One of the more measured reactions to the president's speech:
Good on Obama for not overhyping the immediate threat to America, unlike what some other hysterical people have done.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 11, 2014
Yeah, but there was a degree of they're-under-the-bed fearmongering was in the speech:
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East -- including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region -- including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners -- including Europeans and some Americans -- have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.I've been trying to make the point that, while we need to remain vigilant, the fact that ISIS puts Americans and other Westerners on the front lines, where some of them die in combat, suggests that Westerners aren't being singled out for training so that they can be sent back home. That isn't an original observation; it came from this New York Times story. And now, coinciding with the president's speech, here's another Times story questioning the danger to the "homeland" from ISIS:
But as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a yearslong military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians....(Benjamin is also the coauthor of a book called The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam's War Against America, lest you think he's some hippie.)
Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama's first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a "farce" ...
"It's hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems -- all on the basis of no corroborated information,” said Mr. Benjamin, who is now a scholar at Dartmouth College.
Despite the attention ISIS has received, when American counterterrorism officials review the threats to the United States each day, the terror group is not a top concern. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the most immediate focus. That is because ISIS has no ability to attack inside the United States, American and allied security officials say, and it is not clear to intelligence officials that the group even wants to.And yet here's John McCain -- not Michele Bachmann, not Louie Gohmert, not Rick Perry, but the supposedly sane, rational, and respectable John McCain -- with his hair on fire about precisely this:
Must-read: "US Confirms ISIL Planning Infiltration of US Southern Border- McCain voices concerns border not secure" http://t.co/ri5G6e5CYq— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 10, 2014
From that Washington Free Beacon story:
A senior Homeland Security (DHS) official confirmed to Congress on Wednesday that militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) are planning to enter the United States via the porous southern border.Note that word: "planning." Read on and you'll see that that's a tad hyperbolic:
Francis Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS, told senators during a hearing that ISIL supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.Right -- there've been "social media exchanges ... speaking about that as a possibility." That's not the same as "planning," fer crissake.
"There have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility," Taylor told Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) in response to a question about "recent reports on Twitter and Facebook of messages that would urge infiltration into the U.S. across our southwestern border."
Ahhh, but McCain has an ace up his sleeve: an expert!
However, McCain was dubious, referring to recent videos released by activist James O'Keefe showing him crossing the border while wearing an Osama bin Laden mask.Oh, good Lord -- we're now citing one of O'Keefe's carefully edited videos as evidence of something?
Asked by McCain why agents did not stop O'Keefe, Taylor could not provide an answer.
"You can't answer it because they weren't there to stop him," McCain responded.
Yeah, he claims to have waded through an unmonitored part of the Rio Grande dressed as bin Laden, then traveled unmolested into the heart of America!!!, but when the video was released, Gawker's Adam Weinstein was a tad skeptical:
Weirdly, in his "six mile" trip from the river border to I-10, O'Keefe's video never shows him crossing the well-patrolled road that runs parallel to the river, the multiple irrigation canals, the well-maintained parcels of farmland, the two-lane Highway 192 (also called "Esperanza Road,") or any of the other obstacles that stand between the border and I-10 in every place there isn't already a permanent outpost. (You can see them for yourself on Google Maps.) Although, at one point, you can see miles and miles of truck-tire tracks in the dirt around O'Keefe and [grandstanding sheriff Arvin] West on the U.S. side of the border, where they're talking about how desolate and unprotected it is.Righties want to sink two balls with this shot -- they want voters to feel endangered by Obama's policy toward ISIS and by Democratic efforts at immigration reform. They want to link the two. And John McCain is now mainstreaming this tinfoil-hatted effort at linkage.
Let me remind you: Al Qaeda has never gotten anyone across the Mexican border to commit a terrorist act -- and Al Qaeda clearly does want to pursue attacks on the West. We have to be watchful -- but no, this sort of attack isn't going to happen soon. I'm sorry the president didn't downplay the possibility a lot more.