In one of the final speeches of his presidency, Obama addressed the counterterrorism efforts of his administration at MacDill Air Force Base. As part of his remarks, he said this:
We should take great pride in the progress that we’ve made over the last eight years. That’s the bottom line.
No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland.
The right immediately started screaming, “but…but…but San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Boston!”
As was so often the case, they didn’t pay attention to the rest of his speech.
And what complicates the challenge even more is the fact that for all of our necessary focus on fighting terrorists overseas, the most deadly attacks on the homeland over the last eight years have not been carried out by operatives with sophisticated networks or equipment, directed from abroad. They’ve been carried out by homegrown and largely isolated individuals who were radicalized online.
These deranged killers can’t inflict the sort of mass casualties that we saw on 9/11, but the pain of those who lost loved ones in Boston, in San Bernardino, in Fort Hood and Orlando, that pain continues to this day. And in some cases, it has stirred fear in our populations and threatens to change how we think about ourselves and our lives.
That distinction is one that is important to keep in mind. The Obama administration was successful in preventing foreign terrorists from implementing attacks here in the U.S. As a matter of fact, that is actually the message we should be taking from the situation Kellyanne Conway lied about when she referred to the events in Bowling Green. That terrorist circle was infiltrated by agents and their plans never came to fruition. It also resulted in the Obama administration revisiting the vetting process for Iraqi refugees and making it even more stringent—a vetting process that the Trump administration now wants us to believe doesn’t exist.
The country Trump inherited from Obama is one where foreign terrorist plots had been thwarted and, to the extent we were vulnerable, it was due to homegrown threats (i.e., everything from Orlando to Charleston).
Based on the incompetence we’re already seeing from the Trump administration, that reality is likely to change. The executive order on immigrants and refugees is not only immoral, it makes us less safe by igniting the worst fears Muslims have about this country. It is therefore a recruiting gift to groups like ISIS. When/if a foreign terrorist organization manages to carry out an attack in this country, Trump is already priming the pump for who we should blame.
If that happens, this country will face a serious situation in that it will present Trump/Bannon/Flynn with the possibility of not only blaming the courts (and media) but also with the next step in their self-fulfilling prophecy of a global war with Islam.
I’d like to think that, in that moment, cooler heads would prevail and the media, Congress and the American people would think twice about following this administration’s lead. But our recent history doesn’t support those hopes. Perhaps the best antidote is to talk about the truth now as loudly as we can, before the situation heats up.