Addressing terrorism: what’s the plan?

Above image: President Obama, the First Lady, and Cuban President Castro observe moment of silence for victims of Brussels terrorist attack

What’s the plan?

The following is a news commentary

In early 2014, I was in a small meeting with a high-ranking Obama administration official who was involved in counterterrorism. When asked, he made several candid assertions:

  • Al-Qaeda was never on the run. The President’s terrorism experts never told him it was. They were mystified by his 2012 campaign claims that seemed to the contrary.
  • Al-Qaeda and related terrorists had vastly expanded to other nations and grown more powerful during President Obama’s tenure.
  • The wave of terrorist violence had spread from the Mideast to North Africa and would next hit Europe, then the U.S. The official said this matter-of-factly, with no visible sense of urgency or distress, as if a fait accompli.
  • The terrorists, he acknowledged, had a better and more developed strategy than did the U.S. In fact, he said the U.S. did not have a strategy for addressing the terrorist threat.

In the two years since that conversation, the official’s predictions about terror spreading to Europe and then the U.S. have come to pass. ISIS has emerged as a driving force. And most Americans would say there’s still no discernible plan.

The debates over securing the border and tightening the screening of immigrants are an outgrowth of the absence of a national plan. In order to feel a sense of security, Americans need to believe there’s a cohesive strategy with stated goals and explicit tactics. We don’t need to know all the fine points. Sensitive tactical details, for example, should be protected. But we should be able to understand how our leaders are using their authority and our billions of tax dollars to protect us. What’s the plan?


March 2016 Brussels terrorist suspects

In the defense of this (or any) administration, it’s the most difficult plan to devise. It’s hard to imagine a more daunting task than defeating terrorist fighters who play by no rules; while the U.S. is bound by ethics, politics, guidelines and international agreements. And there’s little disincentive for Islamic extremists to join the jihad. After all, what’s the worst that can happen to these barbaric fighters who may come from primitive and destitute circumstances? They get captured by the U.S. and get a better way of life: three meals a day, a roof over their head, a shirt on their back, security, interrogation that promises not to get too tough, free health care and American advocates who will fight to make sure they have recreation, literature and religious expression.

Yet the academic and military discussions about strategy to date have been a source of confusion rather than clarity. The administration may say it’s not changing strategy while the military says it is. At best, the expressed “battle plans” are piecemeal. We’re working to retake cities we already once controlled…but walked away from? Then what? What’s the plan?

President Obama in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF)

President Obama in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF)

The conundrum evokes complaints from Vietnam War-era soldiers who said they never really knew what they were doing. They would battle to the death to take a village or a hill, then be ordered to simply walk away from it a few days later, relinquishing it back to the enemy. What was the plan?

It reminds me of the border. While some politicians claim the southern U.S. border is secure, federal and local law enforcement who are there say that couldn’t be farther from the truth. They insist there’s no will or leadership from Washington to bring the border under control, and no strategy to do so. In fact, the only strategy they can verbalize, when asked, is the one they infer: to be as lax as possible in policing the border and enforcing immigration law. What’s the plan?

We’re left with presidential candidates who have attempted to put plan to paper. Because of her experience and knowledge, Hillary Clinton may seem best positioned to verbalize a clear strategy. Yet as secretary of state, her own miscalculations arguably hastened the rise of ISIS from the ashes of Libya. Her emails from the time confirm that she took the lead in aggressively pursuing the poorly-conceived ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi without foreseeing the vacuum it would create. In its wake: the tragedy of Benghazi, and the transformation of Libya into a new proving ground for Islamic extremists. It doesn’t inspire confidence that a Clinton leadership would competently address what she failed to foresee as a top Obama official. On the other hand, it could be argued that mistakes of the past provide important lessons for those open to learning from them.

Hillary Clinton as secretary of state

Hillary Clinton as secretary of state

There’s little doubt that, left its own devices, the world’s strongest military and best intelligence structure could do much better. But they’re hampered by the growing list of what we won’t do.

We won’t secure our southern border that FBI and Homeland Security officials have warned terrorists seek to exploit.

We won’t tighten up visa and immigration security because of the special interests who would cry racism.

We won’t send more terrorists captured in the field to Guantanamo Bay, lest we be criticized.

We won’t question detainees harshly to get information; that’s viewed as inhumane.

We won’t bomb targets in a way that may hurt a civilian or destroy assets. Obviously, the enemy has thus learned to live and work among civilians.

We’re told to report suspicions by the same authorities that view suspicion as racist.

In short, we’ve been convinced that we’re disallowed from taking most any action that would be logical or effective in protecting ourselves. That’s not to argue that all or even one of these specific measures should be taken. But the fact is, more Americans can probably cite the list of things we won’t do; it would be helpful for us to understand what we will do.

It’s an arduous question. But answering it is under the purview of our chosen leaders. What’s the plan?

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10 Responses to “Addressing terrorism: what’s the plan?”

  1. Curtis Matsune
    March 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    Very cogent and well-stated analysis. Regarding Secretary Clinton, she does indeed have the resume to ostensibly be in the best position to handle this particular issue, particularly if as mentioned she has learned from her past mistakes. However, there are two significant attributes she demonstrably lacks: statesmanship and candor. She is known to be a petty autocrat prone to outbursts of unconstrained anger at the smallest of perceived slights, or at times for nothing at all. And her problems with the truth are the stuff of legend. Legend that continues to be made this very day; this very moment in fact. Which pretty much ensures that she will never be open to learning from her past mistakes.

