If the 2016 Republican primaries taught us anything about foreign policy, it’s that the secret to defeating the Islamic State and other jihadist groups is for an American official of sufficient authority – a president, say – to say out loud and in public the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s never been fully explained why, precisely, the incantation of this phrase is so critical, but the political logic behind this argument is easy to grasp and utterly inane: President Obama doesn’t say these words, and terrorism remains undefeated, therefore the president’s failure to say “radical Islamic terrorism” must be why radical Islamic terrorism still exists.
Ted Cruz proved himself an especially ardent devotee of this absurd argument. His plan for fighting terrorism had two key planks: say “radical Islamic terrorism,” and then commit war crimes until terrorism goes away. Since he dropped out of the presidential race in May, Cruz has been keeping a low profile, but the president’s response to the Orlando mass shooting and the Senate Democrats’ filibuster over gun control has forced him back into the spotlight.
Cruz took to the Senate floor yesterday to deliver a speech on terrorism, and he started it off by attacking his filibustering Democratic colleagues, denouncing the “political show on the Senate floor” that was nothing more that “political gamesmanship.” I’ll repeat that just to make sure we’re clear on what happened: Ted Cruz, the guy who read “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor as part of a fake filibuster against Obamacare that served no purpose except to drive press attention to Ted Cruz, was upset by a “political show on the Senate floor.”
Anyway, the meat of Cruz’s speech was an angry response to President Obama, who this week ridiculed his Republican critics who attack him for refusing to say “radical Islam.” Again, the utterance of that phrase is central to the Cruz anti-terror strategy, so he took it quite personally. “Mr. President, it makes a world of difference, Cruz said. “Because the failure to address the enemy impacts every action taken to fight that enemy.”
What does that mean? Well, as Cruz sees it, the various terrorist attacks that have happened in the U.S. over the years – the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, etc. – could have been prevented if only the words “radical Islam” were on the lips of our president. “Over and over again, we have seen the Obama administration having ample information to stop a terrorist attack,” Cruz explained, “and yet because of the political correctness, because of the ideology of this administration that won’t even say the word ‘jihad,’ won’t even say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ they look the other way and the attacks go forward.”
This is hot nonsense, and I’ll let Cruz himself explain way. Citing public reporting about the Orlando shooter, Cruz made the case for the Obama administration’s self-imposed ideological blindness:
CRUZ: Omar Mateen was interviewed not once, not twice, but three times by the FBI in 2013 and 2014. That one of the reasons he was interviewed by the FBI was because he was talking in his place of employment which, ironically but shockingly enough, was a contractor to the Department of Homeland Security. And he was talking about being connected to terrorist organizations, including the Boston bombers. Now to any rational person, that is a big red flag.
That’s true, those things are red flags… which is why the FBI opened an investigation on Mateen. As we’ve come to learn, that investigation was closed after the FBI determined that Mateen was lying about his connections to terrorist groups. But as Cruz himself explained, the FBI clearly was not “looking the other way” – Mateen was investigated by federal authorities for close to a year because he claimed links to “radical Islam.” Right now the FBI “is investigating 1,000 potential ‘homegrown violent extremists,’ the majority of whom are most likely tied to or inspired by the Islamic State,” per the New York Times. It’s quite obviously a priority.
Nevertheless, Cruz said, the fact that the investigation was closed is proof that the administration just doesn’t care about Islamic extremism. “If you direct the prevention efforts to stopping radical Islamic terrorism – you know what? We had all the information we need on Mateen to keep a very close eye on him,” Cruz said. “And yet, if that’s not what you’re fighting, then you close the investigation, and yet another attack goes forward.” The actual reason the investigation was closed is because there are time limits on how long the FBI can legally investigate someone suspected of ties to terrorism. In the absence of any concrete evidence, the agency can’t keep someone’s file open indefinitely.
But Cruz, armed with the infallible certainty of hindsight, felt there were enough “red flags” surrounding Mateen that they should have broken through the alleged fog of political correctness the administration surrounds itself in. “We know that Mateen traveled to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for ten days in March 2011,” Cruz said, “and for eight days in March 2012.” If we’re going to treat trips to Mecca as incriminating activity, then the FBI has to open an investigation into every Muslim on the planet.
So Cruz was wrong – fantastically, tremendously wrong. Such are the pitfalls when your approach to fighting terrorism entails the incantation of magic words and bombing the desert sand until it glows.