Trump and Leaks: The president must take aggressive steps to stop a grave national security threat

Center for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz, May 29, 2017:

President Trump spoke out angrily Thursday against leaks of classified information to the press – including leaks of confidential information the U.K. government had shared with American intelligence agencies on the Manchester terrorist attack. These leaks “pose a grave threat to our national security,” he said, and pledged to identify and prosecute those responsible.

The president has it exactly right. He is facing an unprecedented campaign by career government employees to sabotage his presidency with a flood of leaks to the press of classified and confidential information. These leaks are damaging U.S. national security and constitute criminal behavior. They must be stopped.

Some of the leaks have been of highly classified U.S. intelligence reports, including “demasked” NSA reporting concerning former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn. Others were of President Trump’s confidential conversations with foreign leaders.

Concerning the false allegation that President Trump “leaked” classified information to Russian officials when he met with them in the Oval Office, bear in mind that the president has ultimate classification authority — he can disclose intelligence as he sees fit to advance his foreign policy.

As I discussed in an earlier Fox News Opinion article, the real scandal in that instance was that current and former intelligence and policy officials disclosed to the Washington Post sensitive details about the intelligence Trump allegedly discussed with Russian officials – details that were so highly classified the Post chose not to publish them. This was the real crime. The persons who illegally disclosed this information to the Post must be prosecuted.

Just as serious are the constant leaks concerning investigations of Trump officials. There’s no question in my mind that former FBI Director James Comey arranged to have his notes leaked to the press to hurt President Trump and influence the congressional investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It also appears that anti-Trump government employees with the Justice Department and the FBI are systematically leaking a story a day to help CNN and MSNBC promote their false narratives that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

These leaks are especially serious since Justice and law enforcement careerists are violating the due process rights of Trump officials by disclosing (and probably misrepresenting) confidential information from official investigations to smear them. Since the “evidence” of wrongdoing by Trump officials appears too thin to produce any charges, these officials are instead using leaks to try and convict Trump officials in the press.

It is urgent that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Special Counsel Robert Mueller stop these leaks which are an affront to the American system of justice.

The Trump administration also must take decisive action to halt leaks of classified national security information. The most effective way to do this is to fill vacant confirmable and non-confirmable positions in policy and intelligence agencies as quickly as possible.

This should include a housecleaning in the NSC, State, DOD, CIA, DIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other agencies to replace career government employees named to sensitive positions by the Obama administration. In some cases, these career officials are actually former Obama political appointees who converted to the career civil service, a practice known as “burrowing in.”

Although civil service laws and regulations make it virtually impossible to fire career government employees, the Trump administration can reassign these officials. If this is not possible, job descriptions can be changed so anti-Trump careerists suspected of leaking no longer work on sensitive matters. Their security clearances can also be stripped.

Other immediate steps must be taken to address recent leaks of classified and confidential information. Read-outs of the president’s meetings and conversations must be better protected. Investigations that include polygraphs should be conducted to find those who were behind recent leaks. And the NSC needs to bring in experienced personnel to help safeguard confidential information concerning the president’s policy deliberations.

Trump officials will never completely stop leaks to the press. They need to recognize that leaks are always worse during Republican presidencies because the career work force tilts to the left. That said, this recent flood of leaks is an unprecedented effort by government careerists to put U.S. national security at risk to undermine an elected president. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank. Follow him on Twitter@FredFleitz.

How Sharia Supremacism and Judicial Imperialism Threaten National Security

Having failed to define the real threat — sharia supremacism — Trump walked into a trap of his own making.

National Review, by Andrew C. McCarthy, May 27, 2017:

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling against President Trump’s so-called travel ban empowers both radical Islam and judicial imperialism. The combination portends lasting damage to the United States.

To rehash, the executive order (EO) proclaimed temporary restrictions (the main one, for 90 days) on travel to the United States by the nationals of six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Those countries, along with Iraq (cited in Trump’s original executive order, but not the revised EO at issue), had previously been singled out by Congress and President Obama — not because they are Muslim-majority countries, but because a) the presence or promotion of terrorism in their territories makes their nationals suspect and b) their anti-Americanism and/or dysfunctional governments render it impossible to conduct background checks on visa applicants.

This Fourth Circuit’s en banc review of prior invalidations of the EO by “progressive” activists masquerading as jurists produced 205 pages of opinions. The outcome was about as uncertain as Secretariat at Belmont, with ten of the tribunal’s 13 judges joining Chief Judge Roger Gregory’s majority ruling to one degree or another.

Three judges filed compelling dissents that will prove quite useful when, as Trump promises, the case proceeds to the Supreme Court. The continuation of the litigation is an unfortunate outcome, even if conservatives and other rule-of-law types, buoyed by Justice Neil Gorsuch’s appointment, may be right that the EO has a better shot in the High Court.

That’s because the EO doesn’t matter. You may not have noticed, but sharia supremacism has already won, regardless of what the Supreme Court does.

See, the EO was never an end in and of itself. It is a means — a fatally flawed one — to a vital end. That end is a vetting system that enables our security services to distinguish pro-Western Muslims from sharia supremacists. That’s the goal. The EO was conceived as a temporary pause while the vetting system took shape.

From a security perspective, though, the EO was utterly ineffective: applicable to a negligible slice of the global anti-American threat. More significantly, as a strategy, starting with the EO rather than getting to vetting has been a catastrophe.

As we have previously observed, in order to install the vetting system we need, the challenge of Islam must be confronted head-on and without apology. That is unavoidable. You can’t flinch. It is a certainty that the Democrat-media complex — of which Islamist organizations are members in good standing — is going to smear you as a racist “Islamophobe.” (Yes, this is another race-obsessed “progressive” narrative, so Islam gets to be the “race,” so that defenders of the Constitution and Western culture can be cast as “the oppressor.”) You have to be content with knowing that you are not a racist, with knowing that you are defending religious liberty, including the religious liberty of pro-Western Muslims.

There is a single battle that must be won. American culture must be convinced that Islam, while it has plenty of diversity, has a mainstream strain — sharia supremacism — that is not a religion but a totalitarian political ideology hiding under a religious veneer.

Intellectually, this should not be a difficult thing to do. Sharia supremacism does not accept the separation of religion from political life (which is why it is lethally hostile to reform Muslims). It requires the imposition of classical, ancient sharia law, which crushes individual liberty (particularly freedom — of conscience, of speech, and in economic affairs). It systematically discriminates against women and non-Muslims. It is cruel in its enforcement. It endorses violent jihad to settle political disputes (since such disputes boil down to whether sharia is being undermined — a capital offense).

What I have just outlined is not a “theory.” Quite apart from the fact that sharia supremacism is the subject of numerous books, studies, public-opinion polls, and courtroom prosecutions, one need only look at life in Saudi Arabia and Iran, societies in which the regime imposes sharia. As I mentioned a few days ago, one need only look at the State Department’s warnings to Americans who travel to Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, what should be easy to establish intellectually is difficult as a practical matter. Sharia supremacists and their progressive allies maintain that Islam may not be parsed into different strains. For legal purposes, they insist it is a monolith that is protected by religious-liberty principles — notwithstanding that a) progressives are generally hostile to religious liberty and b) sharia supremacists themselves would destroy religious liberty. Perversely, then, they argue that the First Amendment is offended by national-security measures against anti-American radicals who would, given the chance, deep-six the First Amendment in favor of sharia.

It is essential to win this debate over the political nature of sharia supremacism. Our law has a long constitutional tradition, rooted in the natural and international law of self-defense, of excluding aliens on the basis of radical, anti-American political ideology. Thus, if sharia supremacism is deemed a political ideology, we can keep out alien adherents of a cause that both inspires the terrorists of today and, wherever it is allowed to take root, produces the terrorists of tomorrow.

