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Tom Reed vs. John Plumb: Who has the better plan for fighting ISIS?

Submitted by Robin Messing on Wed, 10/19/2016 - 5:04pm

I wrote a column last August for the Ithaca Journal calling on Congressman Tom Reed to rescind his endorsement of Donald Trump.  I pointed out that Reed had repeatedly criticized his opponent, John Plumb, and President Obama for being soft on Russia and that he could not logically maintain his endorsement of Trump while insisting we resist Russia's aggression in Ukraine.  Reed has yet to rescind his endorsement despite this inconsistency with respect to Russia and despite Trump's bragging about grabbing women by the pussy.

Today I would like to compare Tom Reed's approach to fighting ISIS with that of his opponent, John Plumb.  John Plumb has a detailed five part plan for fighting ISIS: Here is a brief summary.


  • Protect the Homeland: Reinvigorate our Joint Terrorism Task Force to effectively integrate information on threats and interrupt planned attacks on the homeland.
  • A New AUMF for our Current Enemy: Pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to provide clear legal authority to the executive branch to hunt down and capture or kill ISIS leadership wherever they are hiding, while ensuring focused and rigorous Congressional oversight to prevent mission creep or executive overreach.
  • Intelligence Sharing and Joint Operational Planning to Create a True Coalition: Enhance support for intelligence sharing and joint planning, including efforts with key regional partners in the fight against ISIS.
  • Cutting Off ISIS Sources of Money: Expand operations and financial activities aimed at undermining ISIS sources of power – specifically their oil, arms, and financial backers
  • Confront ISIS in their Cyber War: Expand and enhance existing authorities and funding that allow the U.S. to engage in offensive and defensive cyber operations to undermine and eliminate ISIS efforts to radicalize and recruit online.


This is a bare bones summary of Plumb's policy.  Plumb fleshes out the bones with more details here.

Tom Reed, by contrast, has not summarized a well-articulated plan towards fighting ISIS in one fact sheet.  As best as I can tell by looking at his Facebook posts, Reed's policy towards ISIS can be summarized as a follows.

  1. Keep out  refugees fleeing from death and destruction in Iraq and Syria who have not been certified by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence as posing no threat to the U.S.
  2. Get tough on ISIS, whatever that means.

I will paste copies of posts from Tom Reed's Facebook page discussing ISIS at the end of this article.  Let's examine these two pillars of Reed's approach to ISIS.


Keeping the Refugees Out

The first pillar--keeping out all refugees from Iraq and Syria until they get extra certification of safety from several agencies sounds sensible and like a great idea--at first. But dig a little digger and you will find that this is both unnecessary and counterproductive.  It also cruelly condemns unwanted refugees to lives of misery or death.  This policy repeats the same mistake we made during the late 1930's and early 1940's when we prevented thousands of Jews fleeing Germany from entering our country because we feared they were spies for Germany.  We have a special moral obligation to take in refugees from Iraq and Syria if we can do so safely because ISIS would not have been able to grow had we not created a power vacuum in Iraq by our 2003 invasion.

This policy of--in Donald Trump's words, extreme vetting, is unnecessary because we already have a rigorous multi-agency screening process that usually takes 18 - 24 months to weed out potential terrorists.  (See this infographic of the vetting process.) There have been reports that this process has been shortened to 3 months, but that really hasn't happened.  And as immigration policy expert David Bier writes, 

The two most important points are these: a possible reduction in delays in that process remains a promise, not a reality, and the security process for refugees will remain the same. There is simply no security gained by creating long waits for refugees. 


Our screening process has been so thorough that it is EXTREMELY rare for an American to be killed by an immigrant in a terrorist attack.  How rare? A Cato Institute report found that the odds for a given American dying from an immigrant terrorist attack during a given year was one in 3.6 million. As Zack Beauchamp points out, you have a greater chance of dying from your clothes melting or catching fire than you do of being killed by an immigrant's terror attack.  This one in 3.6 million figure significantly overstates the danger posed by refugees.  As the Cato report notes:

The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year. Any government response to terrorism must take account of the wide range of hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists who entered under various visa categories. (Emphasis added.)


This is obviously not enough vetting for Reed.  He wants to add an extra layer by requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence to certify that each individual refugee poses no threat to the U.S. There are two problems with this. First, it is impossible to certify with 100% certainty that a given individual will not commit a crime in the future.  As I have written elsewhere, Donald Trump has incited his supporters so much that some have threatened to assassinate Hillary Clinton if she becomes President.  Imagine how impossible it would be to impliment, and how much the Republicans would cry out, if we passed a law stating that no individual could buy (much less own) a gun unless the head of three government agencies certify that they will not assassinate the President. And second, the time required for the heads of these three agencies to review hundreds, much less thousands, of individual files would be prohibitive. Their jobs are complicated and require the ability to understand large amounts of information and focus on many specific tasks to keep our nation secure. Requiring them to spend a large portion of their time going over the files of individual refugees could divert them from other vital tasks.  While this added requirement will provide only marginal benefits to American security, it will reduce the number of refugees obtaining safety on our shores from persecution and death to a trickle.


