President Donald Trump has promised a new strategy for fighting terrorism, including the Islamic State, or ISIS. Last week in his congressional address, he signaled a big change when he used a phrase President Barack Obama refused to utter for 8 years—“Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Trump clearly has a different style. But is there substance behind his fresh approach? This Sunday, on “Full Measure,” we asked the leader of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Here’s a transcript of our interview:
Attkisson: On terrorism, we’ve heard from many public officials that they’re more or less banned from using the word radical Islamic extremism in recent years, policies have been shaped in such a way that some of them say make it very difficult to go after radical Islamic terrorists. Do you see things changing with the new admin and what’s the new strategy?
Sen. Ron Johnson: Well, you are referring to policies under the former admin and you know whether it’s President Obama, it starts at the top, calling ISIS or referring to ISIS as the JV team, it’s just that denial of reality. When it comes to Islamic terror, when it comes to our debt and deficit, my guess is this administration when you look at the appointments to his Cabinet, these are individuals from the private sector that have to solve problems dealing with real information, not denying reality. So certainly I’m hopeful that the new admin will approach the world fact based, not afraid to acknowledge these realities and act accordingly.
Attkisson: Couple of cases; Russia twice warned the U.S. that the Boston Marathon bomber Tsarnaev was a violent radical Islamist and our intel agencies questioned him, but the FBI didn’t conduct surveillance because they didn’t have enough information; Omar Matin, responsible for murdering 51 people in Orlando, was investigated for terror twice by the FBI but those investigations were closed, he even told his co-workers he had terrorist ties; the father of the New Jersey, New York bombings suspect Ahmad Rahami said he previously notified the FBI that his son was a terrorist; Esteban Santiago who allegedly killed five people and injured eight at the Florida airport after previously going to an FBI office and claiming he was linked to ISIS … if our intel experts can’t capture people that are literally placed before them, how can we have confidence that our system can catch people that are harder to find?
Sen. Ron Johnson: Well, first of all, I don’t think we have 100 percent confidence; it’s the challenge we face. The number of people that fit that type of profile, ya know, the number of potential terrorist cases the FBI is tracking down, the basic problem in a free society that does adhere to the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is what do you do with ‘not guilty yet’?
Sen. Ron Johnson: It’s an enormous challenge, which I think should direct our effort in understanding what our priorities should be. We have to defeat ISIS. As long as ISIS remains, they’re going to continue to conspire this type of inspired lone wolf attack that we’ve certainly experienced here in the U.S. We have to be concerned about directed wolf pack attacks, we’ve seen that around the world as well.
Sen. Ron Johnson: So we have to address by taking it seriously enough and acknowledge the reality that Islamic terror is a growing, metastasizing, evolving problem and we have to address it because it’s impossible to be 100 percent perfect here in the U.S.
Attkisson: By all accounts, Islamic extremist terrorism has vastly expanded in recent years; on Obama’s way out of the office, though, he declared that no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack in the U.S. And he’s right if he’s talking about lone wolf attacks, which have happened here in larger numbers versus these network attacks directed directly by ISIS, for example. Does he deserve credit for what he says having no ISIS connected, al-Qaeda connected attacks on U.S. soil?
Sen. Ron Johnson: He deserves credit for ordering the attack on Osama bin Laden and killing that terrorist; you know, the fact of the matter is that we haven’t had al-Qaeda directed massive scale attacks here in the U.S. and that’s a good thing, but seeing these inspired lone wolf … we’ve really seen them proliferate around the world. The strategic blunder of just historic proportions bugging out of Iraq, not leaving a stabilizing force has caused the events in Syria to spin out of control and allow the genocide of no less than half a million Syrians and the rise of ISIS.
Sen. Ron Johnson: I don’t think we would’ve seen ISIS rise to this level if we had left a stabilizing force behind. So President Obama has an awful lot to account for, don’t give him a whole lot of credit, I think the world is in far greater turmoil and America is less safe after eight years of his admin.
Attkisson: Will it be something that can be turned around in short order?
Sen. Ron Johnson: Well we certainly witnessed after the [Jimmy] Carter admin, Ronald Reagan coming in and re-establishing America’s credibility around the world. That’s going to be a challenge for President Trump; he’s going to first have to establish the credibility of America.