Yet, we also have a strong commitment to religious freedom. If at the end of the debate — assuming we ever have the debate — our culture’s conclusion is that sharia supremacism equals Islam, equals religion, equals immunity from governmental protective measures, then the Constitution really will have become a suicide pact. We will have decided that anti-constitutional sharia radicals are just as welcome as any other Muslim.

It is essential to win this debate over the political nature of sharia supremacism.

Since this is the debate we must have — i.e., Can we legally vet for sharia supremacism? – the Trump administration’s burden was to tee up the debate on favorable terrain. That required having it over something that the public would understand as truly crucial to our current and future security.

That something should have been vetting. That would have put the focus on sharia — specifically, on its noxious, counter-constitutional terms. The argument would not merely be about the possibility that trained terrorists might infiltrate refugee populations. It would be about the resistance of sharia supremacism to Western assimilation, which inevitably leads to the phenomenon of sharia enclaves, to “no go” zones, and to the creation of the conditions in which the jihadists of tomorrow are bred. (See, e.g., Europe.) Vetting is what we absolutely have to do to protect the country. It is not more complicated than that.

Trump, instead, teed things up for guaranteed failure. Instead of a battle over vetting, he forced it to be fought over the EO, which would do nothing meaningful to improve our security. The threat from the six cited countries is less severe than from other cauldrons of sharia supremacism that are not covered in the EO. Since the EO is not a defensible security measure, it can easily be made to look like a gratuitous swipe at Muslims — especially in light of Trump’s reckless campaign rhetoric, which often failed to distinguish sharia supremacists from all Muslims (many of whom have taken heroic measures to help Americans fight jihadists).

Having thus failed to define the real threat, Trump walked into a trap of his own making. Forced to defend itself against claims of racism, forced to defend the pointless exclusion of Muslims rather than the essential exclusion of sharia supremacists, the administration has responded by vigorously contending that the travel ban has nothing to do with Islam. “It’s facially neutral,” the Justice Department insists. The administration now stresses that the EO does not mention Islam, does not target Islam, and is not directed at Islam.

Well, isn’t that wonderful! I’m sure the Supreme Court will be impressed — the administration might even win there . . . though I wouldn’t bet the ranch on getting Justice Kennedy’s vote.

The EO is thus worse than ineffective. It is counterproductive.

But you see, the upshot of the administration’s assurances that the EO has nothing to do with Islam is an implicit admission: If a proposed law or executive order did confront Islam directly, it would be unconstitutional. So then . . . how are we ever going to win the debate over vetting? How are we ever going to make an intellectually honest, convincing argument that adherents to a radical political ideology rooted in Islamic scripture can lawfully be kept out of our country?

The EO is thus worse than ineffective. It is counterproductive. It probably means that vetting will never happen — or, alternatively, that the administration will try to enhance vetting but pretend, as it has with the EO, that the enhancement has nothing to do with Islam.

To be fair, while such dishonesty is not excusable, it is understandable. Inexorably, these battles are fought out in the courts — Congress having defaulted its responsibility to make law and to limit the judiciary’s capacity to interfere, which the Constitution empowers it to do. The courts are no longer courts. They are no longer the peer judicial branch of a government of divided powers, in which each branch respects the constitutional authorities and competencies of the others. The courts now claim supremacy over the two political branches.

Naturally, they are smart enough not to come out and say it that way. They’ve done it by gradually dismantling separation-of-powers. This doctrine always held that the judiciary did not intrude on matters like immigration, national security against foreign threats, and war fighting — matters constitutionally committed to the branches politically accountable to the voters whose lives are at stake. But, as I warned at the time, Justice Kennedy put the last nail in that coffin in the 2008 Boumediene decision, which astoundingly held that alien enemy combatants engaged in an offensive terrorist war against the United States are endowed with constitutional habeas corpus rights, to be asserted against the U.S. government — indeed, against the executive branch that is prosecuting the congressionally authorized military campaign.

Kennedy scoffed at the principle that the judiciary has no business meddling in the political branches’ conduct of war. His Orwellian contortion of separation of powers holds that the actions of the political branches are strengthened by judicial review. Under the new dispensation, it is not the Constitution but the judiciary that determines the legitimacy of executive and legislative action in defense of the nation.

When Kennedy and the Court’s “progressive” bloc ignored the settled jurisprudence of judicial modesty (what we might call, “know your place”), they unleashed the lower courts to do the same — knowing there was always a good chance that five Supremes would endorse renegade “progress.” Thus did the Fourth Circuit, in neutering the EO, ignore a binding 1972 Supreme Court precedent, Kleindienst v. Mandel, which prohibits federal courts from second-guessing executive discretion in the immigration context. Mandel should have made the case a slam dunk in favor of Trump’s EO. Instead, Judge Gregory declared robed oligarchy: There can be no judicial “abdication” in situations where “constitutional rights, values, and principles are at stake.”

Simply stated, that is a breathtaking claim of power to act any time the judges see fit, for whatever “value” they choose to vindicate.

What federal judges do not see as fit is Donald Trump. If he orders it, they will undo it, even if it is manifest that the same orders would be upheld if issued by a different president.

And the judges’ values tend not to be your values. You value American national security. They value a new, aggressive, and indiscriminate protection of religion — provided that the religion is Islam. Your value is a trifle. Their value is transformed into a right of Muslim immigration, derived from the new, judicially manufactured right of America-based Muslims not to have their self-esteem bruised.

Sharia supremacism and judicial imperialism: a combination that is breaking our will in a way no previous challengers ever could.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Also see:

Stunning news: Trump State Department opens the flood gates, refugee admissions will explode in coming weeks

Refugee Resettlement Watch, by Ann Corcoran on May 27, 2017:

Betraying the voters who elected Donald Trump, the Department of State slipped the news to the contractors on Thursday who then slipped the news to the New York Times just as you were packing up for the beach or getting ready for a family barbecue using the federal government’s favorite holiday weekend trick to bury the news.

Forget everything I said in my post yesterday about Trump’s “average” admissions. If they do as they are now saying they will, Donald Trump will be responsible for one of six highest resettlement years since 9/11.***

Manchester here we come!

Here is the headline (Hat tip: Julia). Emphasis mine:

U.S. Quietly Lifts Limit on Number of Refugees Allowed In

WASHINGTON — Despite repeated efforts by President Trump to curtail refugee resettlements, the State Department this week quietly lifted the department’s restriction on the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States.

The result could be a near doubling of refugees entering the country, from about 830 people a week in the first three weeks of this month to well over 1,500 people per week by next month, according to refugee advocates. Tens of thousands of refugees are waiting to come to the United States.

The State Department’s decision was conveyed in an email on Thursday to the private agencies in countries around the world that help refugees manage the nearly two-year application process needed to enter the United States.

In her email, Jennifer L. Smith, a department official, wrote that the refugee groups could begin bringing people to the United States “unconstrained by the weekly quotas that were in place.”

[….]

Refugee groups now predict that entries into the United States could increase so rapidly that the total number of refugees admitted by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, could exceed 70,000.

[….]

Refugee advocates were delighted by the State Department’s decision.

“This is long overdue, but we’re very happy,” said Mark Hetfield, president and chief executive of HIAS, an immigrant aid society.

Continue reading here as the contractors say they are worried for next year.  Oh, sure they are.

Bottomline is that it appears that the REPUBLICAN Congress (never forget they want to keep big business donors happy by providing a steady supply of cheap labor) appropriated gobs of money for refugee resettlement! 

And, the Trump Administration (remember Trump campaigned with talk of a moratorium on refugee resettlement) appears to have no fight left in them on this issue (other issues too!).