Getting Tough On ISIS

It's hard to know what Tom Reed means when he asks us to "get tough on ISIS" because he does not spell out any specifics.  However, we do know he is a Donald Trump supporter and we know what Trump has said. Tom Reed has not, to my knowledge, publicly condemned Trump for these policies.  Unless Reed explicitly states otherwise, we can only assume he supports them

  1. Trump said that he would consider using nuclear weapons against ISIS if they launch a terror attack against us in the US.
  2. Trump told Fox and Friends, "When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself."  He later denied that he had ever said that we should kill the families of terrorists, but as I have documented elsewhere, Trump is a world class liar. Are we to assume that when he was talking to Fox and Friends he really meant that we should take their families out to a nice restaurant? 
  3. Trump said he would authorize waterboarding and much worse torture techniques against ISIS because--in his words "torture works."  
  4. Trump pledged to take over Iraqi oil fields so that ISIS could not use them. But he didn't say we should just guard the fields to prevent ISIS from using them.  He said we should take Iraqi oil as well.
  5. Though he may not be emphasizing this now, Trump once said that he would create a registry for the government to keep track of Muslims.  Charles Koch said Trump's plan was "reminiscent of Nazi Germany". Trump also said that he would profile Muslims and consider shutting down mosques.


There are so many problems with this approach it is hard to know where to begin. I could start by saying that they are all morally repugnant, but attempts to persuade Trump supporters of the necessity of taking the moral high ground are as likely to work as attempts to persuade Donald Trump to release his tax forms.  Here are a few more practical objections.

  1. Using nuclear weapons to retaliate against a conventional attack in the U.S. is overkill. Thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent victims will die. It will foment the rise of anti-U.S. groups where none had been. Islamic extremists will redouble their efforts to get their hands on nuclear weapons or materials to make nuclear weapons.  It may foster greater cooperation between those who have access to nuclear materials and terrorists who want to acquire them.  It will hasten the day when we see nuclear attacks against American cities.
  2. Intentionally killing innocent family members of terrorists is a war crime.
  3. Whether or not torture actually works is a matter of great controversy.  Whether it works or not, it is a war crime. Former CIA Director, General Michael Hayden (ret.) said that the military might refuse to carry out Trump's order to torture because, "You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict."  Trump responded, "They won't refuse. They're not going to refuse me. Believe me."  Trump's order to torture detainees would force our military officers to become war criminals.  It could undermine our military's morale and create a crisis in military/civilian relationship.
  4. Grabbing Iraq's oil would only confirm what many around the world already suspect--that the U.S. is a colonial power whose real reason for invading Iraq was to grab its oil.  It would violate international law.  And it would be counterproductive.  I strongly urge you to read this critique by Noah Bierman and W.J. Hennigan in the Los Angeles Times.  They write.

Taking oil after the invasion would not only have devastated the Iraqi people, it would likely have increased the size of the insurgency that fought against the U.S. military – feeding on beliefs that Americans were there as modern-day crusaders – and undermined U.S. efforts to build allies throughout the Middle East.


“Every country in the region would have opposed us,” Kori Schake, a top defense and security advisor to Bush, said in an email. ”And it would have made governments the world over suspicious of U.S. involvement.”

One of the greatest problems during the postwar occupation was the alienation of large numbers of Sunni Muslims and members of the Iraqi military after the U.S. insisted on eliminating all members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party from government positions, Cordesman noted. Taking oil would have eliminated whatever goodwill remained.

  1. Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg wrote the single best article explaining why Trump's approach hurts our national security.  Here are some key excerpts, but READ THE WHOLE THING.

For the Islamic State, the express purpose of such [terror] attacks is to ignite hatred of Muslims. The organization, like so many disappointed revolutionaries before it, says explicitly that it uses terror to awaken the people it thinks should be on its side.


Trump, therefore, is not just a bigot and a bully. He has made himself a strategic asset of the Islamic State. . . .

The strategic text that apparently served as an Islamic State handbook, The Management of Savagery, lays out just this rationale—in religious language that belies its secular roots. It explains that terror attacks against the West will lead to clumsy assaults on the Islamic world, thereby “dragging the masses [of Muslims] into the battle.” The organization's pre-Ramadan manifesto this year repeats justifications for killing civilians in an attempt to argue away traditional Islamic rules for just war. . . .

[ISIS's] effort to recruit foreign fighters, much as it has frightened Europe, has fallen far short of the Islamic State's fantasies. The vast majority of Muslims have persisted in what the radicals consider apostasy. They are labeled “mindless beasts” who count themselves as Muslims but believe America.

So the Islamic State, besieged and apparently lacking foreign networks, urges “supporters of the Caliphate in Europe and America” to carry out attacks on civilians. It's the classic lament and call to arms of a revolutionary group facing defeat. The victims of its violence are randomly chosen. The expectation is that the theatrics of bloodshed will provoke an over-the-top, indiscriminate response by the enemy against Muslims. This, in turn, is supposed to prove even to “mindless beasts” that coexistence between Islam and the West is impossible—both in the individual's daily life and on the global stage.

