope the American people will hold him to that.  And we will continue to honor the service and sacrifice of those who responded to the worst terrorist attack in our history.

We have to make sure that local law enforcement has the resources and training they need to keep us safe.  And they should be more closely synced up with national counterterrorism experts, including with better use of “fusion centers” that serve as clearinghouses for intelligence and coordination.

And we need to strengthen our defenses and our resilience wherever we’re vulnerable, whether it’s “soft targets” like shopping malls or higher-profile targets like airports, railways, or power plants.  We have to build on the progress of the Obama Administration in locking down loose nuclear materials, and other WMD, so they never fall into the hands of terrorists who seek them actively around the world.

So we should be providing the Department of Homeland Security with the resources it needs to stay one step ahead, not trying to privatize key functions, like TSA, as some Republicans have proposed.

And it’s important for us to recognize that when we talk about law enforcement, we have made progress in being sure that our federal authorities share information with our state and local authorities, but that was an issue I tackled after 9/11, and we have to stay really vigilant so that information is in the hands where it needs to be.

Finally, the fifth element in the strategy is empowering Muslim-American communities who are on the front-lines of the fight against radicalization.  There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in our country.  These Americans may be our first, last, and best defense against home grown radicalization and terrorism.  They are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it’s too late, intervene to help set a young person straight.  They are the best positioned to block anything going forward.

That’s why law enforcement has worked so hard since 9/11 to build up trust and strong relationships within Muslim-American communities.  Here in the Twin Cities, you have an innovative partnership that brings together parents, teachers, imams, and others in the Somali-American community with law enforcement, non-profits, local businesses, mental health professionals and others to intervene with young people who are at risk.

It’s called the Building Community Resilience Pilot Program, and it deserves increased support.  It has not gotten the financial resources that it needs to do everything the people involved in it know they can do.  And we’ve got to do a better job of supporting it.

Now I know that like many places across the country, there’s more work to do to increase trust between communities and law enforcement.  Just last month, I know here a young African American man was fatally shot by a police officer.  And I understand an investigation is underway.  Whatever the outcome, tragedies like this raise hard questions about racial justice in America and put at risk efforts to build the community relationships that help keep us safe from crime and from terrorism.

When people see that respect and trust are two-way streets, they’re more likely to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement.  One of the mothers of the 10 men recently charged with conspiring with terrorists said, “We have to stop the denial,” she told other parents that.  “We have to talk to our kids and work with the FBI.”  That’s a message we need to hear from leaders within Muslim-American communities across our country.

But we also want to highlight the successes in Muslim American communities, and there are so many of them.  I just met with the first Somali-American council member of the City Council here.  And he was proudly telling me how much change Somali immigrants, now Muslim-Americans have made in parts of the city and neighborhoods that had been pretty much hollowed out.  Let’s look at the successes.

If we’re going to full integrate everyone into America, then we need to be seeing all their contributions, too.  And that is one of the many reasons why we must all stand up against offensive, inflammatory, hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric.  You know, not only do these comments cut against everything we stand for as Americans, they are also dangerous.

As the Director of the FBI told Congress recently, anything that erodes trust with Muslim-Americans makes the job of law enforcement more difficult.  We need every community invested in this fight, not alienated and sitting on the sidelines.

One of the community leaders I met with told me that a lot of the children in the community are now afraid to go to school.  They’re not only afraid of being perceived as a threat, they are afraid of being threatened because of who they are.  This is such a open-hearted and generous community, I hope there will be even more efforts perhaps under the aegis of the university and certainly Governor Dayton and others, to bring people together to reassure members of the community, particularly children and teenagers that they are welcome, invited and valued here in this city and state.

Now Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States has rightly sparked outrage across our country and around the world.  Even some of the other Republican candidates are saying he’s gone too far.  But the truth is, many of those same candidates have also said disgraceful things about Muslims.  And this kind of divisive rhetoric actually plays into the hands of terrorists.  It alienates partners and undermines moderates we need around the world in the fight against ISIS.

You know, you hear a lot of talk from some of the other candidates about coalitions.  Everyone seems to want one.  But there’s not nearly as much talk about what it actually takes to build a coalition and make it work.  I know how hard this is because I’ve done it.  And I can tell you, insulting potential allies doesn’t make it any easier.

And demonizing Muslims also feeds a narrative that jihadists use to recruit new followers around the world, that the United States is at war with Islam.  As both the Pentagon and the FBI have said in the past week, we cannot in any way lend credence to that twisted idea.  This is not a clash of civilizations.  It’s a clash between civilization and barbarism and that’s how it must be seen and fought.

Some will tell you that our open society is a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism.  I disagree.  I believe our tolerance and diversity are at the core of our strength.  At a Naturalization ceremony for new citizens today in Washington, President Obama noted the tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger.  It is, he said, about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be?  And it’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding, E Pluribus Unum.  Out of many we are one.

President Obama is right, and it matters.  It’s no coincidence that American Muslims have long been better integrated and less susceptible to radicalization than Muslims in less welcoming countries.  We can’t give in to demagogues who play on our basest instincts.  We must instead rely on the principles written into our American DNA.  Freedom.  Equality.  Opportunity.

America is strongest when all our people believe they have a stake in our country and our future, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, how they worship, or who they love.  Our country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution.  As George Washington put it, the United States gives “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  So to all our Muslim-American brothers and sisters, this is your country too.  And I am proud to be your fellow American.

And I want to remind us, particularly our Republican friends, that George W. Bush was right.  Six days after 9/11 he went to a Muslim community center and here’s what he said, those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of human kind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior….

“We are Americans.”  We are the greatest nation on earth not in spite of the challenges we’ve faced, but because of them.  Americans will not buckle or break.  We will not turn on each other or turn on our principles.  We will pursue our enemies with unyielding power and purpose.  We will crush their would-be caliphate and counter radical jihadism wherever it takes root.  We’re in it for the long haul.  And we’ll stand taller and stronger than they can possibly imagine.

That’s what we do here.  It’s who we are.  That’s how we’ll win, by looking at one another with respect, with concern, with commitment.  That’s the America that I know makes us all so proud to be a part of.”

President Obama Reports Progress in Fight against ISIS, Stepped Up Activities

President Barack Obama gives update on progress being made against Islamic State © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Barack Obama gives update on progress being made against Islamic State © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In remarks following his meeting with the National Security Council at the Pentagon, President Obama gave more specifics about the fight against the Islamic State, including killing numerous ISIS leaders and taking back 40% of the territory the terror organization had held in Iraq.

Today, the United States and our Armed Forces continue to lead the global coalition in our mission to destroy the terrorist group ISIL.  As I outlined in my speech to the nation last weekend, our strategy is moving forward with a great sense of urgency on four fronts — hunting down and taking out these terrorists; training and equipping Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight ISIL on the ground; stopping ISIL’s operations by disrupting their recruiting, financing and propaganda; and, finally, persistent diplomacy to end the Syrian civil war so that everyone can focus on destroying ISIL….

I want to provide all of you a brief update on our progress against the ISIL core in Syria and Iraq, because as we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world. 

This fall, even before the revolting attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, I ordered new actions to intensify our war against ISIL.  These actions, including more firepower and Special Operations forces, are well underway.  This continues to be a difficult fight.  As I said before, ISIL is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields. 

So even as we’re relentless, we have to be smart, targeting ISIL surgically, with precision.  At the same time, our partners on the ground are rooting ISIL out, town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block.  That is what this campaign is doing. 

We are hitting ISIL harder than ever.  Coalition aircraft — our fighters, bombers and drones — have been increasing the pace of airstrikes — nearly 9,000 as of today.  Last month, in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.

We’re also taking out ISIL leaders, commanders and killers, one by one.  Since this spring, we’ve removed Abu Sayyaf, one of their top leaders; Haji Mutazz, ISIL’s second-in command; Junaid Hussain, a top online recruiter; Mohamed Emwazi, who brutally murdered Americans and others; and in recent weeks, finance chief Abu Saleh; senior extortionist Abu Maryam; and weapons trafficker Abu Rahman al-Tunisi.  The list goes on.  

We’re going after ISIL from their stronghold right down — right in downtown Raqqa, to Libya, where we took out Abu Nabil, the ISIL leader there.  The point is, ISIL leaders cannot hide.  And our next message to them is simple:  You are next.

