President Obama’s Strategy is Failing: Congress Must Fill the Void With Action


Jay Sekulow

December 10, 2015

7 min read

National Security



ISIS has struck again. Yet, in the wake of at least the eighteenth terror attack on United States soil since 9/11, President Obama still refuses to even name the enemy —radical Islamic jihad—much less confront the reality of the terrorist threat we face.

At the ACLJ, we’ve been raising the alarm about the threat of ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist armies that have their sights set on destroying America and all we stand for.  We’ve literally written the book on how to defeat and destroy ISIS.

When confronting a threat like ISIS, the first question we as Americans should ask is whether the proposed solution would actually solve the problem.  President Obama’s response to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and right here at home in the last few weeks has been an intractable focus on climate change, gun control (in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation), setting up straw-men about how we should treat all Muslims (when the threat we face is from radicalized jihadists), and refusing to change his failed strategy against terrorism.

Would any of the President’s proposed “solutions” have prevented the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, or any others for that matter?  No, of course not.

In the face of ISIS’ uncontained onslaught and given the uniform conclusions reached by congressional leadership (both Republican and Democratic), law enforcement, and military brass, one thing is crystal clear: 

President Obama’s ISIS strategy is failing. 

In light of President Obama’s leadership failures, Congress must do everything it can to fill the void.  But what can Congress actually do?

At the ACLJ, we’re directly engaging Congress, working with key Members on commonsense policies to protect Americans from terror and defeat ISIS.  Here are a few important measures that could have a tremendous impact:

(1) Visa Waiver Program

Reform our visa waiver program.  Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed bipartisanship legislation, 407 to 19, limiting certain “travel privileges” currently enjoyed by citizens of 38 partner nations.  According to Reuters:

Among other things, the measure would require visitors from the visa waiver countries, which include much of western Europe, to obtain a visa to travel to the United States if they had been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan during the past five years.

This is a good “first step” in what we hope is a larger response to modern international terrorism.  The President has indicated support for this legislation.  He should.  But why wasn’t he demanding it? Some suspect he supports the House Bill because he does not support what’s waiting on the Senate side—a much stronger approach advanced by Democratic leaders like California Senator Dianne Feinstein (who has publicly criticized the President’s strategy as not “sufficient”).  Yes, Senator Feinstein has advanced a more aggressive position on national security than the Commander-in-Chief from her own party. 

While Senator Feinstein’s bipartisan-sponsored bill, S. 2337, addresses many of the same things as the bill passed by the House (e.g., requiring information sharing with visa waiver program countries, reforming e-passports requirements, denying visa waivers to those who recently travelled to terrorist hotspots), it also includes some additional requirements. One such requirement is the collection of biometric data when a foreign national first enters the e-passport program, which is the first step to obtaining a visa waiver.  This common-sense requirement is not a travel prohibition.  It simply means a foreigner cannot get the visa requirement waived without completing the enhanced procedure. We suggest Congress place this bill in the omnibus spending bill, but whatever the final form may take, Congress must put these visa waiver reforms on the President’s desk. 

(2) Visa and Green Card Programs

Reform the K-1 “fiancé” visa and resident green card programs exploited by Tashfeen Malik, and any other legal pathways of entry into the United States.  Consider this in context:  There are dozens of visa types available and, according to The Wall Street Journal, the United States granted 9.9 million visas in fiscal year 2014. 

The goal: deny entry (and admission) to anyone with ties to ISIS-influenced regions unless and until the FBI, DOJ, DHS, and any other interested departments can certify that they do not pose a threat (much like the approach we proposed and was included in the bipartisan SAFE Act of 2015).  Congress can and should lead by utilizing all available legislative tools (like the spending bill) to accomplish this goal. 

Not only are these enhanced vetting requirements necessary to stop current and active threats (the fact that we granted Malik a K-1 visa confirms the inadequacies of our current vetting regime), but they are also necessary for the long-term survival of the programs (because if we don't sufficiently vet visa-seekers, terrorists will continue to exploit the visa granting process, more attacks will inevitably occur, and we will have no choice but to shut the programs down altogether).

(3) The Refugee Program

Restrict the President’s power to admit refugees from Islamic terror hotspots.  We have already advanced recommendations embraced and passed by the House, 289 to 137 – a veto proof majority.  The Senate must follow up on the appreciably bipartisan SAFE Act of 2015 and get something on the President’s desk.  He’s threatened a veto.  Congress can and should override his veto. Waiting until a terrorist successfully exploits the refugee program to conduct an attack on U.S. soil is foolish—like waiting until Malik successfully exploited the fiancé visa to attack the homeland before taking action to reform the broken program. 

(4) Military Spending and Readiness

Equip our military to destroy ISIS.  First, reexamine military spending.  Our military needs supplies. Our military needs vehicles and weapons. We need a strong, agile, and rapidly deployable military force—land, sea and air.  No American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine should have to rely on outdated or worn out equipment.  But they do, and there is no excuse. This is just not the time to reduce our military readiness or effectiveness; it is the time to strengthen and refine it to protect America from this evolving threat. Identify what’s needed to accomplish the mission and find a way to make it available. 

(5) AUMF

President Obama has called for Congress to revoke the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed after 9/11, and replace it with an AUMF that actually restricts the President’s ability to defeat terrorists.  His calls for limited airstrikes and restrictions on the number of “boots on the ground” in a new AUMF is mindboggling and would, in a sense, legally sanction his failed policies in the War on Terror.  No, Congress cannot play Commander-in-Chief and change the President’s strategy, but it can and should continue to reject President Obama's call for an exceedingly weak and ineffective AUMF.  At a minimum, any AUMF Congress considers should specifically authorize and direct the President to take those military actions necessary to defeat ISIS.  Period.  It should not restrict, but rather empower our military to defend America and defeat terrorism.

America stands at the point where failed foreign policy intersects with an agenda-driven narrative. If President Obama continues to insist on “leading from behind,” Congress must publicly recognize what that means and call out the President for neglecting his most important duty as President—defending the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  When we lead from behind, we no longer lead at all—we have become followers who react to the initiatives of our enemies.  Victory over jihadist terrorists will only occur when the United States retakes the mantle of leadership, seizes the initiative from the enemy, and hounds the jihadists wherever they are until they are destroyed.