TIME politics

Sen. Marco Rubio: Under Obama the World Has Become a More Dangerous Place

Republican Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Richard Ellis—Getty Images Republican Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Marco Rubio, who represents Florida in the U.S. Senate, is a member of the Senate's Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committees.

A major challenge for the next president will be to fix our weakened intelligence system

In February 2011, I stepped into my first classified briefing as a member of the Senate’s intelligence committee. The focus that day was on the Arab Spring that had begun to unfold in North Africa, and part of the Monday morning quarterbacking that day was about what more our intelligence community could have done—or what resources they needed—to better anticipate such a consequential turn of events. Those would be the first of hundreds of hours I would spend over the next four and a half years overseeing our nation’s intelligence services and programs, and regularly considering what more we can be doing to equip our intelligence services with the tools they need to keep us safe.

During this period, I’ve seen the consequences that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has had on the world and our interests abroad. Under his leadership, the world has become a more dangerous place, our allies doubt whether America is still a nation of its word when it comes to our security commitments, and we’ve embarked on a dangerous unilateral disarmament of intelligence-gathering tools through policy reversals from the White House and mindless budget cuts due to sequestration.

This month, the Obama administration will begin the process of dismantling one such program that has helped to keep our people safe since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This so-called “Section 215 metadata program” authorized by the Patriot Act, which was closely overseen by Congress and the courts for more than a decade, has allowed us to thwart terrorist plots.

Contrary to the popularly accepted lie that this program allowed the U.S. government to spy on Americans and listen in on their phone calls, it simply enabled business records to be collected by phone companies and stored by the National Security Agency in a database that could be checked only when there was a known or suspected terrorist nexus. This program received rigorous oversight from Congress and the judiciary.

Unfortunately, misinformation, fear-mongering and the allure of campaign fundraising all contributed to its expiration, its explicit prohibition in the future, and its replacement with a weaker and untested system that fails to require phone companies to maintain records that we may one day need to track terrorists. Rather than use what power remains in his bully pulpit, President Obama opted to be a bystander and let this program be killed, even though he had previously championed it. Even worse, the White House clearly sent the message to the heads of the intelligence agencies that they needed to stand down from advocating for the program. As a result, the American people are now less safe.

Treating terrorism like a purely law enforcement function and returning our intelligence community to a pre-9/11 footing needlessly exposes the American people to the dangers of a radically changed and more dangerous world. A major challenge for the next president will be to fix the weakened intelligence system that the current one is leaving behind.

This will entail re-equipping our intelligence community with the authorities to quickly connect the dots between terrorist conspirators and ensure the intelligence community has the ability and tools to efficiently narrow the focus of an investigation to uncover plots and save valuable time and resources in the course of terrorist investigations in which time is absolutely of the essence.

With the right tools and a dedicated workforce, we can protect our people and our homeland from another terrorist attack while remaining true to our identity as the freest nation on earth. This belief is not based on a theory, on a campaign briefing, or on something I read in a book or newspaper. It’s based on four and a half years of seeing the results with my own eyes.

We need clear leadership from the commander-in-chief to confront the myriad of national security challenges facing the nation. It is increasingly clear that the task of ensuring that those we entrust to protect us have every tool they need for the job will fall to the next president. It is also apparent that through their demagoguery on this issue, through their support for abandoning these crucial programs or through their outright silence that some who aspire to that office are not up to the challenge any more than President Obama is. There is no duty more important than rising to this challenge because Americans lives are on the line.

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TIME foreign affairs

Senator Marco Rubio: Obama Needs to Dig In for a Fight in Iraq

Panel Endorses Libya Measure
Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. WASHINGTON, DC - June 28: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during the Senate Foreign Relations markup of legislation (S J Res 20) that would authorize limited U.S. military force in support of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) humanitarian intervention in Libya.

ISIS's expansionist ideology will lead it to attack U.S. allies in the region and, eventually, Europe and the United States.

President Obama’s decision to authorize humanitarian operations and targeted airstrikes in Iraq comes as fundamentalist Islam is on the rise throughout the Middle East.

Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups continue to threaten Israel. The United States and its allies have been forced to close their diplomatic missions in Libya because of fighting between secular militias and al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The Taliban is going on the offensive in Afghanistan as the United States and coalition partners continue to draw down.

And perhaps of most concern, in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has established a caliphate, a fundamentalist state, in the heart of the Middle East. Flush with weapons and money, ISIS’s forces are making significant advances as they expand their territory.

ISIS, an extreme Sunni militant group that emerged from al Qaeda, has been occupying and razing churches across Iraq, pulling down crosses, destroying religious documents and holy sites, and forcing Christians and other non-Sunni Iraqis to convert or face death. It is capturing young girls and the widows of men they have executed for their own unmarried fighters. It has seized bridges, dams and other infrastructure that Iraqi towns and communities rely on for subsistence.

The United States is right to intervene in Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance to persecuted religious minorities—including the Yazidis currently surrounded by ISIS forces in northern Iraq and Iraqi Christians, who have been brutalized as ISIS has swept through their villages, massacring thousands and conducting forced conversions of those they do not kill.

But America’s security interests extend well beyond the fate of Iraq’s religious minorities. Because ISIS, with thousands of foreign fighters, many of them from the West, will not rest once it has taken Erbil or Baghdad. Its expansionist ideology will lead it to attack U.S. allies in the region and eventually Europe and the United States.

We have seen time and again in recent decades that terrorist groups, once established, use safe havens to launch attacks on the United States and our interests. We ignore this history at our own peril.

Instead of confronting this challenge head on, President Obama has until now avoided taking decisive action. He has let the civil war in Syria simmer for years, creating the space for this jihadist threat to grow and letting instability spread to Syria’s neighbors. Even after ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June, the President was hesitant in his response, sending several hundred military advisors but not confronting ISIS directly even as it made military gains. Now, we are rightfully providing food and water to people who face slaughter from extremists who have pledged to kill them.

Given the threat that ISIS poses to not just the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, but also to our Kurdish partners in northern Iraq, the President was right to begin to strike ISIS targets. We also need to strike supply routes from Syria, leadership, and frontline military units from the air. We should target the oil refinery in Syria they are using to fund their operations. And we should go after other assets and funding networks to deny them the financing they need to carry out their operations.

We need to significantly increase our military and humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi government, as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government. Baghdad has in recent days taken action to assist the Kurds with air support, providing some hope that a political settlement that unites all Iraqi political factions remains possible.

The Kurds in particular need urgent U.S. assistance, including weaponry and training for their peshmerga forces that are now facing an adversary equipped with more advanced weaponry, some of it of U.S. origin stolen from the Iraqi military. The Kurds are also hosting more than a million refugees from other parts of Iraq and Syria that have fled their villages in the face of ISIS’s advance. Due to ongoing disputes between Erbil and Baghdad, the Kurdish government has limited resources to continue to provide for these refugees and for their own people.

President Obama rightly stated that he decided to use military force to protect U.S. diplomats and military personnel in Iraq. But this should not be our only goal.

ISIS’s continued rise is not just a problem for Iraq or its neighbors. If we do not continue to take decisive action against ISIS now, it will be not just Iraqis or Syrians who continue to suffer, it will likely be Americans, as a result of a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or on our personnel overseas. America was faced with the same choice President Clinton faced in the 1990s during the emergence of al Qaeda: take action now, or we will be forced to take action in the future.

It is time to begin reversing this unprecedented tide of jihadist victories. America’s security and the safety of the American people are at stake.

Marco Rubio, who represents Florida in the U.S. Senate, is a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committees.

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