Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 4:47 am | Fair 46º


Brian Goebel: Presidential Candidates Shy Away from Realistic Strategies to Combat Islamic Terror

FBI Director James Comey recently warned that a “defeat of Islamic State in the Middle East could prompt a migration of the group’s fighters to Europe and the U.S.” He further warned that those fighters who survived the battlefield could “commit attacks like the recent ones in Brussels and Paris.”

This warning represents a clear case of better late than never. In December 2015, I described the many shortcomings in President Barack Obama’s purported strategy for defeating the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh), including the administration’s failure to plan for the “leftovers”:

“When we defeat IS on the battlefield, our work will be far from over. We will not kill every IS fighter in Iraq and Syria. Many will return home before the fighting on the ground begins (as is already happening). Others will flee to safe havens, such as Libya, once the fighting is underway. Some will be captured.

“What is our plan for these leftovers? Do we have the defenses in place to prevent attacks by these hardened, embittered and desperate terrorists? How will we locate, prosecute and incarcerate those who have returned home? Do we have the legal ability to incarcerate them for decades, until the fire of fanaticism has completely burned out?

“Do we believe any returning fighters could be rehabilitated? What will we do with those captured on the battlefield? Are we prepared to track down and kill or capture those IS operatives who have fled to safe havens? IS cannot be defeated simply by dislodging it from Syria and Iraq.”

Given that the Obama administration has adhered to its flawed counter-terrorism strategy over the past eight months while ISIS-inspired terror attacks have continued across Europe and elsewhere, it is clear that no one was listening this past December. Is anyone other than the FBI director listening now?

There is virtually no reason to believe that the administration will change course in its last five months. The key question, therefore, is whether any of the presidential candidates has an actual strategy for addressing this core national security concern. Sadly, the answer is “no.”

As a xenophobe who thrives on fear, Donald Trump has an obvious pitch for preventing the migration of fleeing foreign terrorist fighters: He has proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

In addition to being inconsistent with our national character, unworkable in practice and unlawful, this proposal would make us less secure. It would substantiate, rather than undermine, the ISIS narrative that the West is at war with Islam, particularly when coupled with his unlawful proposals to torture suspected terrorists and kill the families of terrorists.

We cannot defeat fanatical Islamic terror without winning the war for hearts and minds.

As a Libertarian and noninterventionist, Gary Johnson does not believe in placing troops in Iraq or Syria to defeat ISIS. Instead, he prescribes cutting off ISIS’ finances, countering it in cyberspace and encouraging others to defeat it on the ground.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, minimizing our overseas military footprint does not guarantee that ISIS fighters will not migrate west. In many respects, Johnson offers a less robust formulation of the Obama “strategy.” And like Obama, Johnson does not have a plan for returning or migrating foreign terrorist fighters.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, advocates a slightly more robust version of the Obama administration’s strategy. In particular, she is more willing to use air power and support Kurdish forces on the ground (likely over the objection of Turkey).

Her strategy, therefore, is designed to hasten ISIS’ defeat on the battlefield. This corrects one of the many flaws in the Obama administration strategy. However, it also leads to the very scenario raised by the FBI director, for which she has no plan.

In an election in which national security and counter-terrorism concerns will weigh heavily on the minds of voters, we deserve more thoughtful and comprehensive strategies for combating fanatical Islamic terror from the three leading candidates. Add this shared shortcoming to the long list of reasons this is a deeply disturbing presidential election.

— Brian Goebel is editor in chief of the nonpartisan 2040 Matters, a Santa Barbara-based public policy blog dedicated to restoring the American Dream for “Generation X+” and future generations by combating declining civic engagement and offering alternatives to political polarization. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >