Dan Proft: We’re going to get to this… not here, but wait until you see the column that Neil Steinberg wrote in the Sun Times today. Oh, baby! Not that anyone reads Neil Steinberg or the Sun Times, or should, but I mean it’s another illustration – we’ve had so many, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Chris Murphy; so many ignoramuses all pinning on guns in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, but Neil Steinberg really takes it to an unintentionally fun level. We’ll get to that, but we have more oppressive matters, and John Brennan, who’s the director of the CIA, of course, outlined the pressing matter, that is the threat of ISIS – the JV team that is moving up the ranks. Brennan had some good news for us and some bad news. Here’s the good news with respect to our fight against ISIS.
John Brennan: Several notable indicators are trending in the right direction. ISIL has lost large stretches of territory in both Syria and Iraq. Its finance and media operations have been squeezed. And it has struggled to replenish its ranks of fighters, in part because fewer foreign fighters are traveling to Syria. Moreover, some reports suggest that a growing number of ISIL members are becoming disillusioned with the group and are eager to follow in the footsteps of members who have already defected.
Dan Proft: That’s the good news, Brennan testifying before a congressional committee. Here’s the bad news:
John Brennan: Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach. The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.
Dan Proft: So effectively no diminution of ISIS’s ability to exact terrorism on a global scale. We know they’re targeting the West, with the evidence of Brussels and Paris and San Bernardino and Orlando are testament too. That’s bad news. For more on what John Brennan had to say, as well as the underlying threat he’s discussing, we’re now joined by our friend Mike Baker. He is former CIA covert operations officer who specialized in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, including in the Middle East. He’s now President and Founder of Diligence LLC. Mike, thanks so much for joining us again, appreciate it.
Mike Baker: Sure, thank you. Likewise. John Brennan is a very capable guy. He’s a very well experienced individual; he’s been doing this for a long time. He basically laid out, in a very straight forward manner, the upside and also the problem that we face. I think he was being fairly pragmatic, compared to what we typically hear at the White House, which is nothing but sunshine and good news.
Dan Proft: And so, Mike, with respect to what we hear from the White House, your assessment of President Obama’s response to the Orlando attack and also as part of that response, going back and forth with critics as to his unwillingness to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”.
Mike Baker: I’m not one of those fueling the subject leftover, how many times a given speech the president or someone at the White House talk about it, in terms of Islamic extremism. It’d be nice if they’d be a little bit more straight forward and just call it what it is, but it will get bigger issues to deal with, and I understand, from a 30,000 foot view, in a sense, I suppose, why they’re reluctant to do that. I think it’s long, I think you need to be more direct and open about what it is you’re facing. But I’m not concerned about that. It’s not the number 1 priority. Let the American public and general public around the world understand what the problem is that we’re facing. But the problem that we’ve got and nobody wants to talk about is that we can – and we will, eventually, we’ll defeat them on the ground, in Syria and Iraq; we will take away this so called caliphate, and that’s a very important step. We have to do that. It would have been nice if we’d been more aggressive over the past couple of years in doing this, but the reality is the more success we have on the ground there, the more likely we are to see attacks in the West, on the nature of Orlando or Paris or Brussels or San Bernardino or Toronto or whatever. We’re already seeing that. We’re seeing the Islamic state become more and more aggressive in convincing their minions, their followers, or anybody out there who may turn towards their agenda to do this, because they’re on the back foot. We are having some success out there.
Dan Proft: Let me just interject and ask you about this matter as well, on the policy side and what you’re discussing in this same topic area. This so called Dissent Channel Cable that was signed by 51 state department officers involved with advising on Syrian policy, hauling for targeted military strikes against the Assad regime in Damascus as urging regime changes, the only way to defeat ISIS, and suggesting that “the failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses would only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh - ISIS, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield”. That’s 51 state department officials breaking bad on the Obama administration’s policy with respect to Syria, and suggesting, if you will, a reset.
Mike Baker: It’s 51 state department officials who all probably consider themselves progressives and who will also would likely blame us for the anger that the Islamic extremists will feel towards the US and our allies. I’m not putting a lot of stock in that. The reality is, we’re not going to get rid of Assad. And does anyone think Vladimir Putin is going to stand around and watch his primary ally in that region, a guy who has allowed them to maintain their only port for the Black Sea fleet, do we think that’s going to happen? No, it’s not, so we need to be more realistic about this. Again, is Assad a bad guy, is he a butcher? Well, I would say, “Of course he is”. But has it earned international security interests? No. What are international security interests? Protecting the homeland, protecting the United States and our allies? Yeah. He was the one thrown up about it.
Dan Proft: But on the one hand then you have dissension in the progressive ranks, kind of more muddle to the Obama foreign policy, and you’re suggesting essentially both sides are wrong in what they’re suggesting. You talked about the ground and winning this on the ground; be more specific on what you think is required to deal ISIS a death blow.
Mike Baker: If we’re conducting the air campaign that the White House is talking about, that’s great, but the air campaign can only be more effective if it’s more efficient, and so just looking at the air campaign, what do we need? Well, we need more capability to make that as sufficient as possible. That means more – and this is going to be very frustrating, if you believe it – we need more ground personnel. I’m just talking. I’m not saying that we should do this, I’m just saying what you would need to do to witness. I understand we’ll all fed up about this. We’re all fatigued from this, but if we’re going to win this war, the reality is we’re going to have to be at the pointing edge of the spear. This happy day dream that we’ve got about eventually getting our allies out there to pick up the ball and run with it in a meaningful way, we’re going to be talking about that 10 years from now, if that’s the way we want to do this.
Amy Jacobson: What about these home grown terrorists? Omar Mateen, do you think he had a direct link to the Islamic State, or was he a terrorist wannabe that was trying to prove something to daddy, possibly?
Mike Baker: I think – especially because of what we had in San Bernardino, we had a guy that, for a variety of reasons, was willing to become self-radicalized. I don’t think there was any direct tasking from the Islamic state. I don’t think there was any support sell that provided him with resources and training. They don’t care; the Islamic state, just like Al-Qaeda, they don’t care who falls under their spell, whether it’s a psychotic nut job, or whether it’s somebody who’s a devout religious individual who firmly believes in what they’re doing. As long as they carry out attacks against the infidels, that’s a win from the extremist point of view. But I think that Mateen was one of those individuals that, yeah, sure, of course; was he unstable? Yeah, absolutely, but he knew what he was doing. He approached this in a fairly methodical manner, and from his surveillance and casing and target selection, to the gathering up the logistics in order to do this, to identifying why he was doing it. The idea that it can be diminished to simply a hate crime by an unstable individual confused over his sexuality is completely missing the point and completely denying the overall problem that we’re dealing with at 30,000 feet.
Dan Proft: That’s Mike Baker, because he gives it to you straight. Mike Baker, a former CIA covert operations officer who specialized in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency, now President and Founder of Diligence LLC. Mike, thanks, as always, for joining us, appreciate it.
Mike Baker: Thank you very much. I appreciate it as well. Take care!