Two Critical Conclusions from
Orlando Terror Attack
By John Bolton
June 12, 2016
Sunday brought the latest
terrorist attack in America, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, with all
its attendant tragedy. Words cannot adequately describe the horror that
engulfed the scene of this massacre, caused by one Omar Mir Seddique Mateen.
Beyond the human cost, however,
also lies the tragedy that Barack Obama, speaking even as it became clear that
the murderer was a radical Islamic terrorist, is still unable or unwilling to
draw the appropriate conclusions. The president’s remarks omitted any linkages
between the cold-blooded murders, the terrorist’s ideology, and the broader
international threat that motivated the Orlando killer and perhaps others yet
We will, in the coming days,
doubtless hear that the terrorist was a lone wolf, that he did not belong to any
known terrorist organization, that there are no wider threats. In
particular, those who are blind to the terrorist threat will downplay even the
incontrovertible fact that Mateen pledged loyalty to ISIS as he committed his
Two critical conclusions follow
immediately from Sunday’s tragic reality, one with immediate implications for
our domestic safety, and one for conducting the broader international war
The United States must urgently
discard the fiction that we pay no price for not pursuing international
terrorists vigorously and relentlessly.
First, the number of true “lone
wolf” terrorists is infinitesimal. The implications of that phrase,
namely that terrorism is not a widespread and still-growing phenomenon, are
profoundly impairing our ability to protect innocent civilians. Terrorists like
Mateen are not “one offs” who emerge randomly, unexpectedly and
inexplicably, perhaps victims of mental disorders. The evidence is now
indisputable that we are confronting a far larger threat, albeit not one
organized conveniently for our understanding. This threat is unmistakably
ideological, as Sunday’s Orlando attack and the apparently thwarted attack in
Santa Monica demonstrate.
We simply must start acknowledging
that terrorists -- whether ISIS, Al Qaeda, or others -- are not structured
like governments or corporations. They are not staffed with desk-bound
bureaucrats in grey suits, arranged pursuant to a complex, hierarchical
organization chart. They do not send memoranda to each other through a complex
clearance process, with copies distributed far and wide.
Nor do they function like spy
networks and subversive political movements of days gone by. They do not
carry party identification cards. They do not communicate through dead
drops, brush passes, invisible ink and microdots. This is not an age where
FBI agents have the capacity to infiltrate the “cells” that do not exist or
shadow the agents who are running the actual terrorists.
Instead, it is not just the West
that has mastered digital communications and Internet social networks. The
terrorists are just as good at it, for their purposes better than we are at
understanding their techniques and their success. Actors like Mateen are not
rigorously following a critical path chart in ISIS headquarters. Instead,
it is precisely the disconnected, unpredictable timing of the terrorist attacks,
not necessarily staged in advance, that adds to their devastating effect.
Second, the United States must
urgently discard the fiction that we pay no price for not pursuing international
terrorists vigorously and relentlessly. President Obama’s strategy against
terrorist bases of operation, when it is evident at all, has been lackadaisical
and offhanded. There is a clear rationale to this casualness. Obama
manifestly believes that, as bad as terrorist attacks are, American
“overreaction” is worse. In his view, the use of U.S. forces risks
increasing the problem rather than reducing it, making us much a part of the
problem as the terrorist threat itself.
This is, of course, utter
nonsense. We are obviously defending ourselves from attack, not initiating it.
And it is palpably our failure to defend ourselves that provides incentives for
the terrorist to strike even harder. Here is where Obama’s failure to
pursue the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is so damaging. A slow,
casual offensive against ISIS gives the terrorists time and opportunity to
encourage strikes like the one we have just seen.
There is a cost -- and a very
human cost -- to allowing ISIS any respite from the full force of U.S. and
allied military power. It is not cost-free to slow roll the anti-ISIS
campaign, not in the Middle East, not in North Africa, and most certainly not in
the United States.
While the foreign political and
military complexities of obliterating ISIS are real enough, presidential resolve
and determination can overcome much. Obama’s resolve and determination are
I have long argued that the
central issue of the 2016 elections should be national security. The
Orlando massacre has tragically underlined that point. President Obama may
not be able to acknowledge the grim reality endangering us, but the rest of us
must do so. Fortunately, we will pick a new president this November, and
that choice must, at all costs, be someone who does not share Obama’s
failings. The winning presidential candidate will be the one whose
anti-terrorism policies are the most distinguishable from Obama’s.