TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Aide Calls Israeli Leader’s U.S. Visit ‘Destructive’

Says planned address to Congress has "injected a degree of partisanship"

President Barack Obama’s top national security aide on Tuesday lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to address Congress as “destructive [to] the fabric of the relationship” between the two countries, as political fallout continued to mount ahead of Netanyahu’s controversial visit.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice, delivering the Obama Administration’s strongest critique of the visit to date while speaking Tuesday night on PBS, said Netanyahu’s address next week has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive [to] the fabric of the relationship.”

Netanyahu’s visit has been sharply criticized in both Israel and the U.S. as overly political, coming just weeks before Israeli elections and after House Speaker John Boehner invited him without informing Obama or congressional Democrats. Obama will not meet with Netanyahu while he’s in town, and many Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, have signaled that they won’t attend his address to a joint session of Congress.

“The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan and we’ve been fortunate the politics have not been injected into that relationship,” Rice said. “It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way, the American people want it that way, and when it becomes infused with politics, that’s a problem.”

The Israeli leader has steadfastly defended the speech as an opportunity to voice his concerns over a potential nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran, and did so again Tuesday, saying he was coming to the U.S. to “do everything I can” to stop a deal with Iran, the New York Times reports.

“Therefore, I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran,” Netanyahu said.

Still, the trip risked coming off as more partisan when Netanyahu turned down an invitation to address Senate Democrats.

“Thought I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time would compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu said in a letter released by the office of Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

Dubin wasn’t pleased with Netanyahu’s response.

“We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,” he said in a statement. “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”


Cuban President Raúl Castro Honors Spies Jailed in U.S. as National Heroes

Raul Castro, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino,  Antonio Guerrero
Ramon Espinosa—AP Cuba's President Raul Castro and Gerardo Hernandez salute, as fellow agents Ramon Labanino, background, second from right, and Antonio Guerrero applaud during a medal ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015

The awards come despite thawing relations between Washington and Havana

Cuban President Raúl Castro awarded medals to five men on Tuesday, calling them national heroes for their espionage work in the U.S.

“The Cuban Five,” as they were nicknamed, had attempted to infiltrate Cuban exile groups within the U.S. but were arrested and imprisoned in 1998, Reuters reports.

All were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but three were released from U.S. custody on Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama announced a shift in Washington’s relationship with Havana. (The remaining pair had already returned to their homeland.)

In exchange for the final three spies, the Cuban government released a Cuban prisoner convicted 20 years ago of spying on his home country for the U.S.

The prisoner exchange was one element of a dramatic recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. Both countries have announced that they will restore diplomatic relations after decades of hostility and sanctions.

The Cuban Five were presented to a group of Cuban government officials, military officers and dignitaries at the Cuban parliament. Castro led the ceremony, but his brother, former President Fidel Castro, was not seen. Fidel, 88, has not appeared publicly in over a year.

Gerardo Hernandez, 49, was the leader of the arrested spies. “The honor that we receive today also demands that we rise to the challenges facing the revolution,” he said.


TIME Ukraine

McCain ‘Ashamed’ of How U.S. Has Handled Ukraine Conflict

John McCain
Win McNamee—Getty Images Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on the conflict in Ukraine, Feb. 5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

"It is really, really heartbreaking"

Senator John McCain said in an interview Sunday that the United States and its allies haven’t done enough to stop the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, where government forces and Russia-backed separatists locked in battle claim a cease-fire agreement has been violated and remains fragile.

“I’m ashamed of my country, I’m ashamed of my President and I’m ashamed of myself that I haven’t done more to help these people,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation. “It is really, really heartbreaking.” The United Nations conservatively estimates more than 5,300 people have been killed in the war since April.

PHOTOS: Scenes From Eastern Ukraine Show Cease-Fire in Shreds

McCain is in the camp that thinks the U.S. should send lethal weapons to Ukraine’s military, but President Barack Obama hasn’t made a decision yet. “The Ukrainians aren’t asking for American boots on the ground; that’s not the question here,” he said. “They’re asking for weapons to defend themselves, and they are being slaughtered and their military is being shattered.” Ukrainian forces fought their way out of the strategic rail hub of Debaltseve last week, suffering a brutal and bloody defeat.

