Here’s How to Confront the
By Michael Mukasey
June 23, 2016
may have acted alone, but, sadly, his is not an isolated case. The carnage in
Orlando, like that in San
offers three specific lessons for policymakers willing to learn from these
The first is that we cannot afford
to disarm unilaterally in this war by limiting the legal authorities used by our
law enforcement and intelligence professionals to identify and apprehend these
killers before they strike. Here in the United States, we have made just that
mistake. In the aftermath of the illegal disclosures
of classified information by Edward Snowden, a bipartisan coalition of liberal
Democrats and libertarian Republicans joined with President Obama to limit
the collection of telephone and Internet metadata that disclosed no content
but offered a way to determine whether suspected terrorists were communicating
with people in the United States.
Meanwhile, the president
unilaterally conferred on foreigners located overseas certain protections once
available only to U.S. citizens and green-card holders. Worse still, U.S.
companies, feeling burned by the Snowden disclosures, limited their compliance
with government requests to the minimum required by law and made it harder for
the government to obtain even legally authorized access to customer information.
In the current environment, we should insist that U.S. companies and the
government find a way to work together.
The second lesson is that we are
safer when we take the fight to the terrorists overseas, instead of waiting
until they attack us at home. This is true whether the attacks at home are
undertaken by trained operatives, as in the cases of Paris and Brussels, or by
those radicalized at home, as in the cases of San Bernardino, Calif., and
Orlando. People such as Mateen take inspiration from two sources: a radical
interpretation of Islam and the apparent success of terrorists at home and
Putting al-Qaeda on the run after
9/11 made it harder for that group to plot attacks and to maintain a steady
recruiting and incitement pipeline. It also made al-Qaeda a less attractive
focus for potential adherents in the West who sought to attach themselves to
what looked like a successful movement — the wave of the future.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen a resurgence in al-Qaeda activity where we’ve been
less effective at combating it, from Africa to certain parts of the Middle East
and the Indian subcontinent.
More troublesome, the Obama
administration’s decision to take only limited action against the Islamic
State has given that group more room to recruit, plot and incite others to
violence, and to boast on the Internet of its success. This hold-and-poke policy
has given the Islamic State the location, capital and cachet that is at the
heart of the new radicalism manifesting itself here.
The third lesson is that no
measures that may stoke emotions but are ultimately ineffectual — such as
race- or religion-baiting, closing our borders to certain religious minorities
or national groups, or building massive walls to be paid for in some mythical
way by a foreign government — are likely to have a measurable impact on the
ability of terrorists to operate against us at home. Nor will the unwillingness
of the president, or the obvious reluctance of his former secretary of state, to
describe the problem for what it is — radical Islamic terrorism — help us.
In particular, the president’s
was no help, with his try for rhetorical jujitsu by asking what good it would do
simply to call the problem “radical Islam.” The point is not simply to call
the problem by its right name, but also then to do something about it such as
developing links with reform-minded and mainstream, moderate Muslims, rather
than arguing about phraseology while simultaneously mocking the seriousness of
those who dare question the administration’s failed Islamic State policy.
Unfortunately, this White House too often reaches out to apologists who have
seized the microphone and worries too much about optics instead of focusing on
In sum, neither of the major U.S.
presidential candidates today nor the current president, in their respective
responses to the Orlando attack, offer any hope that they truly know how to
confront this very real and growing threat.
There are solutions to this
serious problem, but they require concerted leadership and a commitment to
action. Sadly, that does not appear to be in the offing. In one camp we hear
platitudes and a continuation of the past seven years of failed policies. In the
other, we hear religion-baiting and half-baked, unworkable policies that make no
sense and fail to address the problem. Unless both political parties and their
candidates get serious, the freest and most powerful nation on Earth will
squander its moral and material advantages, and put us all at grave risk.