Every day, we destroy as well more of ISIL’s forces — their fighting positions, bunkers and staging areas; their heavy weapons, bomb-making factories, compounds and training camps.  In many places, ISIL has lost its freedom of maneuver, because they know if they mass their forces, we will wipe them out.  In fact, since the summer, ISIL has not had a single successful major offensive operation on the ground in either Syria or Iraq.  In recent weeks, we’ve unleashed a new wave of strikes on their lifeline, their oil infrastructure, destroying hundreds of their tanker trucks, wells and refineries. And we’re going to keep on hammering those. 

ISIL also continues to lose territory in Iraq.  ISIL had already lost across Kirkuk province and at Tikrit.  More recently, ISIL lost at Sinjar, losing a strategic highway.  ISIL lost at Baiji, with its oil refinery.  We saw the daring raid supported by our Special Forces, which rescued dozens of prisoners from ISIL, and in which Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler made the ultimate sacrifice.  

So far, ISIL has lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq.  And it will lose more.  Iraqi forces are now fighting their way deeper into Ramadi.  They’re working to encircle Fallujah and cut off ISIL supply routes into Mosul.  Again, these are urban areas where ISIL is entrenched.  Our partners on the ground face a very tough fight ahead, and we’re going to continue to back them up with the support that they need to ultimately clear ISIL from Iraq.   

ISIL also continues to lose territory in Syria.  We continue to step up our air support and supplies to local forces — Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen — and they’re having success.  After routing ISIL at Kobani and Tal Abyad, they’ve pushed ISIL back from almost across the entire border region with Turkey, and we’re working with Turkey to seal the rest.  ISIL has lost thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria — and it will lose more.  The Special Forces that I ordered to Syria have begun supporting local forces as they push south, cut off supply lines and tighten the squeeze on Raqqa. 

Meanwhile, more people are seeing ISIL for the thugs and the thieves and the killers that they are.  We’ve seen instances of ISIL fighters defecting.  Others who’ve tried to escape have been executed.  And ISIL’s reign of brutality and extortion continues to repel local populations and help fuel the refugee crisis. “So many people are migrating,” said one Syrian refugee.  ISIL, she said, will “end up all alone.”

All this said, we recognize that progress needs to keep coming faster.  No one knows that more than the countless Syrians and Iraqis living every day under ISIL’s terror, as well as the families in San Bernardino and Paris and elsewhere who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.  Just as the United States is doing more in this fight — just as our allies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Australia and Italy are doing more — so must others.  

And that’s why I’ve asked Secretary Carter to go to the Middle East — he’ll depart right after this press briefing — to work with our coalition partners on securing more military contributions to this fight.  On the diplomatic front, Secretary Kerry will be in Russia tomorrow as we continue to work, as part of the Vienna process, to end the Syrian civil war.  Meanwhile, here at home, the Department of Homeland Security is updating its alert system to help the American people stay vigilant and safe.

And as always, our extraordinary men and women in uniform continue to put their lives on the line — in this campaign and around the world — to keep the rest of us safe.  This holiday season, many of our troops are once again far from their families.  And as your Commander-in-Chief, on behalf of the American people, we want to say thank you.  We are grateful, and we are proud for everything that you do.  Because of you, the America that we know and love and cherish is leading the world in this fight.  Because of you, I am confident that we are going to prevail.

Obama, Calming Nation, Lays Out ‘Sustainable’ Plan to Defeat ISIS, Terrorism

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at 10-year commemoration ceremony of September 11, 2001 attacks at Ground Zero, World Trade Center, New York City © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at 10-year commemoration ceremony of September 11, 2001 attacks at Ground Zero, World Trade Center, New York City © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Obama, speaking from the Oval Office for only the third time during his presidency, issued a rational, calm, forceful explanation of how the United States should properly defeat the Islamic State and radical Islamic terror that is spreading throughout the world. 

He attempted to counter the destructive impacts of the demagoguery of political candidates – likely an impetus to radicalization of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorists such as took place in San Bernadino – while laying out a pragmatic strategy. This includes calling upon Congress to take responsibility, not just hurl criticisms, to authorize the continued use of military force; to prohibit those on no-fly list from acquiring guns; to ban assault weapons that have no place in civil society (case in point: terror attack in US, 14 dead, 21 wounded; terror attack in UK, 2 wounded in stabbing); and address the visa waiver program that 20 million international travelers to the US have used. 

He outlined what the United States is doing, in leading a coalition now grown to 65 countries, against ISIS, which has included mounting more than 8,000 bombing attacks and sending more special forces, countering the power of ISIS to propagate propaganda and recruit through social media, restoring national security tools to penetrate online communications, and doing more to remove ISIS’ source of funding, oil which has been sold through Turkey (which previously was not possible because of Turkey’s complicity). 