The Arizona senator also made a quick dig against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, who recently helped broker the cease-fire deal in Minsk. The two have “legitimized for the first time in 70 years the dismemberment of a country in Europe,” he said. McCain later added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants Ukraine not to be a part of Europe and he is succeeding at doing so.”


Read next: Ukraine’s Maidan Protests Anniversary Met With Bombs, Fresh Fighting

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME White House

Obama Claims Republican Rhetoric Could Help ISIS

Rather than ignore his critics, the President takes them on

The newest front in the American war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will not take place in the deserts of Syria, Iraq or Libya, but on the covers of the nation’s tabloids and the airwaves of its cable television jabfests. President Obama, with two speeches in as many days, has decided to take the battle to his conservative critics.

Those who identify the black-clad extremists with their religious roots, the commander-in-chief argued repeatedly, are peddling a “lie” that will drive recruitment by the nation’s enemies and ultimately hurt U.S. interests. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative,” he said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.

But he did not stop there. A day after talking about the “debate in the press and among pundits” over terminology, he accused others in the public sphere Thursday of aiding the terrorist cause by highlighting the connection between Islamic teachings and Islamic State’s tactics, which include rape, beheadings, crucifixions and slavery. “That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations,” he continued. “That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed.”

On the other side are conservative commenters and Republican Presidential contenders, who have argued Obama has weakened the international effort to defeat the radicals by whitewashing their religious roots in public statements. “I think it’s a mistake to think that ISIS is not what it is,” said Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush, after a foreign policy address on Wednesday. “It’s violent, extreme Islamic terrorism, and the more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we’re going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support in the Muslim world to do what I said, which is tighten the noose and then take them out.”

Neither side shows much interest in backing down, making this a seminal moment in the Obama Administration’s long battle against the conservative press and his Republican critics. With the exception of his political campaigns and the debate over health care reform, White House aides have mostly preferred to be dismissive, not confrontational, when faced with the rhetoric of the right. But in this case, the White House has concluded that the rhetoric could have a real impact on the strength of the nation’s military foe.

Conservatives are unbowed by this claim, just a week before a major gathering in Washington of conservative leaders, where the red-meat rhetoric is certain to fly freely. A day after Obama’s first speech, the cover of the conservative New York Post photoshopped a blindfold on the President’s portrait with the headline, “Islamic terror? I just don’t see it.” Just two days earlier, Bill O’Reilly, the popular Fox News anchor, upped the temperature by declaring on his show “The Holy War is here, and unfortunately it seems the president will be the last to acknowledge it” — the exact frame that Obama argues validates the Islamic State cause.

Many of the Republicans presidential contenders have also embraced this critique of Obama’s approach to the Islamic State, even as they have offered little detail on how they would prosecute the military campaign differently. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists,” on Fox News Wednesday night.

“Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said earlier this month on “Fox and Friends.” “The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another likely candidate for President, criticized Obama earlier this month for his choice of words. “He certainly doesn’t like to say radical Islamic,” Jindal said in another Fox News appearance. “There’s a politically correct crowd that jumps on you when you say that.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted a link to a poll showing concern about Obama’s handling of the Islamic State. “We should call it what it is: radical Islamic terrorism,” Walker wrote.

Obama’s efforts to separate the ideology of extremists from the underlying teachings of Islam are a long-held strategy of the U.S. Government. In the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-President George W. Bush, who used the term “Islamic extremist,” spoke repeatedly about the difference between Islam and the efforts of Al Qaeda. “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” Bush said, as the rubble in lower Manhattan still smoldered. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

Some conservative and evangelical activists, however, have since rejected that formulation. In a recent email to supporters, David Lane, a Christian political organizer at the American Renewal Project, who has led trips overseas with many Republican leaders, including Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Huckabee and members of the Republican National Committee, wrote that George W. Bush was mistaken when he claimed in 2004 that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same deity. “The denial of the existence of evil, that God actually has enemies, is part of the fallout of a Biblically illiterate nation,” Lane wrote. “Our previous president was conned.”

TIME National Security

Obama Calls for International Unity in Fight Against Terror, Extremism

"We come from different countries and different cultures & different faiths… [but] we are all in the same boat" Obama said Thursday.

President Obama echoed Wednesday’s call for unity in the global fight against violent extremism in his final speech before a White House summit tackling the issue.

