After the Nice attack: 10 things that can be done

Story highlights

  • Peter Bergen proposes 10 things that could be done in the wake of the attack in Nice and other recent terrorist acts
  • Proposals by Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich miss the mark, he says

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists."

(CNN)Donald Trump wants to declare war. Newt Gingrich wants to test all Muslims in America for their views on Sharia law. And Hillary Clinton wants to take stronger measures against ISIS' online presence, which is radicalizing militants around the globe.

Thursday's terror attack in Nice predictably provoked rapid responses from the presidential candidates and other political figures. Yet, of the views from Trump, Gingrich and Clinton, only her proposal makes any sense.
    Peter Bergen
    The investigation of the Nice attack is still in the early stages and we don't know the motivation of the killer. It is likely a case of homegrown terrorism, perhaps inspired by ISIS, similar to what we saw a month ago in Orlando. Also, in the past month we have seen ISIS-directed attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Baghdad and very likely in Istanbul and Medina, Saudi Arabia.
    All of these attacks have moved terrorism to the forefront of political debate.
    As both Trump and Clinton head into their respective conventions over the coming days, hopefully we will hear more specific and realistic proposals about what to actually do about the scourge of terrorism.
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    Here are 10 things that can be done:
    1. Either through electronic warfare or bombing, take out ISIS' propaganda production facilities in the Middle East. Two weeks ago, ISIS announced its involvement in the attack at the café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 20 through Amaq, which is effectively ISIS' news agency. Why does Amaq continue to exist? Also ISIS continues to pump out online videos, audios and webzines. These require crude production facilities of some kind. These, too, should be eliminated.
    2. Intensify the military campaign against ISIS. The less the ISIS "caliphate" exists as a physical entity, the less the group can claim it is the "Islamic State" that it purports to be. That should involve more U.S. Special Forces on the ground embedded with Iraqi and other coalition forces and more U.S. forward air controllers calling in close air support strikes for those forces.
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    3. Institute a no-fly zone in northern Syria as Clinton has demanded. This will reduce the battlefield success of Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad, who is the principal driver of the Syrian war and also will reduce the flow of refugees into Europe.
    4. Build a database of all the "foreign fighters" who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate there. This is one of the recommendations of the House Homeland Security Committee's 2015 report on foreign fighters in Syria and it is a very good one. How can you prevent an attack by returning foreign fighters if you are not cognizant of their names and links to ISIS? Right now, Interpol has a list of some 5,000 foreign fighters, but that is dwarfed by the estimated 30,000 foreign fighters who have gone to fight in Syria.
    5. Enlist defectors from ISIS to tell their stories publicly. Nothing is more powerful than hearing from former members of the group that ISIS is not creating an Islamist utopia in the areas it controls, but a hell on earth.
    The flow of foreign fighters to ISIS from around the Muslim world has been estimated to be about 1,000 a month. Reducing that flow is a key to reducing ISIS' manpower. Muhammad Jamal Khweis, 26, of Alexandria, Virginia, was held by Kurdish fighters after allegedly deserting from ISIS in early 2015. Khweis gave an interview to a Kurdish TV station in which he said: "My message to the American people is: the life in Mosul [the Iraqi capital of ISIS] it's really, really bad. The people [that] were controlling Mosul don't represent the religion. Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, they don't represent the religion, I don't see them as good Muslims."
    U.S. prosecutors could throw the book at Khweis for joining ISIS, and he could get 20 years or more, but, alternatively, they could try something more creative -- a deal in which he tells prosecutors what he knows about ISIS in return for a reduced prison sentence. And one more thing: He would also have to appear before the American public, explaining that ISIS is creating hell in the areas it controls.
    6. Amplify voices such as that of the ISIS opposition group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. The group routinely posts photos online of bread lines in Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in northern Syria, and writes about electricity shortages in the city. This will help to undercut ISIS propaganda that it is a truly functioning state.
    7. Support the work of clerics such as Imam Mohamed Magid of northern Virginia, who has personally convinced a number of American Muslims seduced into support for jihad by ISIS that what the group is doing is contrary to the teachings of Islam.
    8. Keep up pressure on social media companies such as Twitter to enforce their own terms of use to take down any ISIS material that encourages violence. Earlier this year, Twitter took down 125,000 accounts used by ISIS supporters, but the group continues to use Twitter and other social media platforms to propagate its message.
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    9. Amplify support to the Turks to help them in their mission to tamp down the foreign fighter flow through their country to ISIS in neighboring Syria. Turkey, which had long been criticized by Western countries for allowing foreign fighters to move through its territory on their way to Syria, has started to clamp down on that traffic into Syria. Those efforts by the Turks are paying off, according to ISIS itself. In 2015, ISIS posted advice in one of its English-language online publications to would-be foreign fighters, saying, "It is important to know that the Turkish intelligence agencies are in no way friends of the Islamic State [ISIS]."
    10. Relentlessly hammer home the message that while ISIS positions itself as the defender of Muslims, its victims are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.
    As for the views of Donald Trump, who told Fox News "this is war" and that he would seek a declaration of war from Congress, here's a news flash: The Obama administration has repeatedly asked Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the wars in Syria and Iraq, but Congress has abdicated this responsibility.
    Also, the Obama administration has been waging various forms of war in seven Muslim countries for years, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Are there other Muslim countries Trump would like to go to war with?
    (There is something of a law in American politics that the louder you call for war the less likely you are to have spent any time in the military or in war zones. Trump is a perfect exemplar of this law having avoided service in Vietnam though various deferments and there is no evidence he has visited any of the war zones in which he wants to wage a war.)
    Trump has also said he would ban travel from countries where there is a terrorism problem. Is he seriously proposing that French citizens be barred from traveling to the United States? After all, France clearly has a major terrorism problem.
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    Newt Gingrich, who lost out in the competition for the veep slot on the Trump ticket, said Thursday that all Muslims in the United States should be interviewed about their views on Sharia law and should be deported if they give the wrong answer.
    It's hard to imagine any Muslim fessing up to their secret proclivity for Sharia law knowing they would be deported if they gave the wrong answer. In any event, this would be like asking Christians if they believed in purgatory; just as Christians have many different conceptions of purgatory, there are many different interpretations of what Sharia means.
    Then there is the, ahem, small matter that the Republic was built on the idea of religious tolerance and that the religious test that Gingrich is prescribing would be unconstitutional. Gingrich, a sometime history professor, seems to have forgotten a key reason why these United States were founded: So folks can practice whatever religion they want.