***Here are the refugee admissions since 9/11 (those in red exceed Trump’s projected 70,000). Bush had only 2 years in excess of 70,000 and Obama had 3 of his 8 years higher than 70,000.

2001: 87,259 (this year’s number would have been proposed by Clinton in the fall of 2000)

2002: 45,896

2003: 39,554

2004: 79,158

2005: 69,006

2006: 41,223

2007: 48,282

2008: 60,191

2009: 74,654

2010: 73,311

2011: 56,424

2012: 58,238

2013: 69,926

2014: 69,987

2015: 69,993

2016: 84,994

Also see:

Unfinished Business: What it will take to make America safe again

Medics rehydrate a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division who was overcome by heat and exhaustion while conducting a
mission intended to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, July 23, 2002. Photo credit: Scott Nelson / Getty

Weekly Standard Magazine June 5th issue, by Thomas Joscelyn:

Donald Trump is fond of claiming that his predecessor mismanaged America’s role in the world. “And I have to just say that the world is a mess. I inherited a mess,” the president noted during a joint press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan in the Rose Garden on April 5. “Whether it’s the Middle East,” he continued, “whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s so many other things, whether it’s in our country—horrible trade deals—I inherited a mess.”

The world is an inherently messy place, and each president is left with problems unresolved by the man who preceded him. But when it comes to America’s fight against terrorism, Trump has a point. Barack Obama claimed that he brought the war in Iraq to a “responsible end” and promised do the same in Afghanistan. In reality, he ended neither of the 9/11 wars. While Obama was arguing that the “tide of war is receding,” new conflicts emerged and old ones intensified.

Obama always had a tin ear for the psychological impact of terrorism. He liked to tell his staff that the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks each year was smaller than the number who perished in car accidents or by slipping in the bathtub. But this argument is myopic. Jihadist groups, not automobile manufacturers, are fighting for the control of entire countries. The terrorist threat over here only grew as they gained ground over there. There have been large-scale plots, such as the Islamic State’s assault on Paris in November 2015 and the March 2016 Brussels bombings. Small attacks have become widespread. The December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino and the June 2016 nightclub massacre in Orlando both shocked this nation. Such attacks are often described as the work of “lone wolves,” but this is misleading. Al Qaeda has long sought to inspire individuals to strike out on their own. The Islamic State took this tactic further, using online applications to both attract and guide recruits in the West. The emergence of the so-called caliphate in 2014 created a new justification and urgency for believers to lash out in their home countries.

On May 22, the West was reminded, once again, of the persistent threat when a jihadist detonated a shrapnel-laden bomb at the conclusion of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. The bombing, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, targeted children who just wanted to see a favorite pop star. At least 22 people were killed and 64 wounded. Britain, like Paris and Brussels before it, was put on high alert as officials worried that a follow-up attack was in the works. Western officials have worked around the clock for years to prevent just such attacks. The casualty count would be much higher if not for their efforts. Thousands of potential terrorists now tie up counterterrorism and law enforcement resources throughout Europe and the United States. The U.S. and allied governments are rightly focused on the jihadist threat—not on the work of bathtub manufacturers or automakers.

Barack Obama does not bear all the blame; he inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from his predecessor, George W. Bush. The Arab uprisings occurred on Obama’s watch, and they opened new opportunities for the jihadists in countries where they had only a minimal presence beforehand. The revolutions were beyond America’s control, but Obama did little to counter the growing jihadist menace and even exacerbated problems. He sought to downplay or dismiss every jihadist threat during his presidency. With few exceptions, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden, there is little Obama can point to as a counterterrorism success in his eight years in office.

The Trump administration is currently crafting its own counterterrorism strategy. An 11-page draft memo was leaked to Reuters on May 5, and in keeping with the president’s views on foreign policy, the administration seems to be planning to call on America’s allies to do more. “We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while also reducing the costs of American ‘blood and treasure’ in pursuit of our counterterrorism goals,” the document reads. “We will seek to avoid costly, large-scale U.S. military interventions to achieve counterterrorism objectives and will increasingly look to partners to share the responsibility for countering terrorist groups.”

There’s nothing wrong, in principle or in practice, with asking our allies to do more. President Trump was never likely to order nation-building projects or massive troop deployments. But it is worth noting that Obama described his approach to counterterrorism in terms remarkably similar to those used in the Trump memo. In his last major counterterrorism speech, on December 6, 2016, Obama noted that the current war effort against the Islamic State cost “$10 billion over two years, which is the same amount that we used to spend in one month at the height of the Iraq War.” “Instead of pushing all of the burden onto American ground troops,” he said, “instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we’ve built a network of partners.”

Obama’s plan, too, was built around reducing “the costs of American ‘blood and treasure.’ ” It’s a fine goal and, in some ways, a sensible one. Limiting the number of American casualties has to be any president’s top concern. Nor can America be the primary force in every country that faces a jihadist fight. Substituting others’ boots reduces the cost to U.S. taxpayers. But an “Allies First” strategy has its limits. There is no better example than the ongoing war in Afghanistan, where America’s partners are struggling to keep the jihadists at bay.

AMERICA’S LONGEST WAR

Late in 2009, Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But he promised that the Americans deployed under his leadership would come home before the conclusion of his reelection campaign, and he delivered on that pledge.

“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead,” Obama announced in September 2012. “Next month,” he continued, “the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete.” The soldiers came home, but the Taliban’s “momentum” was never truly broken. It was just slowed. Even Obama eventually realized he had to keep more American troops in Afghanistan than he originally planned. Today, more than 15 years after we invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, large parts of the country are falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who reports directly to Congress, at least 164 (40 percent) of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were either contested or under the insurgents’ control or influence in February. The jihadists are able to execute spectacular assaults like the April 21 raid on an Afghan military base near Mazar-e-Sharif that left more than 100 dead. The number of civilian casualties has increased as well. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported in February that 11,418 civilians were killed or wounded in 2016. By contrast, 5,969 civilian casualties were recorded in 2009—Obama’s first year in office.

Testifying before the Senate in early February, Gen. John W. Nicholson, who leads all NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that a “few thousand” more troops were needed to stabilize the war effort. He called the conflict a stalemate, but there is no denying the Taliban gained significant ground over the previous year.

President Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who held commands in both Iraq and Afghanistan, reportedly wants to send several thousand more U.S. soldiers to the country. Their primary mission would be to train additional Afghan forces in the hopes of stemming the Taliban’s advance. There are currently 8,300 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, so the total proposed force would still be a far cry from the 100,000 or so troops stationed there in 2010-11.

Some in the Trump administration object to even this modest strategy. The Washington Post reported that Afghanistan is now “derisively” called “McMaster’s War” by his West Wing rivals. White House counselor Steve Bannon has been particularly vocal in opposing any troop escalation in Afghanistan—as he opposed the president’s decision last month to strike the Syrian airfield from which the Assad regime had launched a chemical attack. It’s easy to see why Bannon is willing to give up on Afghanistan. The landlocked nation bedeviled foreign powers long before the Taliban ever rose to power. The Afghan government is rife with corruption and often unreliable. Over the last 16 years, 2,387 Americans have perished in the war for Afghanistan and 20,261 others have been wounded. The thought of sending more off to fight in a seemingly intractable war would be disheartening for any president.

But the restoration of the Taliban, or anything close to it, would have dire consequences for the United States, particularly because it would be seen as the result of our capitulation. The myth that faith in Allah was sufficient for the mujahedeen to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s (ignoring the billions of dollars in arms supplied by the United States) fueled the generation of jihadists from which al Qaeda arose. It is not difficult to imagine what a second vanquished superpower would do for their cause.

“Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar, the Taliban founder, once said. He passed away in 2013, but his words are beginning to look prophetic. Indeed, an American retreat would be widely regarded as a vindication not just of Mullah Omar and his Taliban heirs, but of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

THE TALIBAN-AL-QAEDA ALLIANCE

Part of the Obama administration’s strategy for ending the Afghan conflict was an attempt to separate the Taliban from al Qaeda. It was a fool’s errand, as anyone aware of the overlapping structures and interests of the two understood. But for eight years, Obama’s advisers built a policy in Afghanistan on this deeply flawed assumption.

Since well before the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda’s chieftains have been loyal to the Taliban’s overall leader. In June 2016, Ayman al Zawahiri, who followed bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda, swore a blood oath to the Taliban’s emir, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. In December, as something of a commemoration of the Obama policy failure, the Taliban released a lengthy video celebrating the historical alliance. There was footage of al Qaeda and Taliban figures—living and dead, including bin Laden and Mullah Omar—and no hint at all that the Taliban regretted the collapse of its rule in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

Al Qaeda commanders are integrated with their Taliban counterparts throughout the Afghan insurgency to this day. The man who runs the Taliban’s military operations, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is particularly close to al Qaeda. He and his father, Jalaluddin, were among bin Laden’s earliest allies.

Throughout his tenure as president, Obama repeatedly insisted that al Qaeda was “decimated” and “on the run.” He was willfully blind to the situation in Afghanistan until the end. “Today, by any measure, core al Qaeda—the organization that hit us on 9/11—is a shadow of its former self,” Obama claimed in his December valedictory speech. It is true that al Qaeda suffered significant losses at American hands in Obama’s eight years in office. But the organization has survived the war on terror; it has evolved and it has grown.

In October 2015, the U.S. military made a startling announcement. Over the course of five days, a joint team of American and Afghan forces had raided an al Qaeda training camp far bigger than the one that produced the 9/11 hijackers and their comrades. The facility was nearly 30 square miles—about half the size of Washington, D.C. It was located in the Shorabak district of the southern Kandahar Province and had gone unnoticed for months, even as it churned out scores of new trainees. The whole of Shorabak district was overrun by the Taliban early this year.

The massive camp is indicative of a bigger problem. The Obama administration routinely downplayed the extent of al Qaeda’s footprint in Afghanistan. The CIA estimated in late June 2010 that there were just “50 to 100” al Qaeda operatives inside Afghanistan. U.S. officials stuck with this assessment for years, even as contradictory evidence mounted. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, for instance, demonstrated that his men were operating in at least eight different Afghan provinces as of June 19, 2010. Just one al Qaeda “battalion” operating in the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, the files showed, had 70 members.

The U.S. military continued to launch raids against al Qaeda positions, but the “50 to 100” range remained fixed. U.S. officials finally conceded in April 2016 that the extent of al Qaeda’s operations inside Afghanistan had been underestimated. In December, just weeks before the end of the Obama administration, Gen. Nicholson noted that 250 al Qaeda operatives had been killed or captured in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2016.

One of those killed was an especially important target. Faruq al Qahtani had been tasked by Osama bin Laden with organizing al Qaeda’s relocation to Afghanistan from northern Pakistan in 2010 at the peak of the Obama administration’s drone campaign. A significant number of al Qaeda leaders and fighters made the move, which allowed them to survive the drone onslaught. Qahtani and his men fought alongside their Taliban comrades. But that was not his sole mission. After Qahtani was struck down in October 2016, the Pentagon announced that he had been “one of the terrorist group’s senior plotters of attacks against the United States.” Al Qaeda is still plotting against America from Afghan soil in 2017, and a complete U.S. withdrawal would only make it easier for them to do so.

Al Qaeda has been expanding throughout South Asia. In September 2014, Zawahiri announced the creation of a new entity: Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). He explained that after two years of negotiations and planning, several preexisting al Qaeda-allied groups in Pakistan and its neighboring countries had merged. Almost immediately after this announcement AQIS members attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate and fire its missiles at Indian and American warships. The goal was to get India or the United States to retaliate for a perceived attack by Pakistan and start a regional war. The plot, which was carried out by terrorists who had infiltrated Pakistan’s navy, was narrowly averted while it was in motion.

Thus far, the Trump administration has said little about how it plans to fight the Taliban-al Qaeda axis. The U.S. military has been mainly focused on fighting the Islamic State’s upstart presence in eastern Afghanistan—known as ISIS-K, for Khorasan, an old name for the wider central Asian region. Three American soldiers were killed during raids on ISIS-K positions in Nangarhar Province in April, and there is no question that the group poses a challenge. But it is not the gravest threat to Afghan security. At the height of their power, the Islamic State’s representatives controlled approximately ten Afghan districts and contested several others. Today, they control at most three. That is a far cry from the Taliban-led insurgency, which either dominates or is challenging Afghan and NATO forces in more than 160 districts across the country.

The Taliban has its allies, too. Iran long ago cut a deal with it to counter America’s presence in the region. The Russians have provided rhetorical support at the very minimum. Pakistan remains as duplicitous as ever, fighting some jihadists and allowing others to roam free. What little leverage we have in Pakistan today would surely be lost in the event of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban was, after all, originally a Pakistani proxy.

NATO countries may be willing to contribute more forces to the Afghan war. And despite the Afghans’ many problems, they will always be the ones doing the majority of the fighting and dying in this war. NATO and the Afghans can do more, of course, but are most likely to do so with the spur of a significant American commitment.

IRAQ AND SYRIA

President Obama was always dismissive of any jihadist threat emanating from Iraq. He described the Islamic State and its predecessor organization as a “kind of mafia” and the “jayvee team,” even as its fighters were laying the groundwork for their caliphate. Underpinning Obama’s casual dismissal was, as he told the New Yorker in January 2014, the idea that “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes” aren’t a serious threat to the West. Today, the Islamic State’s tentacles reach around the globe, from Southeast Asia, through the Middle East and Africa, all the way into the heart of the United States.

Obama was never going to keep nearly 150,000 troops stationed in the country when he took office. But even a small contingent would have interrupted the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. Obama and his surrogates liked to blame the Iraqi government’s refusal to enter a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for America’s complete withdrawal at the end of 2011. The claim is false. Obama celebrated his “ending” of the Iraq war throughout his 2012 reelection campaign. It was a point of pride for him, not a lament.

Leon Panetta, Obama’s secretary of defense from 2011-13, wrote in Time in 2014 that the president was never interested in negotiating a new agreement. The Obama administration was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests,” Panetta explained. Obama’s rationale is also belied by the fact that when he eventually sent American troops back into Iraq in 2014, he did so without a new SOFA. Difficult negotiations with the Iraqi government aren’t the reason Obama closed the door on Iraq. He believed that the jihadists weren’t a serious threat to American security.

Nonetheless, as his two terms came to an end, Obama argued that his course correction in 2014 left President Trump with a successful strategy for defeating the Islamic State. During his December 6 speech, Obama said, “the results are clear: ISIL [Islamic State] has lost more than half its territory. ISIL has lost control of major population centers. Its morale is plummeting. Its recruitment is drying up. Its commanders and external plotters are being taken out, and local populations are turning against it.” Pointing to the campaigns in Mosul and north of Raqqa, the group’s “self-declared capital,” Obama added: “The bottom line is we are breaking the back of ISIL. We’re taking away its safe havens.”

It may be the case that the zenith of the Islamic State’s power is past. But Obama’s use of ad hoc allies and proxy fighting was an outgrowth of his hasty withdrawal and eventual reversal; it was never a cogent strategy. Iraqi government forces melted away quickly as the Islamic State’s killers marauded their way through the country in 2014. The United States worked to rebuild their capabilities in the years since, but there is no good reason to think the Iraqi army can stand on its own. What’s more, many of the anti-Islamic State actors fighting in Iraq are allies of Iran, which is fomenting an anti-American revolution throughout the region.