After two days of talks with community leaders from across the U.S., the State Department on Thursday hosted a group of high-level international leaders as a part of the Countering Violent Extremism Summit. During his speech, Obama again called on leaders to dispute extremist ideology that claims the West is at war with Islam.

“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie and all of us—regardless of our faith—have a responsibility to reject it,” Obama said.

In the wake of terror attacks in Paris and Egypt, and ongoing battles against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the summit has largely focused on extremist activities related to the Muslim community. The focus on Muslims has drawn ire from both conservatives—who say the administration hasn’t gone far enough to call out terrorism carried out through the faith—and American Muslims, who say the counter violence efforts being proposed will lead to further targeting and discrimination.

Obama on Thursday acknowledged that the targets of ISIS and al-Qaeda propaganda are largely members of the Muslim community and the terror organizations claim they are driven by Islam. He said that that countries had a responsibility, however, to lift up the voices of millions of Muslims around the world who actually represent the faith, and frankly, are just like everyone else. “A lot of the bad is absorbed,” Obama said. “Not enough of the good.”

Obama also said by confronting religious conflict, political, economic, and educational issues—all of which he said terrorists exploit in their efforts to recruit—countries can counter extremist messaging in a meaningful way.

The summit and gathering of international leaders piggybacks off of a call to action against extremism Obama made in September before the United Nations Security Council.

Read next: Obama Urges Americans to Keep Calm in Fight Against Violent Extremism

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Steps Away From His Brother’s Shadow

Former Gov. Jeb Bush provided an early preview Wednesday of how he will address the central challenge of his all-but-certain presidential campaign: defining himself outside the shadow of his family.

“I love my brother. I love my dad,” Bush told an audience of business leaders and politicos during a foreign-policy speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “But I am my own man—and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”

It was no coincidence that Bush picked a foreign-policy address to start the process of sketching the differences between his approach and those of the two Bush presidencies past. If he chooses to run, the former Florida governor will be saddled with the legacy of his brother, whose presidency was marred by two unpopular wars that sullied the family name.

Bush took tentative steps toward distinguishing his own views. “There were mistakes made in Iraq,” Bush acknowledged during a question-and-answer session, saying George W. Bush’s administration should have focused on ensuring security after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But he credited his brother’s decision to launch the 2007 troop surge that stabilized the war-torn nation, and said it had descended back into chaos because of President Obama’s decision to withdraw forces after his brother left office.

Ranging onto Obama’s home turf, Bush denounced the President for diminishing the nation’s stature on the world stage. Calling for a more assertive foreign policy that he dubbed “liberty democracy,” Bush skewered Obama’s approach as too passive toward America’s enemies and too murky for U.S. allies to rely upon. “The great irony of the Obama Presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world,” Bush said.

“America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world,” Bush said. “Our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places. We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace and human freedom.”

Bush criticized Obama for his handling of his “red line” with regards to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and his early dismissal of the Islamic State. He also whacked the President for failing to combat the threats posed by Russia’s escalations in eastern Ukraine, Boko Haram’s insurgency in Nigeria, and the personal distrust between the President and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This administration talks, but the words fade. They draw red lines, then erase them,” Bush said. “With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage. Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement. Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement. The examples keep piling up. ”

But blistering Obama was the easy part of the speech. For Bush, the hard part will be drawing distinctions between his approach and that of his brother—particularly in light of the fulsome praise he has heaped on George W. Bush’s foreign policy in the past. “I’m the only Republican that was in office when he was in office as President that never disagreed with him and I’m not going to start now,” Jeb told CNN in a rare 2010 joint interview with his brother, who is seven years his senior. “I’m not going to start now. It’s just till death do us part.”

As he moves toward a presidential campaign, Bush is soliciting foreign-policy advice from a broad range of conservative thinkers, including many who advised the 43rd or 41st presidents and some who helped orchestrate his brother’s ill-fated endeavors in the war on terrorism. They include former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, former Secretary of State George Schultz, and former Deputy National Security Advisor Meghan O’Sullivan.

In a rare venture into policy specifics, Bush explicitly defended the National Security Agency’s telephone metadata program, which was exposed by leaks from Edward Snowden. “For the life of me I don’t understand the debate,” he said, calling the controversial program “hugely important.” The position pits himself against likely 2016 GOP primary opponent Rand Paul, a Kentucky Senator who has made the purported excesses of the U.S. surveillance state a cornerstone of his campaign and a rallying cry designed to attract independents and young voters.

