President Ronald Reagan, a man never ill-equipped to deliver a great soundbite, once famously said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream.
“The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same.”
For President Reagan’s generation, that mentality was forged on the beaches of Normandy, on the islands in the Pacific, and in frozen misery at the Battle of the Bulge by the millions who stepped up and provided needed support on the home front.
Victory in the Second World War required not just the men and women in uniform contribute to the effort, but an the entire country. Those who survived the war and birthed the next generation of Americans did well in passing on that important lesson.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we do better to instill in the next generation of Americans the belief that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” The United States again is being tested and confronted by groups as evil and as hell-bent on our destruction as the Axis powers. However, the sense of urgency in defeating this enemy pales in comparison to America’s commitment to winning the Second World War.
We have spent nearly 15 years engaging in the War on Terror and contributed enormous resources, but have yet to be able to declare victory. The lack of quantified success is remarkable when you consider the incredible devastation the American men and women in uniform have inflicted on our enemy. Our veterans of these wars are nothing short of superheroes, many of whom have served multiple tours and years away from family and loved ones; they have performed as admirably in battle as any group of warriors in American history.
But their efforts have been made stagnant by an administration only half-heartedly engaging the enemy, foolishly making decisions based more on fulfilling campaign promises than on the reality on the ground — and a nation that has grown apathetic to the task at hand.
The biggest problem with any perceived apathy towards the Global War on Terror is that President Reagan’s idea of fighting and protecting freedom is at risk of being lost by the youngest generation of Americans.
“Remember the Lusitania.” “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy.” “We Will Never Forget.” These have all been important reminders throughout our history about the cost of freedom and the need to protect our country from those that wish to do us harm.
The War on Terror requires a more nuanced approach to achieve victory than previous U.S. conflicts, requiring the attention of much more than just our men and women in combat roles.
One of the most underrated aspects of winning this war has been infiltrating and cutting off sources of funding for terrorist groups. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, I am part of a bipartisan group in Congress that is exploring ways to infiltrate and cut off funding for terror groups. Succeeding in this area would deal our enemies a crippling blow to their operations. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has succeeded in limiting terrorist groups’ access to traditional funding methods.
This includes the U.S. Department of the Treasury working with our international partners to interdict terrorists groups’ funds moving across the international banking system, freezing known terrorists’ assets, designating Islamic charities suspected of funding terrorism, and stopping their access to global financial networks.
As our laws have adapted, so, too, have the terrorists. Terrorists groups are funding their operations through black market oil and commodities trading, kidnapping for ransom, and drug trafficking, to name just a few of the methods. Many of these new forms of revenue are very difficult to stop through traditional counter-terrorism financing (CTF) measures and anti-money laundering (AML) methods.
Although the Task Force will continue to look at ways to improve laws dealing with traditional CTF/AML issues, from a policy-maker’s point of view, there is almost too much emphasis on traditional financial interdiction.
It took a terrible attack in Paris for the administration to finally begin bombing ISIS oil trucks being used to generate millions in revenue. Policymakers must come to an understanding in all parts of our strategy – topline, operational, and tactical – that finance targets should be treated as military targets, and we must have a plan that downgrades and eliminates terrorist groups’ command and control functions and financial infrastructure.
We must give our commanders on the ground a set of rules of engagement that give them the flexibility to go after these targets.
The Paris and San Bernardino attacks also opened the eyes of many to another problem: the use of social networking sites to recruit and coordinate attacks. ISIS needs to be contained not just on the ground, or in the global financial system, but also in the digital space, and who better to lead that charge the youngest generations of Americans who are so adept at utilizing and understanding technology and social media.
Earlier this year, I met with students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) who were in Washington competing in the Facebook Global Digital Challenge. The challenge displayed strategies students had created to combat violent extremism and defuse online recruiting by terrorist organizations.
These students and their peers will ultimately be a central part of our victory, and when the time comes for us to pass the same torch that our parents’ generation passed on to us, their experiences will have lead them to understand the truth of President Reagan’s words.