Iranian expansion was the poison pill in Obama’s plan for the Islamic State. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are involved in the battle for Mosul and operations throughout Iraq, have strong ties to Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). During the height of the Iraq war, the IRGC’s elite Quds Force hunted American-led coalition forces. The deputy commander of the PMF is Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who has long worked with both the IRGC and Hezbollah, the notorious Iranian terror proxy in Lebanon. In 2009, the Treasury Department designated Muhandis a terrorist for his role in orchestrating attacks against Americans and allied forces in Iraq. Today, he and his men fight as part of the coalition against the Islamic State. The Shiite jihadists battling Baghdadi’s goons in Iraq do not serve America’s long-term interests, they serve Iran’s.

President Trump is aware that Iranian aggression throughout the region is one of Obama’s most troubling legacies. During his speech in Saudi Arabia on May 21, he said that “no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment.” Trump meant Iran and continued, “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.” It was important for the president to make it clear that the United States views Iran as a major source of terrorism, but it is not at all easy to see how the new administration will untangle the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq from Iranian interests.

If Obama could claim some progress against the Islamic State in his December speech, he could not claim victory. The campaign has been a slog. The fighting to liberate Mosul began seven months ago. The Islamic State is close to losing the city but is also still operating throughout Iraq, having quickly reverted to a potent insurgency in many of the areas it lost. The fight for Raqqa has yet to begin. It is under threat from multiple directions, but the jihadists have had ample time to build a defensive house of horrors for their approaching enemies. The group has also redeployed its forces, securing ground along the Euphrates River and in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, one of the organization’s longtime strongholds. The end of the caliphate may be in sight, but the end of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is not.

Complicating matters is the fact that America’s chosen partners in Syria include members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The Trump administration has decided to deepen this alliance, which was first struck under Obama. Earlier this month, the president approved a plan to directly arm the YPG, which is the leading partner in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). There may be no other choice at this point. The SDF has played a crucial role in taking territory from ISIS in northern Syria, including the city of Tabqah and the surrounding area, which are key to the western approach to Raqqa.

The movement for Kurdish independence is gaining momentum, but hopes for a new state are mired in internal rivalries. America has Kurdish allies in both Iraq and Syria, but they are far from a unified force. The presence of YPG/PKK fighters in Iraq has caused persistent problems for the Kurdish regional government, which is coordinating the anti-Islamic State fight in the north of the country. America’s Kurdish partners in the battle for Mosul (the Peshmerga) are sometimes allied with our Kurdish surrogate ground forces in the fight to take Raqqa (YPG/PKK), but they also clash with each other.

Turkey’s government, moreover, is vehemently opposed to the YPG/PKK and, more generally, to any expansion of the Kurdish regional footprint. The Turks present problems in their own right, beginning with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing autocracy. The country is a safe haven for numerous bad actors, from senior Hamas operatives to al Qaeda figures, and has been the main jihadist pipeline into Syria.

Throughout all of this, Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime remains a power in Syria. Without the support of Iran and Russia, Assad would long since have been sent to the gallows. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have been deployed to Syria on behalf of the butcher of Damascus, and today Assad is safer than he has been in years. If Obama had acted more urgently in 2011 when Assad first started his campaign of mass murder, the region and Europe—which has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees—might look much different today. There is no serious effort, U.S.-led or otherwise, to hold Assad accountable for his crimes. While it is tempting to suggest that wholesale regime change should be America’s policy in Syria, only naïve ideologues could overlook the fact that Sunni jihadists are the strongest force opposed to Assad.

The U.S. focus on fighting the Islamic State has obscured another problematic development: the rise of al Qaeda in Syria. In the first three weeks of 2017, the Defense Department launched airstrikes it says “killed more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists” in Syria. One target was the Shaykh Sulayman training camp, which has been operational since at least 2013. More than 100 al Qaeda fighters were killed in that attack alone. Al Qaeda has also built up al-Nusra Front, which Brett McGurk, whom Obama appointed as special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS in 2015, has described before the Senate as al Qaeda’s “largest formal affiliate in history.” U.S. officials estimate that al-Nusra has amassed at least 10,000 fighters.

Between September 2014 and December 2016, the Obama administration launched repeated drone strikes against individual al Qaeda terrorists residing in Syria. But they were not as significant as the bombings in January. The bulk of al-Nusra’s forces, which now fight under the name of the Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant, long went untouched, and, though they are battling both Assad and Iran’s Shiite militiamen, no American ally is currently fighting this group on the ground.

YEMEN AND SOMALIA

When President Obama announced his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in September 2014, he said it would mirror his administration’s efforts in Yemen and Somalia. Within months, the Yemen plan was a shambles.

The U.S. government had been relying on Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government, supported by targeted drone strikes and Special Forces operations, to suppress Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But in January 2015, Hadi was forced into exile when Houthi rebels stormed the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The Houthis adhere to their own peculiar brand of Shia Islam and opposed the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. They have been cultivated by Tehran, which views them as an ally against Saudi Arabia. While the Houthis are not a purebred Iranian terrorist organization like Hezbollah, they are increasingly anti-American, even firing missiles at U.S. ships off the coast of Yemen. They draw crucial support from former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was pushed aside in 2011 during the Arab Spring. Saleh wants to reclaim power, and he has cut a deal with the Houthis, previously his foes, in an attempt to get it.

AQAP is a major force in Yemen. The group took advantage of the Houthi offensive against Hadi to claim parts of southern Yemen. After the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis intervened in 2016, AQAP’s forces melted away, declaring it was better to leave Yemen’s more urban areas intact rather than raze them in a bloody intra-Arab fight. The jihadists lived to fight another day.

The Trump administration has already stepped up the air campaign in Yemen. The United States launched more than 80 airstrikes against AQAP between January and May. The previous high was 41 bombings in all of 2009. President Trump has also approved riskier operations. One Special Forces raid in January gained notoriety for the death of a Navy SEAL in an intense firefight at an AQAP compound, which also led to numerous civilian casualties.

America’s chief partners in the Yemen fight, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are focused on hitting the Houthis and reinstalling Hadi in power. But AQAP also fights the Houthis, which makes for uncomfortable bedfellows. Hadi’s men are also sometimes AQAP’s battlefield allies. Meanwhile, no ground force is significantly opposing AQAP. The UAE does have troops who skirmish with them, but such clashes are so far minor. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Saudi Arabia is widely accused of carrying out indiscriminate bombing raids.

The troubles in Somalia are similar to those in Yemen. The African Union Mission in Somalia and government forces are struggling to contain al Shabaab, the local al Qaeda branch. Earlier this month, a Navy SEAL died in a battle with the group—the first American killed in combat in Somalia since the “Black Hawk Down” episode of 1993. Under Obama, American service members were to “advise, assist, and occasionally accompany regional forces.” In late March, Trump approved a plan that allows them to “provide additional precision fires in support of” our local allies. American service members are going to be called upon to do more in Somalia.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

In late April, Asim Umar, the head of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, released a provocative message. In it, he asked, “What is becoming of that very America?” and took direct aim at Trump’s foreign policy. “America is not only fleeing from Afghanistan, but with the jihadist strikes conducted against it by the sons of the Muslim ummah, inshaAllah, inshaAllah, it will also flee from, and give up the leadership of the world. The ‘America first’ slogan is the first step.”