In a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, Bush called for Obama to confront Russian leader Vladimir Putin—whom he described as a “ruthless pragmatist—and criticized Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. “I think it was the wrong thing to do,” he said. Bush indicated that Obama should have allowed Cuba to feel the economic squeeze from falling oil prices, adding that he does not believe that Cuba’s dictatorship will make a transition to democratic government. “I don’t think it happens,” he added, “unless you negotiate the conditions for it to happen.”

As a governor, Bush lacks the day-to-day familiarity with foreign policy issues that some potential Senate rivals boast. But he sought to highlight his foreign policy bona fides by reciting his experience abroad, including trade missions conducted while he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and four annual trips to Asia in recent years.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that Bush’s name could be a drag among some Independent voters in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia, but most say it will not alter their decisionmaking should he face former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A CNN survey found that 64% of Americans associate Bush with the past, compared to 33% who say he represents the future. For Clinton, 50% associated her with the future, compared to 48% with the past.

Before Bush spoke, Democrats launched a preemptive attack that derided the former Florida governor for blaming the current Oval Office occupant for problems created by his predecessor. “The Jeb Doctrine seems to be to point fingers at the wrong Administration, cheerlead go-it-alone diplomacy, and put on blinders to the failures of the past,” said Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Says ‘I Am My Own Man’ on Foreign Policy

Jeb Bush Speaks At Detroit Economic Club
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the Detroit Economic Club on Feb. 4, 2015 in Detroit.

A 2016 contender looks to move away from previous Presidents Bush

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush proclaimed Wednesday that “I am my own man,” in an effort by the all-but-certain 2016 Republican presidential contender to distance himself from the legacies of his father and brother.

During an address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that marked his first major foreign policy speech as a would-be candidate, the son and brother of presidents delivered a broadside against President Barack Obama’s leadership on the global stage.

“Under this administration, we are inconsistent and indecisive,” Bush said, according to prepared remarks released by his political action committee, Right to Rise PAC. “We have lost the trust and the confidence of our friends. We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.”

His last name being both one of his strongest assets and greatest liabilities, Bush alluded to a turbulent history, especially in the foreign policy realm, as he seeks to craft his own White House campaign.

“I love my father and my brother,” he said. “But I am my own man—and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”

Bush has spent time over the last year consulting with foreign policy experts as he prepared to mount a White House bid, but was not expected to explicitly break with either family member’s foreign policy. In broad terms, Bush also levied criticism against Obama for his handling of his “red line” with regards to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Russia’s escalation’s in eastern Ukraine, Boko Haram’s insurgency in Nigeria, and the personal distrust between the President and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They draw red lines… then erase them,” Bush said in prepared remarks. “With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage. Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement. Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement.”

A former governor, Bush’s foreign policy has largely been undefined, though emails from his time in office reveal he supported his brother, President George W. Bush, in the invasion of Iraq.

Asked by reporters on Friday about his foreign policy in the context of his family’s long history, Bush said “I won’t talk about the past.”

“I’ll talk about the future,” Bush said, according to Bloomberg. “If I’m in the process of considering the possibility of running, it’s not about re-litigating anything in the past. It’s about trying to create a set of ideas and principles that will help us move forward.”

Speaking to reporters earlier in the week about how he would address the threat of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Bush said, “I think we need to develop a world strategy to take ‘em out.”

See the full excerpts below:

My goal today is to explore how America can regain its leadership in the world.
And why that leadership is more necessary than ever.
American leadership projected consistently and grounded in principle has been a benefit to the world.

I have doubts whether this administration believes American power is such a force.
Under this administration, we are inconsistent and indecisive.
We have lost the trust and the confidence of our friends.
We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.

The great irony of the Obama Presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world.

The United States has an undiminished ability to shape events and build alliances of free people.
We can project power and enforce peaceful stability in far-off areas of the globe.
To do so, I believe we need to root our foreign policy in a set of priorities and principles.

I also have been lucky to have a father and a brother who both have shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.
I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs’ – sometimes in contrast to theirs’.
I love my father and my brother. I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make.
But I am my own man – and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.
Each president learns from those who came before – their principles… their adjustments.
One thing we know is this: Every president inherits a changing world… and changing circumstances.