But Obama warned against the baser instincts, of pushing for a new ground war that would only result in “killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.” And he warned against closing borders to refugees, unleashing discrimination and attacks against Muslims:

“…it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.  It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.  It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.

“Because when we travel down that road, we lose.  That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL… 

“I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.  We were founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges — whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks — by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.  So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.” 

Here is President Obama’s speech, highlighted:

President Obama speaking at 10-Year Commemoration Ceremony of Sept 11 Attacks at Ground Zero, NYC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama speaking at 10-Year Commemoration Ceremony of Sept 11 Attacks at Ground Zero, NYC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Good evening.  On Wednesday, 14 Americans were killed as they came together to celebrate the holidays.  They were taken from family and friends who loved them deeply. They were white and black; Latino and Asian; immigrants and American-born; moms and dads; daughters and sons.  Each of them served their fellow citizens and all of them were part of our American family.

Tonight, I want to talk with you about this tragedy, the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.

The FBI is still gathering the facts about what happened in San Bernardino, but here is what we know.  The victims were brutally murdered and injured by one of their coworkers and his wife.  So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.  But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.  They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs.  So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people. 

Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  In the process, we’ve hardened our defenses — from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure.  Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe.  Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas — disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership.

Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.  As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.  It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.  And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.  

For seven years, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each morning in my intelligence briefing.  And since the day I took this office, I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.  As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and coworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino.  I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.  And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

Well, here’s what I want you to know:  The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.  We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.  Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear.  That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for.  Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power. 

Here’s how.  First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.  In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure.  And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies — including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.

Second, we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens.  In both countries, we’re deploying Special Operations Forces who can accelerate that offensive.  We’ve stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris, and we’ll continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground. 

Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations — to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters.  Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies.  We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria. And we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries — and with our Muslim communities here at home — to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.

Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue ceasefires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL — a group that threatens us all.

This is our strategy to destroy ISIL.  It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition.  And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That’s why I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.  And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.

Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge.  There are several steps that Congress should take right away.

To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.  What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?  This is a matter of national security.

We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.  I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures.  But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology.  What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill. 

Next, we should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones.  And we’re working with members of both parties in Congress to do exactly that.

Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.  For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets.  I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.

My fellow Americans, these are the steps that we can take together to defeat the terrorist threat.  Let me now say a word about what we should not do.

We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.  That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield.  ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq.  But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.

The strategy that we are using now — airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country — that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.  And it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.

Here’s what else we cannot do.  We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.  That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.  ISIL does not speak for Islam.  They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.  If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. 

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.  This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.  Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.  It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.  It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.

Because when we travel down that road, we lose.  That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.  Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.  We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.  We were founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges — whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks — by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.  So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.  

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Obama Administration Initiates Security Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program Used by 20 Million Foreign Visitors to US

Arriving at JF Kennedy International Airport, New York. The Obama Administration is enhancing security measures for the visa waiver program under which 20 million foreign visitors enter the US © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Arriving at JF Kennedy International Airport, New York. The Obama Administration is enhancing security measures for the visa waiver program under which 20 million foreign visitors enter the US © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The uproar over the possibility of the United States accepting Syrian refugees has called attention to the rigorous 18-24 month vetting process that refugees have to go through with fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees having come through already, in contrast to the 20 million foreign visitors who come in each year under the visa-waiver program. 

The Obama Administration has announced new enhancements to the visa-waiver program to increase security, including modifying its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven. 

FACT SHEET: Visa Waiver Program Enhancements

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits visa free travel for 20 million visitors per year to the United States for citizens of 38 program partner countries around the world. VWP utilizes a layered system of security to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other potentially dangerous individuals from traveling to the United States.  These layers of security include comprehensive screening of VWP travelers prior to departure for the United States, at various points throughout the traveler’s journey, and upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry.

Over the past year, the Administration has taken a series of steps to enhance the significant security measures in the VWP. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, the administration is announcing additional actions today that will further enhance and accelerate these changes. Additionally, the Administration is working closely with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of these security enhancements, which will further improve our ability to implement and enforce the changes.

How Does the Visa Waiver Program Work?

