After Paris, US Must Lead

Nov 18, 2015

To those who believe we are not at war with ISIS, the faces of grieving families from Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris shatter your rose-colored glasses of the world in which we live.

To those who believe the United States and its values of freedom and democracy are not also targets of radical Islamic terrorists, the lack of resolve to fight evil abroad weakens our security at home.

The Obama administration’s ongoing ineptitude to formulate and execute an effective counterterrorism policy has created the vacuum we face today. The horrific attacks on innocent civilians at a sporting event, a concert hall, and restaurants are due to ISIS, aligned terrorists groups in Africa, and their sympathizers stepping in to fill that void and exploit our weakness.

It is clear after Paris and Beirut, as well as the downing of a Russian commercial airliner in Egypt, that ISIS is successfully expanding its global reach. For some time they have engaged with regional terrorist organizations, particularly in Africa, to build alliances in terror. The ISIS video released in the aftermath of the Paris attacks that specifically names Washington, D.C., as a target reaffirms that their sights are set on Western cultures.

For five years, as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I have been receiving near-daily classified briefings on terrorist threats and operations. With a specific focus on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, I have made nearly a dozen classified trips with intelligence and counter-terrorism officers to the region to see firsthand where our efforts have made strides, as well as where restrictions on rules of engagement for U.S. military and special forces continue to limit our ability to thwart terror networks.

Each trip, however, reveals greater cooperation and synergy among once-autonomous terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They are not only sharing operational intelligence, but also financial resources and technological savvy. The terrorism threat is growing more global at an alarming rate.

In the aftermath of Paris, we are actively working with intelligence agencies across the globe to investigate and intercept additional threats against Americans and our allies. But we must also fortify our security here at home.

First, we must immediately halt the relocation of Syrian refugees to communities across our country. Expanding the program to include thousands of additional Syrians. as proposed by President Obama, should be withdrawn or prevented by Congress. Thirty states — including New Jersey — have already made clear they do not want additional refugees.

While the humanitarian need remains great, our nation’s security must come first. The porous borders of Turkey and Iraq allow unlimited Syrians — both innocent civilians as well as ISIS fighters — unfettered access to global transportation with limited tracking options. The confirmation that one terrorist in the Paris attack carried a forged Syrian passport and entered Europe as a refugee indicates that the current security screening procedures are wholly inadequate and must be reexamined by our intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Second, the president’s latest effort to bring captured terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay to prisons in the United States — reportedly by executive order to circumvent Congress — must be resoundingly opposed by the American people and blocked by the courts.

Third, Congress should immediately take up and pass long-overdue border security legislation with broad bipartisan support. For too long progress on border security bills has been held hostage to tangential issues. The White House should prioritize strengthening our borders rather than continuing its politicization of the larger immigration debate.

Finally, we need a comprehensive, concise, and coordinated strategic response to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We must have a muscular military response in cooperation with our allies, including Arab and African countries. We needed a plan from the Obama administration more than four years ago, when ISIS gained a foothold in the region. Surgical strikes have not had a debilitating impact to date.

Despite what the president asserts, the terrorists are not “contained” — they must be defeated. ISIS cannot be negotiated with, as some have argued — they must be decimated and destroyed. To that end, we do not simply have a failure of policy — we have a complete lack of policy.

Our failure to lead fuels the extremists’ ability to spread terror across the globe. Our allies don’t trust us and enemies no longer fear us.

All of us in South Jersey and across America share the heartache and stand in solidarity with France in the aftermath of this attack. The unifying humanity of those of us who celebrate freedom and cherish liberty will never be broken by the terrorist acts of a radical few. But our nation’s foreign policy and military might must be proportional to the threats we face today, not some underestimated “junior varsity team” of years ago.

We, the United States, must lead today to ensure our safety and security tomorrow.