The transformation of our economy will also send a powerful message about the American system:
Free people, free markets, free ideas … implemented faithfully… will set a powerful example of what’s possible to the rest of the world.

Our words and our actions must match – so that the entire world knows we say what we mean and mean what we say.
The Administration talks, but the words face.
They draw red lines … then erase them.
With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage.
Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement.
Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement:

The President’s word needs to be backed by the greatest military power in the world… The president should call on leaders of both parties to fix the budget and address the shortfalls in our defense spending.
He should show leadership – and commitment to solving the problem.

Having a military that is equal to any threat is not only essential for the commander in chief… it also makes it less likely that we will need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.
Because I believe, fundamentally, that weakness invites war… and strength encourages peace.

The threats of the 21st century will not be the same as the threats of the 20th… and it is critical that we adapt to meet this challenge.

America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world – our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places.

We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace and human freedom.

TIME politics

With Friends Like These

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

It’s time for an honest conversation about Saudi Arabia and the roots of Islamist terror

“We … see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge–or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon,” President Barack Obama recently told the National Prayer Breakfast. “We have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.” A pretty strong statement, one would think. But it went largely unnoticed because of what the President said next: that Christians should be humble, because terrible acts–the Crusades, the Inquisition–had been committed in the name of Christ. Undoubtedly true too. My family was chased from Spain by the Christians in 1492, after Jews had lived there for centuries peacefully–if not totally free–under Muslim rule.

Assorted historical ignorami rose to challenge the President on the Crusades, including, sadly, former governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who accused the President of not believing “in America and the values we share.” But I’m not going to waste a column shooting ducks in a barrel. I’m more interested in another question. Why is the President willing to say all that stuff about ISIS terrorists and not call them what they actually are: Islamic radicals?

At first glance, this might seem a classic case of political correctness–which can be defined as avoiding hard truths in order to salve soft sensibilities. It’s certainly true that it is unfair to indict a global faith followed by more than 1.6 billion people, the overwhelming majority of whom consider ISIS an insane distortion of the Prophet’s teachings. “ISIS is a political movement,” says Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies and a former Obama Administration official. “It is an anticolonial movement, an attempt to separate whites from browns … Why should we be coronating ISIS and giving it the credibility it craves by calling it an ‘Islamic’ movement?”

But ISIS is, most definitely, a twisted extrapolation of a religious-political trend that gained traction in the region about a hundred years ago, after the egregious European gobbling, slicing and dicing of the Middle East. When you look at all the straight-line borders in that part of the world, you can be sure the locals didn’t draw them. Anger over the European usurpation is one thing Shi’ites and Sunnis have in common. The Iranian revolution of 1979, which imposed a brand-new form of political Shi’ism on a freewheeling country, was a reaction to the Western-imposed government of the Shah. On the Sunni side, the radical Salafist movement began in the late 19th century, also as a reaction to Western imperialism and ideas. It has become a powerful strand of thought in the Arab world.

“We have a serious internal debate in one of the world’s three great monotheisms,” says Michael Hayden, the former CIA director. “It has to be faced head on.” It is fine to call the ISIS adherents thugs and gangsters, but they are also Muslims. “Of course this is an Islamic issue,” Hayden continues. “It’s not about all Muslims or even the vast majority,” but reactionary Islamic radicalism–militant Salafism–is the source of the ongoing violence.

And the wellspring of Salafism is Saudi Arabia’s extreme, expansionist Wahhabi Islamic sect. Part of the reason Obama can’t utter the words Islamic radicals is that we have not been able to have an honest conversation about our Arabian ally. The Saudi royal family is a source of stability in the region, and under the late King Abdullah, it was a mild force for reform, especially in education. But the Saudi elites have funded not just al-Qaeda but also radical madrasahs throughout the Islamic world. They do it cleverly, privately, through “charitable” institutions. The impact has been enormous. In the 1990s, I asked Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan how her country had changed in the previous 25 years. “I used to be able to go out on the street wearing jeans” and without a headscarf, she said. I asked her why she couldn’t do that now. “The Saudis,” she replied, immediately–a reference to the Saudi-funded madrasahs that were rapidly replacing the ineffective public schools in her country. The Taliban came out of those madrasahs, just as a great many of the ISIS criminals do now.