  • Every prospective VWP traveler undergoes counterterrorism screening and must receive approval through DHS’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Through ESTA, DHS evaluates whether individuals are eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP before they are allowed to board a carrier bound for the United States.
  • The counterterrorism screening draws on information from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. DHS uses this information to decide if the travel poses any law enforcement or security risks.  Without DHS approval through ESTA, VWP travelers cannot travel to the United States and must appear in person for a visa interview before they can be authorized to travel to the United States.
  • This process has been enhanced repeatedly to improve security and more effectively identify individuals who might pose a threat to the United States.
  • Travelers must be a citizen of a VWP country to use the program.  Residence in a VWP country, or the possession of refugee travel documents issued by a VWP member state, does not qualify an individual for VWP travel.

Recently Enhanced Security Measures 

DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, continuously adapts the VWP to address current threats. Over the last year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, in coordination with several other federal agencies, have made a number of significant enhancements to the VWP to ensure our security apparatus continues to adapt in the face of evolving threats.

  • DHS introduced additional data fields to the ESTA application in November 2014 that already have produced security benefits.
  • DHS introduced new traveler screening and information sharing requirements for VWP countries in August 2015 specifically to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters.
  • DHS and the Department of State are working with VWP partners to implement the new VWP requirements, which will strengthen U.S. security and the security of our partners.
  • These security enhancements are part of our continuing assessments of U.S. security in the face of evolving threats and challenges, and our determination to stay one step ahead of those threats and challenges.

New Changes Announced Today

Given the terrorist attacks in Paris and the ongoing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, the United States is aggressively strengthening its Visa Waiver Program and bolstering our relationships with VWP partners by immediately moving forward on the following administrative actions:

  • DHS will immediately take steps to modify its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven.  The Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, will identify and regularly review these countries so that traveler risk assessments can be made on the most up-to-date information.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies will accelerate its review process for VWP partner countries and within 60 days, will provide a full report to the President:

o   Identifying possible pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs) in the VWP to effectively increase security; and

o   Identifying any countries that are deficient in key areas of cooperation, along with recommended options to engender compliance using a range of penalties and incentives available under his current authority including the more frequent submission of ESTAs and/or the suspension of ESTA issuances (new and/or renewals) for citizens of countries that fail to meet key metrics.

  • The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation will evaluate the terrorism information sharing that occurs between the United States and VWP countries, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, and provide a report to the President of the United States within 60 days identifying options to mitigate any deficiencies.
  • DHS will offer assistance to countries to better facilitate terrorism information sharing, specifically to include biometric pilots.  For example, DHS and the Terrorist Screening Center will assist all interested VWP countries in screening refugees or asylum seekers, including through the application of extensive terrorism information already provided to VWP members and through piloting capability for conducting near real time biometric checks.
  • The Secretaries of DHS, State, and Commerce will promote the Global Entry program among VWP partners to further expand this trusted traveler program, which includes biometrics.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security will work with Congress to seek authority to increase Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.
  • The Departments of Homeland Security and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. intelligence community elements will deploy Foreign Fighter Surge Teams to work with countries to counter terrorist travel.
  • The Departments of Homeland Security and State will encourage and provide assistance as needed to enhance border security and legislation related to FTFs of our partner countries, and encourage more robust information sharing, better use of shared information, and more effective and efficient coordination between our partners.

Working with Congress to Enhance the Visa Waiver Program

The Administration is working with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of the key security enhancements to VWP, including:

  • Improving our ability to identify individuals who may have traveled to conflict zones to train or fight with terrorist organizations or other adversaries and increasing information sharing between our VWP partners and INTERPOL;
  • Maximizing the use of international agencies like INTERPOL to track lost and stolen travel documents, and to prevent their usage for illicit travel;
  • Encouraging VWP partner countries to share information and to use that information in their own border screening activities;
  • Accelerating the requirement for 100% of VWP travelers to use e-passports (i.e., passports with embedded security chips);
  • Exploring how biometrics could be effectively added to the VWP process; and
  • Expanding the use of the DHS’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Preclearance program, through which CBP law enforcement officers inspect passengers and their baggage – to include collecting and screening biometrics where appropriate – at foreign airports prior to departing for the United States

o   Through the current round of expansion, CBP is in negotiations with airports in seven VWP participant countries (Belgium, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). Support for Preclearance expansion will greatly increase border and aviation security in the United States and abroad.