Umar detected the problem in Trump’s “America first” rhetoric: It is not clear that there is any difference between putting American interests first and retreating from our preeminent position around the globe. It is striking that Umar sees the Trump doctrine as the “first step” to the demise of American “leadership of the world.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The new president is right when he says he “inherited a mess.” He can begin to fix it by setting the record straight with the American people. We are still fighting a global war against jihadism. Al Qaeda is very much alive and, contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions, remains an international organization active on multiple continents. While the Islamic State has taken its lumps, it is not close to a total defeat. Today’s enemies may not possess the industrial might and war machines of yesterday’s foes, but they are persistent and committed to an anti-American ideology we cannot afford to ignore.

Trump and his advisers can explain why Afghanistan—the original 9/11 war—remains an essential fight. The 9/11 hijackings were launched from Afghan soil, and an American retreat in Afghanistan would be a clear victory for the Taliban-al Qaeda axis. Obama’s total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 proved disastrous, and a replay of that scenario in South Asia—where Pakistan, the only nuclear-armed state infested with jihadists, is located—could be worse. Trump should quickly approve the McMaster plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. They will not win the war, but they can stem the tide of the jihadists’ advance. The Trump administration wants our NATO allies to step up their commitments. NATO follows America’s lead, not the other way around.

The multi-sided proxy wars in Iraq and Syria are a terrifying mess. During a press briefing on May 19, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the American strategy, on its present course, would “annihilate” the Islamic State. Mattis praised President Trump for delegating more authority to his military commanders and for blessing a plan to surround “the enemy in their strongholds” and prevent “the return home of escaped foreign fighters.” The previous week, during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats sounded less optimistic. He warned that the Islamic State would maintain “enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan [terrorist] attacks in the region and internationally” for the foreseeable future.

In other words, the U.S. intelligence community is not expecting the defeat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s enterprise anytime soon. America’s allies are moving slowly in Syria. In Iraq, we have already witnessed how quickly jihadists can rebound from a defeat. To make matters worse, no American-backed force is ready to move on al Qaeda’s strongholds in northwestern Syria. Iran has used the war against the Islamic State to pursue its long-term objective of becoming the regional hegemon, expanding its footprint in Iraq, Syria, and beyond. The president should have the U.S. military developing aggressive options for fighting the jihadists in Iraq and Syria and for maintaining our position as the chief regional broker.

Speaking before the National Governors Association on February 27, President Trump reminisced about the good old days as he remembers them. “We have to start winning wars again,” he said. “I have to say, when I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say ‘we haven’t lost a war’—we never lost a war—you remember.” Trump pointed out that “now we never win a war.” “We never win,” he reiterated. “And we don’t fight to win. We don’t fight to win. So we either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.” He then complained about the vast sums spent fighting in the Middle East since 2001.

The jihadists believe, as al Qaeda’s Asim Umar said earlier this month, that eventually America won’t fight at all. The president of the United States can prove them wrong.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

 

UTT Special Report: U.S. Submits to Islam

Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, May 25, 2017:

Not understanding the Global Islamic Movement and what drives its actions is the reason America lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Since 9/11, military generals, Presidents, National Security Advisors, Members of Congress, and others have been too busy to stop and actually do what the law and their Oath of Office require them to do – know all enemies or do due diligence to know all enemies.  You cannot “protect and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic” if you do not do this.

Last weekend, May 21, 2017, the President of the United States participated in a “Summit” in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia speaking to the leaders of every muslim nation on earth, except Iran, about how to deal with the growing threat of “terrorism.”

When this event is viewed from the perspective of the Islam, the United States submitted to the objectives of the Global Islamic Movement in this current phase of their efforts.

In order to understand the magnitude of this, the language used in this summit must be understood the way the muslim world understands it through the filter of sharia – which is the only source through which Islamic leaders understand anything.

We know this because Kings and Heads of State of all OIC nations were present at the summit when the King of Saudi Arabia spoke.  The OIC – Organisation (sic) of Islamic Cooperation – is the largest international organization in the world second only to the UN, consists of all muslim nations on earth, and is the largest voting block in the UN. The OIC holds Extraordinary Summits every three (3) years at which the Heads of State and Kings of every muslim nation meet and decide strategic directions for the muslim world. In 1990, the OIC Extraordinary Summit approved the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.”  It states, in part, life cannot be taken “except for a Shari’ah prescribed reason,” and goes on to say in Article 19, “There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for a in the Shari’ah.”

Finally, the last two articles of the Cairo Declaration, Articles 24 and 25 state:

“All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.” (Article 24)

“The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.” (Article 25)

The Cairo Declaration was officially served to the UN by the OIC in 1993. This means the entire world was put on notice in 1993 that when leaders of the muslim world use the phrase “Human Rights” they mean “the imposition of sharia law,” and sharia is the only filter through which they understand the language they use when discussing any issues.

In his speech, which preceded President Trump’s comments, Saudi King Salman made many references to “terrorism” and “extremism” and the need to eradicate it from the planet.  Specifically, he said the world must  “stand united to fight the forces of evil and extremism whatever their sources are in response to the dictates of our Islamic religion…Terrorism is a result of extremism.”

When muslim leaders use words, those words must be understood as they are defined in Islam, not as they are understood in the West.  “Terrorism” is defined in Islam as “killing a muslim without right.” Under sharia muslims may be killed if they apostasize from Islam, kill another muslim without right, or if they violate any other law under sharia for which there is a capital crime. Otherwise, to kill a muslim is to be a “terrorist.”  “Extremism” in Islam is to exceed ones ability – to move the Islamic Movement ahead too quickly, thus putting the muslim ummah (global muslim community) in danger because this risks losing muslims who do not understand their duties under sharia and exposing Islam’s true intentions to the non-muslim community thus bringing violence upon muslims – terrorism.

Saudi King Salman spoke at the summit yet he sent two messages:  one for the muslims and one for the non-muslims.  Americans and the rest of the non-muslim world heard the King say he is going to eradicate “terrorists” from the planet and thought he was talking about ISIS and Al Qaeda.  The muslim world heard that the United States was providing hundreds of millions of dollars and weapons to support the Islamic world’s effort to destroy anything on the planet that stands in the way of the complete implementation of sharia – a command from Allah in the command and reflected in the words and actions of Islam’s prophet Mohammad.

Therefore, since President Trump has already killed muslims without right under sharia by ordering the U.S. military to launch strikes against Syria and elsewhere, Islam views him as a “terrorist,” and the Saudi King is speaking about the U.S. President and the United States when he says “Terrorism” must be eradicated.  The Saudi King was not referring to muslims who bomb an arena in Manchester, England or kill Americans in an Orlando, Florida bar or muslims who fight on battlefields in Iraq or Afghanistan when he uses the word “terrorist.”

Understanding this necessarily completely changes America’s perspective of what took place in Saudi Arabia last weekend.  The President of the United States is being given counsel and advice from U.S. officials who appear to lack any understanding of any of this, which will lead America’s to defeat.

Exactly the Islamic world’s objective.

For UTT’s complete analysis of the speeches by King Salman and President Trump please click HERE.

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Also see: UTT Victory in Arizona and help to bring this training to your town.

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Stealth jihadists use language deceptively. Learn the definitions of Islamic terms here: Islam’s Deceptive Use of Western Terminology

Trump’s ‘Principled Realism’ Is Not Very Realistic about Islam

The principal fiction in the president’s speech in Saudi Arabia was the claim that we share ‘common values’ with the sharia society.

National Review, by Andrew C. McCarthy, May 22, 2017:

So for what exactly is the “extreme vetting” going to vet?

That was the question I could not shake from my mind while listening to President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to dozens of Sunni Islamic leaders and a global television audience.

There were certainly some positives in the president’s rhetoric. Trump did not cite American policy or “arrogance” as a contributory cause of jihadist savagery, as President Obama was wont to do. He was less delusional about the splendor of Islam than were Obama and President George W. Bush. Gone were absurd inflations of Islam’s historical achievements and place in the American fabric; gone were allusions to the “religion of peace and love.” In their place was an acknowledgment that Islam is besieged by a “crisis” of terror that is engulfing the world, a crisis that is ideological in nature and that only Muslims themselves can solve.

