Four days after the Orlando Massacre, CIA Director John Brennan’s testified on June 16th before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that despite continued success against the Islamic State (IS) on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, the global reach of ISIS to conduct terror attacks has not been attrited. While I found this alarming and disheartening, it seemed to be of only passing concern to the members of SSCI who did not question the CIA Director’s assessment nor drill down on it. (http://www.c-span.org/video/?411140-1/cia-director-john-brennan-warns-lawmakers-growing-isis-threat)
Judging by the public’s [lack of] reaction, I suspect the senators (as with most Americans) have already made this calculus for themselves based on the toll in human carnage from San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, and now Orlando. Since the primary purpose of engaging IS/ISIS militarily on their home turf is to keep the United States safe, it is difficult for me to see the CIA’s Director’s assessment as anything but an oblique admission to the American people that our current strategy of rolling back the territory ISIS has seized is not resulting in making our homeland safer.
Since World War 1 the foundation of U.S. military strategy has been to engage those who would do us harm “over there” vice in the continental United States (CONUS). Despite the 9/11 attack being generated from within CONUS our immediate reaction was to respond with overwhelming force against the failing state of Afghanistan that was providing sanctuary to Osma Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This worked in the short run, but our inability to politically stabilize Afghanistan coupled with the ungovernable nature of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the post-Saddam Balkanization of Iraq, and civil war in Syria have all resulted in 15 years of fighting “over there” while Islamic motivated terrorism remains a continuing threat to Americans in CONUS.
While not responding directly to the CIA Director’s SSCI testimony, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, “Last week’s tragic shooting in Orlando underscores the urgency…It reminds us that [the Islamic State] not only tyrannizes the populations where it arose in Iraq and Syria, but it also wants to spread its evil ideology, and to plot or inspire attacks on Americans, including here at home.” According to the SecDef, “The counter-[IS military] campaign is an example of what we can do when working with local and global partners…But Orlando is a reminder that all nations must do more to defeat [IS]. The sooner we deliver it a lasting defeat, the safer we’ll make our homelands and our people.” (http://www.stripes.com/news/carter-orlando-attack-underscores-need-to-hasten-islamic-state-fight-1.415471?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Defense%20EBB%206-21-16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief)
We all know insanity is continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different result, so if military action in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is not reducing the threat of terrorism in CONUS it would seem reasonable for national security policy makers to take a fresh look at containing vice defeating ISIS. If “the barbarians” are at the gate how much sense does it make to fight them in their “caliphate” when they are already here? The larger question, of course, is can we actually deter or end ISIS’ ability to bring terrorism to CONUS through military action alone? Two very different administrations have told us making America safe from Islamic terrorism is a “whole of government” endeavor, and yet most of our resources and heavy lifting continue to be military in nature. Moreover, if the CONUS terrorist threat is elevating and will remain with us for the foreseeable future, it also seems prudent to shed our national post-Snowden bias for protecting civil liberties of American citizens at the expense of insuring their security.
Director Brennan’s warning that ISIS will turn increasingly to terrorism as Secretary Carter moves to accelerate the military defeat of IS should be provoking a national debate regarding our military strategy as well as how much surveillance by intelligence and law enforcement we are willing to accept to be reasonably safe from terrorism. Instead, we are having a partisan debate about gun control, which is only peripherally related to reducing terrorist attacks against Americans while continuing to do what we have been doing since 2001 to make America safe from terrorism
That’s what I think; what do you think?