President’s Strategy to Defeat Isisby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2015-12-15
CORNYN. Mr. President, just yesterday President Obama went to the
Pentagon for a long overdue meeting with his national security
advisers. During that meeting or shortly thereafter, he made this
statement: ``We are hitting ISIL harder than ever.'' Unfortunately, the
President failed to acknowledge the simple fact that his strategy
against ISIL--or ISIS, as it is more frequently called--is simply not
This is pretty hard to get right, but at least our leaders should have the humility to recognize reality, and when things aren't working out so well, reconsider and make some midcourse changes so they do work--not this President. I have said repeatedly that the President needs to tell Congress and the American people about his comprehensive strategy to defeat this terrorist enemy, and he has to do more to give our military the flexibility and resources they need to accomplish the mission. It is simply wrong to ask our military to accomplish something and not give them the freedom, flexibility, and resources they need in order to accomplish it.
That is why when the President talks about airstrikes--I know of no military leader who believes that you can defeat this terrorist army in Syria and Iraq by airstrikes alone. Nobody. Yet that seems to be the only tactic this President is using. So the President needs to tell the American people the truth about the realities on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He needs to listen and take advice from the military leadership he has at the Pentagon and on his own staff. Above all, he needs to learn not to be ashamed of American leadership.
It is absolutely true that America doesn't necessarily need to fight the wars for other countries in the region that ought to be engaged in the fight themselves, but the fact is there is no one else on the planet who can lead like the United States of America. We have to organize it, we have to lead it, and we have to support it if we expect other people to be the boots on the ground to fight those wars, but the action we are seeing currently from this administration does not match the very serious threat we face, and it is a threat that has gotten worse, not better, under the President.
CIA Director John Brennan recently estimated that before President Obama prematurely pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq, without any sort of transition at all, the predecessor of ISIS, known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, had ``maybe 700-or-so adherents left.'' This is the CIA Director, nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate. He said, before the President pulled the plug in Iraq, there were about 700 or so adherents left in Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of ISIS. If we fast forward that to today, according to the New York Times, just a few months ago, he said: ``Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits have now poured in to Syria, many to join the Islamic State, a doubling of volunteers in the last 12 months. . . .'' Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits, a doubling of volunteers in just the last 12 months, these are pretty amazing and concerning numbers but more often they demonstrate how out of touch the President's remarks are when he says ISIS has been contained or we are hitting them harder than we ever have before. It is simply not working. Clearly, we need the President to execute an effective military strategy that results in both the physical destruction of ISIS and the complete rejection of their bankrupt ideology--not just in the Middle East but around the world, including here at home.
Frequently, when various pundits react when they hear people like me saying the President doesn't have an effective strategy, they say: OK. What is your strategy? First of all, I am not the Commander in Chief, but we did make some constructive suggestions to [[Page S8664]] the President. Nine other Republican Senators joined me in a letter, where we recommended six specific military options that if brought to bear on ISIS, would go a long way toward achieving his stated goal of destroying this terrorist army. First, it would take the handcuffs off the U.S. military and let our troops do what they have trained to do and what they have volunteered to do. Increasingly, we need a strategy that doesn't just handle the fight over there. We need a strategy to handle the fight here at home because of the danger of foreign fighters, of fighters going from the United States to the fight in the Middle East and then returning or people going to Europe. In particular, one concern has been raised by many of our Democratic colleagues is the use of the visa waiver, where you don't actually need--the 38 countries where you can travel to the United States without actually getting a specific visa or having to be interviewed by a consular officer at one of our embassies. This is a potential vulnerability for the United States.
The third area beyond the fight over there, beyond the danger of people exploiting the flaws in our screening system within immigration, whether it is fiance visas, whether it is a visa waiver or whether it is refugees--there is a third area the FBI Director talked about last week when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He talked about homegrown terrorists--people like the ones in San Bernardino who did actually travel to the Middle East and come back--but he also included people in the United States, American citizens. I must admit I appreciated the FBI Director's understanding of the threat that ISIS poses, including their attempts to inspire people in this country to become terrorists and commit acts of violence.
