The ISIS Fearmongers

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Elias Groll and Simon Engler round up some of the worst offenders, like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe:

“ISIS, they are really bad terrorists, they’re so bad even al Qaeda is afraid of them,” Inhofe told a local Fox station last month. “They’re crazy out there and they’re rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.”

Perhaps Inhofe is right, [counterterrorism chief Matthew] Olsen is wrong, and Islamic State militants are indeed plotting an attack right now inside America’s borders. American intelligence officials have certainly been wrong before about the threat posed by terror groups, and the Islamic State has alarmingly large numbers of fighters with American passports who could return to the U.S. to carry out strikes here at home. But the phrase “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city” goes far beyond what experts inside and outside of government say about the group’s capabilities. There is no substance here, only speculation likely designed to inspire fear and drum up support for military action.

Weigel examines the partisan implications of threat inflation:

Here’s the current paradox. The Obama administration—most reliably Chuck Hagel and John Kerry—is describing ISIS in apocalyptic terms. According to Kerry, ISIS is “an ambitious, avowed genocidal, territorial-grabbing, Caliphate-desiring quasi-state.” Their goal is not really to downplay what ISIS can actually achieve, or to reflect the intelligence analysis that ISIS poses little threat to (ugh, this term) “the homeland.” It’s to avoid a Syria-style rebellion in Congress and assemble a coalition of Arab partners in the Levant.

But Democrats do not benefit, domestically, from the hype. Just today, New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown challenged Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to secure the border and sign on to legislation that would revoke the citizenship of American ISIS fighters. “If anyone (including ISIS) can cross our borders at any time, with anything in their possession, then Washington has no control over our nation’s security from terrorist attack,” said Brown. That statement sounds like incoherent heebie-jeebie-ism if you listen to intelligence assessments. Current estimates peg the total number of Americans who might have gone to Iraq and Syria for ISIS at fewer than 100. The threat of such an American, if he returned, is not that he’d cross an unprotected border with a knife between his teeth and jihadism on his mind. It’s that he’d use his American passport at a normal TSA checkpoint.