My plan to defeat ISIS
These past few days, all of us have tried to make sense of yet another senseless terrorist attack. I know that Americans are anxious and fearful, and we have reason to be. The threat is real. The need for action is urgent.
Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies will continue learning about what led to the massacre in San Bernardino just as French and Belgian authorities are doing so in Paris and Brussels. But this much we do know: The threat from radical jihadism has metastasized and become more complex and challenging. We’re seeing the results of radicalization not just in far-off lands but right here at home fueled by the internet. It’s the nexus of terrorism and technology, and we have a lot of work to do to end it.
As hard as this is, Americans now have to move from fear to resolve. America has beaten bigger threats before, and we will defeat this one as well.
Resolve means depriving jihadists of virtual territory just as we work to deprive them of actual territory. They are using websites, social media, chat rooms, and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks. We should work with host companies to shut them down.
Resolve means supporting also our first responders, like the officer in San Bernardino who said he would take a bullet for the civilians he was rescuing. We owe them our support and gratitude and whatever help they need. Local law enforcement should get the support, training, and coordination they need in their communities from counterterrorism experts in Washington. It also means taking a close look at safeguards in visa programs and working more effectively with our European allies on intelligence and information sharing. And yes, Congress must act to ensure that no one who is a suspected terrorist can buy guns anywhere in America.
If you’re too dangerous to fly in America, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.
Resolve means going after the threat at its source in Iraq and Syria and beyond. Our goal must not be to deter or contain ISIS; our goal must be to defeat ISIS. And I have put forth a three-prong plan to do that.
First, deny ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria by leading an intensified air campaign and working with local and regional forces on the ground. Second, dismantle the global infrastructure of terror, the networks that supply radical jihadists with money, weapons, and fighters, and stop them from recruiting and inspiring. And third, toughen our defenses at home and those of our partners against external and homegrown threats.
An effective fight on the ground against ISIS is essential, but that does not mean deploying tens of thousands of American combat troops.
It does mean stepping up efforts to get more Arabs and Kurdish fighters into the fight against ISIS on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, supporting the Iraqi Security Forces while pressuring Baghdad to pursue a more inclusive and effective approach, and immediately deploying the Special Operations Forces that President Obama has already authorized, with more to follow as more Syrians get into the fight. We also have to demand that our Arab and Turkish partners carry their share of the burden with military, financial, and diplomatic contributions. We will do our part, but it’s their fight too, and they need to act like it is.
Dealing with the conflict in Syria with respect to Assad is central to this whole effort. We need to continue Secretary Kerry’s efforts to move toward a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Syria that paves the way for new leadership and enables Syrians from every community to take on ISIS. Investing the Russians in this outcome and getting them to step up and do their part will be difficult but essential. And we have to pursue a transition away from Assad and an intensified fight against ISIS simultaneously. We’re not going to get Syrian opposition forces to fight ISIS in earnest without the credible prospect of a transition, and that’s going to take more pressure and leverage. It’s one of the reasons why I have proposed creating a no-fly zone as well as safe havens and more robust support for opposition forces.
And finally, it’s crucial that we embed our mission to defeat ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism.
Extremist groups like ISIS feed off instability and conflict, and there is no shortage of that in the Middle East today. Decades of repression, poverty, corruption, a lack of pluralism and tolerance turn the region into a powder keg. That’s why we have to keep working with our friends and partners to support economic and political modernization; train effective and accountable local intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism services. And once and for all, the Saudis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis, and others must stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations and stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path toward extremism.
So across the board, we must act with courage and clarity. And it’s important to remind ourselves that Islam itself is not our adversary. This is not and we should not let it become a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between hate and hope — and the vast majority of Muslims are on our side of the battle unless we drive them away. We can’t buy into the very narrative that radical jihadists use to recruit new followers or alienate partners we want and need at home and abroad with reckless rhetoric.
Declaring war on Islam or demonizing the Muslim American community is not only counter to our values; it plays right into the hands of terrorists.
Muslim Americans are our neighbors, our co-workers, loved ones, friends. Many are working every day all over our country to prevent radicalization. We should be supporting them, not scapegoating them. But, at the same time, none of us can close our eyes to the fact that we do face enemies who use Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. We have to stop them and we will. Radical jihadists, like so many adversaries in our history, underestimate the strength of our national character. Americans will not cower or cave, and we will not turn on each other or turn on our principles. We will defeat those who threaten us. We will keep our country safe and strong, free and tolerant.