The terrorist attacks carried out in Brussels on Tuesday bolstered calls from the administration to confront the Islamic State (ISIL) throughout the world.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee hours after the killings that the United States’ counter-ISIL strategy needs to look beyond Iraq and Syria.
“If we can expel ISIL from Raqqa and Mosul, that will show that there’s no such thing as an Islamic State based upon this ideology,” Carter said, referring to the largest cities held by ISIL. “We also need to destroy ISIL in the places to which it has metastasized around the world.”
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In January, using similar language in an article for Politico Magazine, Carter said those places include “North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen.” The US has recently launched a number of recent airstrikes at ISIL targets in Libya, including one in late February that killed dozens of people — believed by the Pentagon to be militants.
Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels killed at least 30 people and wounded 180 others, with the casualty toll likely to climb after publication. The massacres were carried out through three bombings — one at Maelbeek metro station, and two at Zaventem airport. According to preliminary reports, an ISIL-affiliated website claimed responsibility on behalf of the extremist organization.
“Together, we must and we will continue to do everything we can to protect our homeland and defeat terrorists wherever they threaten us,” Carter also said. “No attack will affect our resolve to accelerate the defeat of ISIL.”
The idea that the US can defeat “terrorism” in a global fight — a theory heavily peddled by the Bush administration after 9/11–was echoed on Tuesday by other members of the current administration.
“We must be together regardless of nationality, or race, or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” President Obama noted. “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.” Secretary of State John Kerry also said that: “[a]ttacks like these only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world.”
Tuesday’s assault also led to a slew of criticism aimed at the administration from right-wing politicians, who say the United States is not taking a sufficiently aggressive stance in the fight on ISIL.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) hit out at the President saying that ISIL “is expanding across the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia and radicalizing terrorist recruits in the United States and Europe.”
“Time has never been on our side in this conflict, and the failure to recognize the urgent realities of the war against ISIL will carry a grave price for our nation and our people,” the senators said in a joint statement.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, used the attacks to repeat hardline policies that have helped him rise to the top in the ongoing Republican presidential primary. He called on the US to “close up our borders to people until we figure out what’s going on.” In a separate interview, Trump said: “Frankly, we are having problems with the Muslims.”
Trump’s closest challenger, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made similar statements, appealing for discriminatory and authoritarian policies. Cruz said the US must “halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al-Qaida or [ISIL] presence,” and said that Washington should “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
On the Democratic side of the equation, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a television interview that Trump’s proposals were “unrealistic.” The primary frontrunner also emphasized the need to “stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world.”
Her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, had a slightly narrower focus in his response, saying the US, its partners and “the international community must come together to destroy [ISIL].”