Redefining the battle against terrorists
Identifying the enemy will prevent them from getting U.S. arms
One of the hallmarks of the 2016 presidential campaign was Donald Trump’s insistence on being honest about the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s a phrase that President Obama refused to speak, preferring the euphemism “violent extremism.” Hillary Clinton muttered the taboo expression half-heartedly only after Mr. Trump shamed her into it. Actually, I reject the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” as it implies there is some “moderate” form of Islamic terrorism. There isn’t.
The Obama-Clinton disdain for naming the real enemy allowed them to pretend that the Islamic State (ISIS) was the only problem in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, groups with an identical jihad ideology got a pass. Al Qaeda was barely mentioned. Arms continued to flow via Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to a rogues gallery of supposed “moderates” — Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, the Free Idlib Army and the Islamic Front. These jihadists operate mainly in alliance with al Qaeda, but sometimes with ISIS.
President Trump’s administration shows signs of translating ideological clarity into military action. The noose is tightening around the ISIS, with the fall of Mosul to U.S.-supported Iraqi and Iranian militia forces in sight. The stage is being set for a U.S.-Kurdish offensive to take Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. American-led coalition airstrikes are hitting al Qaeda and its “moderate” terrorist allies in Syria’s Idlib province.
This is being done quietly, without the bluster that characterized the Obama policy. Like Mr. Trump said, you don’t show the enemy your game plan. This discretion was certainly on display with the recent cruise missile strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase near the city of Homs. It was from this base that Syrian aircraft took off to deliver a deadly chemical attack against its own people.
Congress is late in catching up with military realities. But that is beginning to change as well. Two items deserve particular mention.
First, Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, last month introduced H.J.Res. 89, an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, plus “successor organizations and associated forces.” This means the jihadists we are fighting right now, under whatever name they try to hide.
When, in 2015, Mr. Obama asked for a new AUMF to replace the outdated one enacted in 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, congressional Republicans rightfully turned him down. They knew they couldn’t trust him.
Now things are different. Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomes a new AUMF that fits the real war that needs to be fought: “I think not only would it be a sign of the American people’s resolve, truly I think our men and women would benefit from an authorization for the use of military force that would let them know that the American people, in the form of their Congress, were fully supportive of what they’re doing out there every day as they put their lives in harm’s way.” Destroying ISIS