GOP Candidates Trump, Cruz Follow ISIS Script By Stoking Hate and Fear Against Muslims

Posted March 30, 2016

MP3 Interview with Mel Goodman, former CIA analyst and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, conducted by Scott Harris, executive producer of Between The Lines

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After the latest ISIS terrorist attack that targeted the Brussels airport and a metro station on March 22 that killed 35 and wounded more than 300, Belgian authorities admitted their failure to detect and follow up on warning signs that an attack was imminent. Belgium is well known as an epicenter for European Islamist radicals. More Belgians have joined ISIS as a proportion of the population than have residents from any other Western nation. Many of the ISIS operatives who carried out the brutal Paris attacks in November 2015 that killed 130 were Belgian nationals or residents. The Brussels neighborhoods of Molenbeek and Schaerbeek, populated by many émigrés from the Middle East, has been used as a base of operations by ISIS jihadists.

While the response in European capitals has focused largely on improving security and intelligence cooperation, the rise of right-wing, nationalist, anti-immigrant groups has opened up a new front of escalating tension and potential violence in many EU nations. In the aftermath of the Brussels attack, the toxic rhetoric of Republican Party presidential candidates in the U.S. has also been on the rise. GOP front-runner Donald Trump has doubled down on his earlier advocacy of bringing back the use of waterboarding and more severe forms of torture, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has called for law enforcement to monitor and patrol America’s Muslim neighborhoods, as well as the carpet-bombing of ISIS-held territory in both Syria and Iraq.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst who currently serves as a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Here, he assesses the challenges of preventing future ISIS terrorist attacks and the dangerous response among Republican politicians whose belligerent pronouncements isolate and alienate many Muslim Americans. [Rush transcript below.]

MEL GOODMAN: I think this attack has created a greater impact than any of the other attacks in Europe, when I think of the attacks in London, Paris, Madrid, Copenhagen, attempts in Amsterdam. I think it's because Belgium has such a serious problem. Belgium itself is divided ethnically, linguistically and politically, culturally. There are a lot of political hacks that dominate key positions in the government, particularly the interior minister who submitted his resignation but I don't think it was accepted. Maybe it should've been. There were so many clues, the fact that one of the terrorists was expelled from Turkey and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan gave warning. He was sent from Turkey to the Netherlands, and made his way to Belgium, but Europe was alerted to this.

The sensitive communications that these terrorists can now adopt, particularly when you have brothers involved – you can use very unsophisticated kinds of communication, you don't need cell phones and you don't need technology. So when you look at Paris, there were brothers. Brussels there were brothers. Actually, if you look at the Boston Marathon, there were two Chechen brothers. So this is alarming. And when you look at the fact that ISIS appears to be having difficulties on its own turf, particularly in Syria, but also in Iraq to a certain extent, you have to wonder and I've seen reports to this effect, that they are sending some of these fighters back to the European countries they came from to foment this kind of terrorism. And that this is maybe ISIS saying that they're losing the battle on their home turf, or at least the momentum isn't with them. But they can do greater damage in Europe and divide Europe politically against itself and divide Christians against Moslems, and you can see a lot of this in European countries that are moving to the right. You see this in France, you see this to a certain extent in Germany, you see it in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and Hungary.

But all of this is, I think, is creating a great deal of concern that Europe, which has its open borders, provides pathways for terrorists. But the borders are not open to intelligence agencies necessarily, and there's not sufficient cooperation. Germany doesn't want to go as far as the United States has in terms of intelligence collection, particularly surveillance, because they have a lot of laws that prevent them from doing so. So there's a real moment of truth here for Europe – what to do about Brussels, what to do about the social conditions in Brussels that so many of these terrorists came out of one small neighborhood.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mel Goodman, both Republican presidential candidates still in the race for their party's nomination have responded to the latest terror attacks (with) a call for more aggressive measures to say the least. We've had Donald Trump who doubled-down on his earlier statements to wanting to bring back waterboarding and more severe forms of torture. He said previously he wants to kill terrorist suspects' family members. We've had Ted Cruz talk about monitoring Muslim neighborhoods in the United States, and reiterating his policy that would have the United States carpetbomb entire cities, inevitably killing many civilians, and then the threat of using nuclear weapons. What is the damage that is done by this kind of rhetoric from these presidential candidates?

MEL GOODMAN: Well, this is the kind of rhetoric that ISIS would have written for these people if they had an opportunity, because what it does is it gives credibility to Islamic State propaganda which says that the West is conducting a religious war against the caliphate. This is a tremendous sort of morale to these people. I would think it would feed extremist recruitment, and it might even make moderate Moslems or Muslims who are not willing to pursue terror think that, well maybe ISIS knows what it's talking about. Look at what's coming out of the United States. Look at the remarks of Cruz about carpet-bombing and Trump as you say, going after the families of terrorists. He's backpedaled from some of this but really, his instincts are, as you say, to not only do waterboarding, but to do a lot more than waterboarding, in his own words.

So this exactly the kind of rhetoric that ISIS wants. They want it in the United States, and they want to see more of this in Europe, and they're getting it, whether it's (Marine) Le Pen in France, or the right-wing party that gained in the recent elections in Germany. We see some of that language in Poland and Hungary, and when you look at how refugees have been treated and the horrible conditions that refugees have had to deal with, and now this Faustian bargain of sending refugees back to Turkey and giving Turkey billions of dollars to keep them there, I would think all of this propaganda is helpful to what ISIS is trying to do, and the kind of message they're sending about the religious war in the West against a caliphate, against Islam.

See Mel Goodman's video blog and books at MelvinGoodman.com and Melvin Goodman, Center for International Policy.

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