This Senator was astonished that the Department of Homeland Security would have a policy preventing the United States from screening the social media use by foreign nationals who are attempting to use our immigration system to come to the United States. In the instance of the female shooter in San Bernardino, it was revealed that using social media, she had posted things that should have been an alert--if our immigration officers were doing their job--to the fact that she was likely to be a jihadist and be a threat here at home.
Another threat we are going to have to deal with that Director Comey and the Deputy Attorney General raised is the use of encryption as a challenge that hinders the FBI's counterintelligence efforts against these ISIS-inspired extremists. Encryption applications are available on your cell phone, and some of the companies--Apple, for example-- market them because people want to keep their communications private. We all understand that, but an encrypted message--one that is incapable of being unlocked--is one that can't be used to respond to a court order when somebody in law enforcement goes to court and says: We have probable cause to believe a crime was committed, so we want to execute this search warrant. As Director Comey confirmed, increasingly using encryption is part of terrorist trade craft.
I was shocked--because I hadn't heard it before--to hear Director Comey talk about how encryption impacted an investigation in my home State of Texas. He said many will remember that back in May, two men attempted to attack people at an event northeast of Dallas in Garland, TX. He said that fortunately the quick and effective response of law enforcement officials in the area stopped the men from making their way into the conference center, keeping them from inflicting more harm. We now know the attack was at least inspired by ISIS. In fact, according to media reports, ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shockingly, Director Comey said last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI had 109 encrypted messages with a terrorist overseas as part of this investigation of the Garland incident. According to the FBI Director, that is 109 messages the FBI still doesn't have access to because they are encrypted and they can't even crack it given a court order showing probable cause that it might lead to further evidence in this investigation. He pointed out that these sorts of encrypted communications are part of terrorist trade craft. In fact, there is reason to believe that within terror circles, they understand which of these devices and which of these apps are encrypted and thus make it less likely that they will be discovered when they are conspiring against Americans either here or abroad.
It troubles me that the men and women charged with keeping us safe don't have all the information they need. I think that is a subject on which we need to have a more serious conversation. I think that is why Director Comey mentioned that last week, and that is why the Deputy Attorney General came to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to raise the concern, so we can have the kind of debate we always have in America when it is a balancing of privacy and security.
I commend the Director for engaging Congress on this critical issue, but what it points out is that the President and this administration need to have a three-pronged strategy when dealing against a terrorist threat: As I mentioned, over in Syria and Iraq, unhandcuff our military and make sure they have a strategy that will actually work over and above just airstrikes; second, try to make sure we enhance our screening system for immigration for people who come into the United States so we don't inadvertently allow someone into our country who has the intention of doing us harm; and third, do more to come up with a plan to deal with people being radicalized right here in the United States, not the least of which, I would hope the Department of Homeland Security voluntarily reverses their policy of not screening social media communications which are in the public domain. I mean, there is no expectation of privacy on the part of people posting things in a public domain such as Twitter or Facebook, particularly things like Twitter. I know you can restrict access, but most people communicate with their friends, family, and anybody else who happens to want to have a conversation with them on social media.
We can all agree that the threat of ISIS to the United States is broad and real. Sadly, we were reminded in San Bernardino and in Garland last May of this fact.
Last week, both in a letter I sent to the President and here on the floor, we sought to make some constructive suggestions to begin to have that conversation, which was long overdue, about what an effective strategy to carry out the President's stated goal of degrading and destroying ISIS would actually look like. I hope the President listens. Unfortunately, so far experience has taught us he is not necessarily primed that way. But I hope he will reconsider in light of the increased public concern about terrorist activity in the United States. Certainly, public opinion polls have shown that is the No. 1 issue of concern to the American people, and as the leader of the U.S. Government and as Commander in Chief, I hope he will have the humility and the common sense to say that what we are doing now is not working the way it should. We can do better. We can do more.
Certainly, if the President would work with us in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion, I know we would support a strategy that I think Members of Congress felt had a reasonably decent chance of working. But right now the President seems stuck on this same inadequate strategy of just bombing missions. These airstrikes are necessary but not sufficient to get the job done over there. It certainly is incomplete when you look at the threat in terms of exploiting our immigration system and in terms of homegrown radicalism. We haven't heard the kind of plan that we need to hear from the President of the United States that we are willing to work with him on. We need to hear from him what he is willing to do to help keep the American people safe and to fight and win this war against Islamic radicalism.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.