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National Security & Defense

Defend Civil Liberties By Smashing Terrorist Safe Havens and Restricting Immigration

In response to Am I Just Paranoid?

In today’s Morning Jolt, my colleague Jim Geraghty thoughtfully wrestles with the disturbing reality that jihadists tend to broadcast their radicalism well before they strike. Absurdly enough, one of the London stabbers was so openly radical that he was included in a documentary called the “Jihadist Next Door.” Yet here’s the salient question: Before they strike, which laws do these men violate? Here in the United States, they’re often engaged in extreme (but constitutionally-protected) expression. Britain has fewer protections for free speech, but there are still little to no grounds for arrest.

Moreover, the vast majority of those who engage in extremist expression never commit a single overt act of jihad. Consequently, police and intelligence agencies can spend countless hours tracking and investigating people who ultimately pose no physical threat.

And let’s not forget that in addition to protecting the safety of its citizens, protecting their liberty is a core constitutional responsibility. It’s a cliché, but it’s still true — a nation that sacrifices liberty for security has failed in one of its chief functions. But a nation doesn’t have to make that sacrifice. It can have liberty and security.  

How? By smashing terrorist safe havens and restricting immigration. As I’ve noted time and again, terrorists grow far more deadly when they possess the safe havens that allow them to recruit, train, or inspire jihadists. They compound their effectiveness when they’re able to recruit from a critical mass of potential jihadists already located within a target country. America does not violate anyone’s free speech rights if it chooses to take Raqqa and complete the reconquest of Mosul. It doesn’t violate anyone’s due process rights when it dramatically limits immigration from jihadist conflict zones to only those individuals who’ve demonstrated their commitment and loyalty to the American cause. 

I agree with critics of the war on terror who urge the government to safeguard constitutional rights. I don’t want to see fundamental American liberties eroded for the sake of fighting a shadowy terrorist enemy that’s a paper tiger on any real battlefield. But we can’t have it all. We can’t safeguard civil liberties at home, refuse to fight wars abroad, extend our arms to immigrant populations from much of the Middle East, and minimize the terrorist threat. 

We have to live in the real world, and in the real world if you let terrorists have safe havens, and you admit immigrants in any substantial numbers from jihadist regions, you will get hit. It’s that simple. Smart critics of the war on terror understand this reality and thus make the argument that the West should live with terror, that it’s not bad enough (and losses are small enough) that we shouldn’t truly fight. The problem, however, is clear — losses are acceptable until the big strike (or multiple and intolerable small strikes), and by that time the terrorists are so entrenched that they can’t be dislodged without paying a far higher price. 

There is no way to completely eliminate Islamic terrorism. Jihad will likely plague the world to greater or lesser degrees so long as Islam lasts, but we know that we can dramatically diminish the threat. We know because we’ve done it before. And it doesn’t require suspending the First Amendment. It requires courage, political will, and precisely targeted American firepower.