    • Danny P. Radcliff
      March 29, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Clinton helped create the mess in the Middle East–is that what puts her in “the best position” to handle” the “issue”? The Arab Spring, that resulted from the fall of every dictator and rise of terrorist replacement leadership all across the ME happened under her “statesmanship”.

      Obama calls ISIS ISIL. There is a reason for that. He basically is stating the Levant or caliphate is here–already exists. That is Clinton’s legacy as Secretary of State. And you think her lack of “candor” is her primary failing?

      I suppose her exposing our nation’s secrets (Top Secret/SCI and Special Access Program material) just so she could avoid FOIA requests makes her Presidential material?

      Learning from past mistakes is what lead to her “private server”. She saw what happened to Nixon–she was there. No way was there going to be a paper trail left behind this time. Even if that meant lost lives, lost treasure, lost capabilities due to the massive leak caused by her criminally negligent use of a private server to conduct state business.

      You want to read a “very cogent and well-stated analysis” on addressing terrorism–read this:

      • Jamewsyontrofsky
        April 3, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

        Chillingly accurate on every point. Well said Danny P. Radcliff.

  2. Jennifer
    March 27, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    Why has the Obama administration recieved a complete pass on this from most media? Shouldn’t they be helping formulate some sort of outcry as he continues to do nothing? Instead, most are in lockstep with him, pushing that list of “what we don’t do” as you mentioned. Don’t the individuals in the media, who I assume are somewhat normal people (even if partisan) who want to be alive?

  3. Tom Bowler
    April 2, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    Well said.

  4. Scot
    April 2, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Sharyl,

    Let me know if I can help with the moderation of my comment.


  5. Jamesyontrofsky
    April 3, 2016 at 5:43 pm #

    Chillingly accurate on every point. Well said Danny P. Radcliff.

  6. Rick
    April 5, 2016 at 12:00 am #

    Hillary Clinton may seem “best positioned to verbalize a clear strategy”, but one Clinton strategy could be detrimental to free speech.

    Take for example Clinton’s tendency to blame Islamic violence on a guy who made a video.

    Add the fact that Clinton applauded the Organization of Islamic Conference “for helping pass Resolution 16/18” which calls upon nations to “counter offensive expression” and to enforce 16/18 using “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming”. (URL=

    Top it off with Clinton’s campaign website that appears to confirm her intention to use hyperbolic rhetoric to belittle and shame anyone who dares offer an alternative to current U.S. plans for increased Muslim immigration. (URL=

    Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton’s plan seems to include the suppression of honest reporting or discussion of how jihadis routinely use Islamic texts and teachings to justify atrocities.

    • Danny P. Radcliff
      April 8, 2016 at 11:42 am #

      Free speech? There is no free speech in this country anymore unless you are a progressive liberal.

      The founder’s idea of free speech was to protect all speech–especially speech you do not agree with. Does the media or the progressive left embrace that idea of free speech–NO! If you don’t agree with them you are labeled a hater or a racist or a wing-nut. Pure Saul Alinsky style radical tactics from the left’s play-book–Rules for Radicals. If you want to understand why the left does what it does–READ the BOOK. You will see the tactics in play every hour of every day as you watch the mainstream media and left-wing politicians. And, by the way Trump. Now is Trump following radical doctrine or just fighting fire with fire?

      You only need to see Clinton’s long-standing, close relationship with Huma Abedin and Obama’s life-long relationship with Islam to see what is going on.

      The fact that the US is taking on twice as many “refugees” as all of Europe, and that the Muslim population is the FASTEST growing segment in our country should tell you all you need to know.

      It is no wonder neither will utter the words “Islamic terrorist”? Obama and Clinton have been key players in the creation of the caliphate. If you were to have sat down to design a plan starting 8 years ago on how to bring about the rise of Islam across the Middle East and the rest of the world, you could not have come up with a better plan that what as actually occurred under their watch and with their full support.

      Every step of the way, this administration has sided with the radicals and has done nothing to stop them. Obama even gives them credit for having succeeded already by using the term ISIL. The deal with Iran is breathtakingly one-sided in favor of Iran, even by U.S. standards of usually brokering bad deals. It has guaranteed they will be a nuclear arms power in less that a decade–sealing the fate of Israel.

      Christians have been slaughtered by the tens of thousands. Finally after nearly 8 years and under pressure, this administration finally calls the killing genocide. Of course not just against Christians but against a number of groups in the region in including other Muslims. Fine. So what. The designation has not resulted in action.

      What happened to the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine Obama and his ambassador to the US was so proud of when they used it to justify bombing in Libya? And called on the UN to intervene? No responsibility to protect here apparently. Just words.

      If Christians were slaughtering Muslims–you can bet we’d be all over that.

  7. Jami O.
    April 18, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    I wonder why no one has ever had a problem with President Obama and our National Security Advisor speaking in a “SCIF” provided by the communist government of Cuba. Exactly how secure would that be?

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