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Jeh Johnson gets a few things right

Jeh Johnson, who recently became Homeland Security Secretary, has delivered his first policy address. He devoted part of his speech, delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to pushing for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The fact that the implementation of immigration reform legislation would, in no small measure, be in the hands of a left-liberal partisan like Johnson provides additional reason, if any were needed, not to trust the Obama administration to execute such a law in good faith.

But on the subject of terrorism, Johnson got a few important things right. The first was Syria:

We are very focused on foreign fighters heading to Syria. Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict. At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission.

Last night I returned from Poland where the Attorney General and I met with my six counterparts from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland. Syria was the number one topic of conversation for them and for us. Syria has become a matter of homeland security. DHS, the FBI and the intelligence community will continue to work closely to identify those foreign fighters that represent a threat to the homeland.

(Emphasis added)

Though not intended as such, this statement stands as a rebuke to the Obama administration. President Obama has not acted as if Syria is a national security issue for the U.S. He punted when it came to helping topple Assad or even putting him under military pressure, He thereby helped prolong the civil war, which caused it to metastasize into a jihad that has attracted foreign fighters. In addition, Obama has failed meaningfully to support forces that represent an alternative to Assad and al Qaeda-style jihadists.

It’s nice that DHS, the FBI, and the intelligence community are working to identify foreign fighters in Syria who represent a threat to our homeland. It would be nicer if we were working with forces in Syria to prevent these foreign fighters from having their way and, perhaps, to kill them.

Johnson also eschewed the administration’s happy talk about the alleged demise of al Qaeda:

Through our government’s counterterrorism efforts in both the Bush and Obama Administrations, we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on the path to defeat. But the threat has evolved.

Since about 2009, we saw the rise of al Qaeda affiliates, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has made repeated efforts to export terrorism to our homeland. Our government, working with others, must continually deny these affiliates a safe haven, a place to hide, train and from which to launch terrorist attacks.

This is spot on and, uncharacteristically for anyone in the Obama administration, acknowledges the contribution of the Bush administration. But again, Johnson’s remarks are difficult to reconcile with the words and actions of President Obama.

Obama has failed to acknowledge the threat posed by the new, evolved al Qaeda. Indeed, he has ridiculed it, calling the operatives who worry Johnson al Qaeda’s “jayvee.”

And Obama has showed little concern about safe havens for al Qaeda’s affiliates, be they in Syria or in North Africa. Indeed, his administration seems locked-in to the fiction that terrorists in Libya and Tunisia have nothing to do with al Qaeda and thus should be left alone.

Johnson now speaks for a large bureaucracy that understands the national security implications of both the war in Syria and the evolution of al Qaeda. This, I imagine, explains the candor of his address at the Wilson Center; after all, Johnson needs to combat morale problems within his department, as he acknowledged in his address.

I doubt that Johnson’s insights about Syria and al Qaeda will hold much sway within the Obama administration, but at least the DHS Secretary has put them on the record.

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