This is not just an Obama problem. Both presidents Bush were way too close to the royal family. There is a secret section of a report by congressional intelligence committees that may relate to the Saudi role in the attacks. That section should be made public now, as an ongoing suit by the families of 9/11 victims has demanded. If we are going to continue to donate American lives to the fight–and sadly, we must, to protect our country from terrorist attacks–we need to be clear about exactly who the enemy is.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME White House

Obama: ISIS Is ‘Going to Lose’

"Our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose”

—President Obama said the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is “going to lose,” during statements Wednesday about the war powers request he sent to Congress.

“Make no mistake, this is a difficult mission and it will remain difficult for some time,” Obama said during his remarks from the White House’s Roosevelt Room. “But our coalition is on the offensive. [ISIS] is on the defensive and [ISIS] is going to lose.”

The President on Wednesday sent a request to Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS, which many members have wanted since the U.S. and coalition forces’ offensive against the group began last year. The President has said that though he is already within his legal authority to use force against the group, he wants to work with Congress to show the world the U.S. is a united front.

On Wednesday, the President reiterated that the authorization he sent to Congress does not call for the deployment of ground combat forces in Iraq and Syria, stating he remains convinced that the U.S. “should not get dragged back into another ground war in the Middle East.”

“As Commander in Chief, I will only send our troops into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary for our national security,” Obama said.

The resolution would also expire within three years, so that the burden on how to move forward with the offensive would shift to the next President and Congress.

Wednesday, however, is merely the first step in what’s sure to be a drawn-out debate over action in the region. Many lawmakers have already expressed concern over the ambiguity of the resolution. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the resolution is “intentionally” open-ended so that the President can have flexibility in his approach.

So far, the U.S. and coalition forces have launched over 2,300 air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

TIME Foreign Policy

The Five Words That Democrats Don’t Like in Obama’s War Powers Request

US President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel hold press conference at White House
Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington D.C. on Feb. 9, 2015.

The White House says it's "intentionally" fuzzy.

One phrase in President Obama’s new request for congressional authority to fight Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq is causing a backlash among Democrats: “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

“I just think ‘enduring’ is too ambiguous,” says Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip. “’Offensive’ is uncertain. As someone noted, you’re dealing with actions by the Department of Defense, which can always be classified as defensive. So we have some work to do.”

The phrase, according to California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, is meant to signal that President Obama wouldn’t commit the country to another war like the one he campaigned against in 2008.

“It’s another way of saying this won’t be Iraq Part II or Afghanistan all over again,” he says. “Beyond that, it doesn’t tell us very much because what does ‘enduring’ mean? And what does ‘offensive’ mean?”

The word “enduring” is particularly vague in this context: as Bloomberg noted, the 13-year Afghanistan war was named Operation Enduring Freedom. For some Democrats, the phrase in Obama’s authorization for use of military force—known as an AUMF—harkens back to the Vietnam war.

“It’s language that is of concern to me in that it seems oddly open-ended,” says Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which will debate the resolution. “As the generation who remembers the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the lesson learned there is you want tight language when you’re authorizing military intervention.”

“I have no reason to believe this president would ever do that action, but he’s citing language that was passed in his predecessor’s tenure that is 13 years old,” he added. “So we have to be cognizant of the fact that whatever we pass will survive this presidency. Therefore we have to write it in a way that is as tight and focused as we need it to be.”

The Obama Administration has already sent around 2,300 airstrikes against ISIS for the past six months under congressional authority the Bush Administration received in 2001 and 2002 to attack Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11. But Obama has called ISIS a “different type of enemy” that requires a new legal authority to defeat. The requested authorization is more limited than the ones currently used as it sets a three years “sunset” and repeals the 2002 AUMF, but it doesn’t set a geographical limit to Syria and Iraq as some like Schiff and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had hoped.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the language in the resolution is “intentionally” fuzzy to ensure there aren’t “overly burdensome constraints” on the president as he responds to unexpected events.

Some top Republicans agree, arguing that the president should not be constrained by Congress in fighting Islamic militants, which are responsible for the death of four Americans and control roughly double the size of Massachusetts in Iraq and Syria.

“The reality is that ISIS is a brutal terrorist army that does not respect timelines or boundaries,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul. “The president’s proposal will weaken the authority of the president to defeat ISIS by limiting, not expanding, our ability to rollback and destroy the violent Islamist extremists that threaten our nation.

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