By Jennifer Rubin
Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. (Associated Press)
The Associated Press reports, “The Senate has moved ahead on a sweeping, $612 billion defense policy bill despite a presidential veto threat. The vote Tuesday was 73-26, 13 votes more than necessary to break any filibuster. The Senate is expected to pass the measure Wednesday and send it to President Barack Obama.” The implications of this are threefold.
First, as we have observed, the president was attempting to hold the defense budget hostage to demands for more domestic spending, an unprecedented political intrusion into national security during a time of war. The bipartisan repudiation of that approach speaks well of the prospects for more bipartisan cooperation in Congress. We saw 25 House and four Senate Democrats cross over to vote with Republicans against the Iran deal, which looks even worse in retrospect given Russian and Iranian moves into Syria. Democrats are now scrambling for cover on Iran and voicing concern about our anemic approach to fighting the Islamic State. And now Hillary Clinton is breaking with the president in calling for a no-fly zone over Syria. Perhaps we are arriving at some bipartisan consensus on national security, namely that Obama’s policies and judgment are deeply flawed.
Second, while the additional defense spending is welcome, it does not match our national security threats, which are still increasing. In his monthly threat assessment, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) finds:
Concerted efforts to stem the flow of Americans and others traveling to join jihadists overseas have largely failed. The House Homeland Security Committee’s bipartisan Foreign Fighter Task Force found that authorities have only managed to stop a tiny fraction of the hundreds of aspiring U.S. jihadists from leaving the country to join terrorists abroad. Moreover, the U.S. government lacks a strategy for combating terrorist travel, and glaring security gaps overseas are putting the American homeland in danger.
Despite a year of airstrikes, the United States and its allies have failed to rollback ISIS. In fact, the group has largely maintained its core terrorist safe haven while expanding its global footprint. ISIS kept its grip on Iraq’s Anbar province as the counter-offensive to take back the key city of Ramadi was put on “operational pause.” Its affiliates in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and the Caucasus showed their growing strength by launching attacks or targeting local security forces over the past month.
ISIS’s global campaign has fueled attacks against Western targets at an unprecedented pace. As of early October, the group has inspired or directed 61 terror attack plots against Western targets, including 17 in the United States. There have been more than twice as many ISIS-linked attack plots against Western targets in 2015 (41) than in 2014 (20). Now officials have expressed concern that ISIS may be exploiting refugee flows to enter the West undetected.
The homegrown Islamist extremist threat in the United States has escalated dramatically this year. There have been more U.S.-based jihadist terror cases in 2015 than in any full year since 9/11. The number of U.S. terrorist cases involving homegrown Islamist extremists has gone from 38 in July 2010 to 127 today—more than a three-fold increase in just five years...
Islamist terrorists have gained adherents, money, confidence and territory under the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy. This will — and it should — be a major issue in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
Third, Congress may well take a more active role during the balance of the Obama term. The Hill reports today, for example, “About two dozen Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday sent President Obama a letter urging him to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016. The letter, led by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), comes as the White House deliberates the pace of the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country and ahead of a committee hearing with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, on Thursday.” Congress is also likely to act on Iran, extending existing sanctions and/or passing new ones.
Hawkish repudiation of Obama’s foreign policy is unfortunate for the former secretary of state (and if he runs, Vice President Joe Biden), whose biggest “accomplishment” can rightly be seen as making the United States less safe and respected.