All true. Nevertheless, the theme that came through the speech is that terrorism is something that happens to Islam, rather than something that happens because of Islam. That is simply not the case, even though it is true, as Trump asserted, that the vast majority of those killed by Muslim terrorists are themselves Muslims.

There is thus a good deal that is not real about “Principled Realism,” Trump’s name for what he heralds as a new American strategy — “new approaches informed by experience and judgment,” a “discarding” of strategies “that have not worked.”

The principal fiction in “principled realism” is that we share “common values” with Sunni Arab sharia societies. That is problematic because these purported “common values” — in conjunction with “shared interests” — are said to be the roots of Trump’s approach.

The president stressed that during his first overseas trip as president, he would be “visiting many of the holiest places in the three Abrahamic faiths.” The irony was palpable, at least to some of us. Trump is not visiting the holiest places of Islam.

Yes, upon departing Saudi Arabia, he headed to Israel where he prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In the offing is a jaunt to Rome, to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis. But for all the treacle about “why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation [Saudi Arabia] that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic faith,” Trump sidestepped the fact that he is not welcome in those two sites, Mecca and Medina.

Why? Because the president is a non-Muslim. Non-Muslims are not allowed to step their infidel feet in Islam’s sacred cities.

That iteration of Islamic intolerance is squarely based on scripture — see, e.g., the Koran’s Sura 9:28: “Oh you who believe! Truly the idolaters are unclean, so let them not, after this year, approach the sacred mosque” — a verse that specifically relates to the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Makkah), and has been extended by Islamic scholars to Medina. That is why Trump’s House of Saud hosts enforce a ban on entry by non-Muslims to both cities.

I say that this ban is just one “iteration of Islamic intolerance” for two reasons.

First, there are many other iterations. Scripturally based Islamic doctrine systematically discriminates against non-Muslims in many particulars, and against women in many others. Since Trump’s “principled realism” is said to be rooted in “common values,” it might be worth a gander at the guidance Trump’s State Department provides to Americans pondering a trip to the kingdom:

Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, subject to physical punishments, or even executed. Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs in Saudi Arabia are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and/or deportation. The penalty for drug trafficking is death . . .

Faith-Based Travelers: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam, religious figures, or the royal family.

The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed. Church services in private homes have been raided, and participants have been jailed.

Muslims who do not adhere to the strict interpretations of Islam prevalent in much of Saudi Arabia frequently encounter societal discrimination and constraints on worship.

Public display of non-Islamic religious articles, such as crosses and Bibles, is not permitted.

[And, of course . . .] Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where two of Islam’s holiest mosques are located . . .

LGBTI Travelers: Same-sex sexual relations, even when they are consensual, are criminalized in Saudi Arabia. Violations of Saudi laws governing perceived expressions of, or support for, same sex sexual relations, including on social media, may be subject to severe punishment. Potential penalties include fines, jail time, or death.

The State Department guidance suggests that readers consult the International Religious Freedom Report produced in 2015 by State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. It relates the brutal punishments meted out by some Islamic countries — not jihadist organizations, but governments in Muslim-majority countries — for blasphemy and apostasy. The paragraph on the Kingdom is worth reading:

In Saudi Arabia, media and local sources reported that the General Court in Abha sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy in November, overturning a previous sentence of four years’ imprisonment and 800 lashes (the death sentence was subsequently overturned in February 2016 and a sentence of eight years’ imprisonment and 800 lashes imposed). Officials from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice initially arrested Fayadh in August 2013, after reports that he had made disparaging remarks about Islam. In a separate incident in January, authorities publicly lashed Raif Badawi 50 times in accordance with a sentence based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols on the Internet.

This is why, watching Trump and his senior aides prance about the palace in Riyadh, doing “the sword dance” with their fellow male revelers, I couldn’t help but wonder if they realized how often their host regime uses the scimitars to carry out beheadings for violations of Islamic law. There were 153 decapitations last year and 158 in 2015.

It is worth emphasizing: That is not something that was done by ISIS for violations of sharia. It was done by the government of Saudi Arabia for violations of sharia.

Which brings us to the second reason why Islamic intolerance must be noted in our consideration of “principled realism”: That intolerance is the foundation of “extremism,” the studiously unexamined term Trump now applies to jihadist terrorism, just as Obama and Bush did before him.

There was much ado in the lead up and delivery of Trump’s speech regarding how he would describe the phenomenon he labeled “radical Islamic terrorism” throughout the 2016 campaign — ridiculing the craven political correctness of rivals who shied away from this terminology. As with much else Trump said on the hustings, the label is the subject of intense infighting in his administration.

Reflecting the view of former military commanders who serve in the administration’s top ranks (and who carried out Bush’s “Islamic democracy” building and Obama’s embrace of our Islamic “partners”), national-security adviser H. R. McMaster is said to be repulsed by the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” apparently seeing it as needlessly provocative. Other Trump strategists, who supported the campaign’s promise to be unflinching in illustrating the nexus between Islamic scripture and Muslim terrorism, strongly favor the term. Trump, who simultaneously wants (a) profitable relations with the Saudis, (b) the refutation of claims that he is anti-Muslim, and (c) credit for being honest about the connection between Islam and terror, seems torn.

The intramural squabble was evident during the speech. As prepared, the text had the president calling for “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires” (emphasis added). But when he actually delivered his remarks, Trump departed from the script, speaking instead of “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.”

An unidentified aide insisted to the New York Times that the president was “exhausted” and simply misspoke when he invoked “Islamic.” To the contrary, I believe he is struggling to resolve this tension. As I pointed out prior to his inauguration, however, it is unclear that Trump grasps why the tension is significant: For him, it may reflect concern over the inevitable criticism if he abandons hot campaign rhetoric, not over whether the distinction between Islamic and Islamist is viable.

We draw this distinction out of a conviction that Islam the religion should not be confounded with Islamism the political ideology. This conviction may be more a matter of wishful thinking than anything that can be called “realism.” That is manifest when we review the afore-described State Department guidance. Intolerance of non-Muslims and subjugation of women is not a reflection of jihadist “extremism”; it is mainstream Islam as practiced and codified in sharia societies.

So here is the problem: The definition of “extremism” that Trump’s “principled realism” sets itself against is artificial and incoherent. It is true, of course, that not all Muslims who support the intolerance rooted in Islamic doctrine and expressed by the policies of majority-Muslim regimes will become violent jihadists. Nonetheless, violent jihad is a natural progression from that intolerance. Yet Trump’s “principled realism” holds that the American people and sharia societies share “common values” that will cause the latter to fight jihadism.

How could anyone believe this is the case unless he is willfully blind to how the kingdom is governed, the longstanding support Saudis have provided for terrorism, and the number of Saudis complicit in anti-American terrorism? Trump is trying to have it both ways: acknowledge that the threat is ideological (and demand plaudits for brave political incorrectness in doing so), but pretend that the violent aspects of the ideology can be — indeed, have been — compartmentalized from the intolerant dehumanization of non-Muslims at the core of the ideology.

If this is Trump’s position, then why all the fuss about “extreme vetting”?

If you are myopically focused on terrorism, you are missing most of the challenge posed by sharia encroachment.

The imperative to enhance the vetting process for people trying to enter the U.S. from hotbeds of radical Islam was a major plank of the Trump campaign. It is the eventual goal hovering over disputes over temporary travel bans the president has tried to impose since the start of his administration. But does anyone remember the objective of “extreme vetting”? It was to bar entry to those adherent to the ideology (which I prefer to call “sharia supremacism”) that promotes not just terrorism but anti-Americanism and anti-constitutionalism. Our immigration law already vets for ties to terrorism.

In his “principled realism” speech, however, the president takes the position that we’re only concerned about violence. “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do,” he says. Our “goal is . . . to conquer extremism” — a term the president narrows to mean terrorism — lest he insult his “gracious hosts.” If you are myopically focused on terrorism, however, you are missing most of the challenge posed by sharia encroachment. Jihadist terror is not pointless; its purpose is to impose sharia — a version of it similar to what the Saudis enforce.

The president is up in a balloon because, as he explained in his speech, he has “signed historic agreements with the Kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.” Perhaps his strategists could inform the president that when Saudi Arabia invests in America, the result invariably includes the construction of schools and mosques that propagate the ideology that causes the State Department to issue the travel guidance outlined above. (See, e.g., my 2010 profile of the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Virginia.)

According to the president, “principled realism” is based not only on purported “common values” but also “shared interests.” That does make sense. The Trump administration is returning American foreign policy to its pre-Obama orientation against the Shiite jihadist regime in Iran. The Sunni states also oppose Iran. That is the “shared interest.” It is a significant area of agreement, but a narrow one. We should not delude ourselves into thinking it signifies “common values.”

In a passage that could as easily have been spoken by President Bush, and probably even by President Obama, President Trump asserted:

This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between Good and Evil [capitalization in White House-issued text].

So we’re back to the question whether Islam has anything to do with Islamist (or Islamic) terrorism.

I’ll take it from the Saudi perspective. Let’s say, as the president does, that we are truly engaged in a battle between good and evil. When you read the State Department’s guidance regarding travel to Saudi Arabia — guidance that is necessary because of the way the Saudi government treats non-Muslims, women, apostates, and homosexuals — do you suppose the Saudis and their Sunni confederates see the United States as the “good” or the “evil” side?

President Trump is banking on the former. I’m not.

7 Moments from Trump’s Speech in Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in Saudi Arabia (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, May 22, 2017:

President Trump’s brazen speech in Saudi Arabia is being praised from (almost) all quarters. Its powerful moments will be remembered for years and will reverberate throughout the Middle East. But no speech is perfect.

Here are seven moments from the speech, starting with what may be the closest President Trump may come to having his “Tear Down This Wall” moment:

  1. It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.
    A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.
     DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.
    DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.
    DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and
    DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.
    This is strongest statement towards the Muslim world uttered by an American president since 9/11 and perhaps in history. These words—and the Trumpian delivery of them—will be remembered for years to come. While eloquent words favored by speechwriters and high-brow elites are usually forgotten, these won’t be.There are also two clear sub-messages: One, that the Muslim world is not adequately “driving them out,” meaning, the Islamists still thrive in mosques, holy lands (which would include Saudi Arabia) and Muslim communities. The enemy are not fringe, undetectable loners. Secondly, don’t outsource your responsibility for this to America.

    We won’t let you scapegoat us and have us respond by apologizing for the grievances you use to excuse yourself from responsibility. This is your problem: Own it.

  2. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED. This is another strike in the ideological war where the Trumpian way of speaking is powerful, especially when you consider how accustomed the Middle East is to the softer diplomatic tone of the West in contrast to the fiery hyperbole that is common place in that part of the world.Trump recognized something crucial: The enemy believes it is pious and is impacted by religious teaching from authoritative figures. It’s not about anger over foreign policy or joblessness or lack of education. It’s about piety and a belief that dying in jihad is a guaranteed ticket to Paradise.
  3. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians.

    Most of the speech used vague, relative terms like “terrorism” and “extremism.” The focus was almost entirely on ISIS and Iran. But then came this paragraph. President Trump identified the enemy not just as Islamist terrorist groups, but the Islamist extremism foundation necessary for those groups to manifest.Of special note is the line about “persecution of Jews.” This was not stated with some moral equivalence about how Israel shares blame for stifling the nationalist aspirations of Palestinians. No, Trump identified anti-Semitism as a central problem outside of the context of Israel. That omission is powerful.The identification of the enemy as Islamist extremism is refreshing, but as Dr. Daniel Pipes points out, “one statement does not a policy make.” Even Obama uttered the word “jihadist” on a few rare occasions.

    The framing of the enemy as Islamism should have been the focal point of the speech, rather than waiting until the middle and the end to use the term. What should have followed was a strategy, with the sticks and carrots, to uproot the sustainers of the ideology so it dissipates into history. A question is left hanging, “Now what? What changes?”

  4. The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and so many others must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams.

    The inclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah in this section is very significant. It wasn’t a call for Hamas and Hezbollah to drop terrorism to achieve their goals, as if they are freedom fighters gone astray.The argument wasn’t that their actions are counterproductive: It was that their very existence has sabotaged a potentially promising future from the people of the Middle East—not just Palestinians and Lebanese, but everyone. Again he framed the issue not as a consequence of Israel, thus negating claims of Hamas and Hezbollah of being “liberation” movements.

  5. The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance. Just imagine what tomorrow could bring.This is a call for a reformation into modernity (as opposed to the “reformation” offered by the Islamist movements). President Obama acknowledged this necessity—but he did it in an interview, not in a historical speech to the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia.Ideally, Trump would have given a little more time to describe what is holding back this renaissance beyond a generic attribution to “extremism.” He should have taken a queue from Egyptian President El-Sisi and consulted with progressive Muslim reformers.

    Trump called for “gradual change,” but failed to mention freedom, even gradually-granted freedom. His team likely worried that the mention of freedom would be interpreted as a synonym for democracy promotion, but caveats could have addressed that. This renaissance and rolling back of Islamism will require greater political and religious freedom, and acknowledging so does not make one an advocate of hasty destabilizations.

  6. Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.President Obama’s attitude towards Iran unnerved our Sunni Arab partners in the region. The heavy focus on Iran should help address that, but the fixation on the Iranian regime seemed to echo the Saudi line that Iran is responsible for practically all of the terrorism and extremism in the region. This let the Sunni side of radical Islam get off easy.The statement about hoping for a better government for the Iranian people is positive, as it at least welcomes regime change.However, it does not signal an American commitment to regime change in Iran or even regime destabilization. President Trump’s opposition to regime change is clear. To the ears of skeptical Iranians seeking freedom, this will sound like another investment in the hope that the Iranian  “moderates” in the regime can slowly gain support in the theocratic system.
  7. The Sunni governments got off easy.If you listened to the Saudi king’s speech before Trump’s—where he said sharia protects innocent life and promotes peace and tolerance [basically engaging in dawa (proselytizing) to the world] — you’d see that he was one small step from declaring an American-Sunni jihad on Iran. It gave the impression that the Saudis saw the words of the speech as relating to ISIS and Iran alone, not holding them accountable.Based on the way Trump talked about the Saudis, you would have thought they were modern day Minutemen in need of a motivational speech. I shared Dr. Daniel Pipes’ reaction of “gagging” at the praise he gave to King Salman, who is known to have directly financed jihadists.The massive sale of arms to the Saudis was described as “blessed,” as if God’s hand had arranged and approved of the transfer. The Saudis’ opening of a Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology was praised as “groundbreaking,” even though we’ve heard this story over and over and have no details with which to judge it as “groundbreaking” or not. At this point, it’s more like the wolf guarding the hen house.Qatar and Kuwait, two major financiers of Islamist terrorism and extremism, were praised shortly before Trump praised the Gulf Cooperation Council for blocking terror-financing.

Overall, the speech had tremendous moments, with important subtleties that are important to notice. But the speech was not a launch of an ideological war against Islamism. While it was a great call to action, it was not a plan of action. If this speech is to produce concrete results, the declaration of a bold plan of action must soon follow.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, please contact us.