Donald Trump, with his bravado and hatred, is playing the part assigned to him in this script, little as he understands it. 


Though they don't get nearly as much press as they should, most Muslims actively condemn ISIS and terrorism. In 2014, More than 120 Muslim scholars signed an open letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, that provided a detailed proof based on Islamic texts that the terrorist group's activities violated core teaching of Islam.  

In addition, despite Trump's claim that Muslims are not cooperating with authorities to prevent terrorism, several FBI and local law enforcement officials reported that members of the Muslim community were cooperating with them to help prevent terrorist plots.  Zack Beachamp writes

In 2014, University of North Carolina sociologist Charles Kurzman identified 188 cases since 9/11 where the police had publicly identified a Muslim American as a suspected terrorist and disclosed where the initial tip came from. Of those 188, 54 individuals were brought to the government's attention via tips from members of the Muslim-American community. Muslim Americans were the single largest source of tips identified in Kurzman's study.


Another study, by the University of Maryland's Alejandro Beutel, looked at plots broken up by law enforcement. He found Muslim community members provided critical information in two out of every five disrupted plots between 2001 and 2011.


Donald Trump's and Tom Reed's plan to fight ISIS and Islamic terrorism will empower radical elements within the Islamic community and marginalize those who oppose them. It will jeopardize cooperation between the Muslim community, both at home and abroad, and intelligence officials. It will turn the U.S. into a pariah and jeopardize our ability to work with allies in the war against terrorism.

That's why I thought comparing Reed’s plan to Plumb’s plan is like comparing a first grader’s understanding of the universe to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson. At least that’s what I thought after reading Plumb’s plan.

But I wanted another opinion, so I contacted an expert’s expert on the matter and asked him what he thought of Plumb’s plan. Malcolm Nance wrote the book "Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, How They Fight, What They Believe".  His bio is impressive and you can read about him here. This is what he said about Plumb's plan.

It’s a very sound strategy. We are doing quite a bit of it but overall, it’s excellent. I also see he was on the NSC. [National Security Council] That may explain why he has a fight smarter, not harder strategy.

After reading Nance’s evaluation, I am more confident than ever that we need John Plumb in Congress to ensure our nation’s security.


Updated on 10/20/2016 with a quote from the Cato Institute report on immigrants and terrorism.


These are the posts about ISIS and refugees from Tom Reed's unofficial campaign-related Facebook page Clicking on the dates will bring you to the original posts.


It’s been four years since the last leap day, but one thing hasn’t changed: President Obama’s failing agenda. We have had enough of Obama’s agenda that fails to address our needs, that fails to protect our national security, that fails to combat ISIS and other dangerous terrorist organization, that fails to stand up to Iran. My opponent, John Plumb, was a member of Obama’s Administration as an aide that helped write these failing policies. We cannot afford a continuation of Obama’s legacy through Hillary Clinton or John Plumb. But, unlike these individuals, I have fought for the needs of our district and I have stood up to President Obama. Share this post if you want to stop the Failing Obama Agenda.



Tom Reed

March 11 · 

It feels like every day we are seeing ISIS or Iran escalating while President Obama’s Administration continues to fumble over their foreign policy strategy to combat these threats. My opponent, John Plumb, used to work for President Obama in the White House as a foreign policy aide where he helped write Obama’s failed foreign policy. Time and time again I have called for the Administration to take action and protect our families, but Obama is not listening. Like and share this post to join me in holding Obama accountable.


Tom Reed

March 16 at 6:39pm · 

On Monday, I along with every other member of the House of Representatives united in calling the crimes committed by ISIS and the Syrian Government what they truly are: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes. The Administration has failed to address these crimes and they have failed to create a strategy for ISIS. John Plumb was an aide for President Obama and now he is my opponent. In his position working for the President, Plumb crafted polices that made the American people and our allies less safe. He cannot be trusted to protect the families of the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western New York if he can’t even identify a war crime when it is right in front of him. We are still waiting to see if Obama will call these acts a genocide. Congress gave him a deadline of March 17th. Tomorrow we will see if he fails to meet yet another deadline.


Tom Reed

March 25 · 

Terrorist attacks have once again shocked our nation and our world. These attacks in Belgium are just another example of the horrific acts ISIS is willing to commit. We need to keep these individuals from entering our nation and we need to eliminate ISIS. President Obama’s Administration, which my opponent was a foreign policy aide in, failed to come up with a plan to combat ISIS. I united with Republican and Democrats in calling for Obama to have a plan to combat ISIS by February 15th, 2016. But, we are more than a month passed this deadline and Obama still does not have a plan. This is unacceptable. Like and share this post to tell Obama he needs a plan to combat ISIS and prevent these tragedies.


Tom Reed

April 9 · 

Earlier this week, there were reports of ISIS taking more than 300 factory workers hostage in Syria. ISIS is a threat to our entire world, yet President Obama stands idly by and fails to create a plan to combat ISIS. Obama’s former aide and my opponent, John Plumb, is still silent on this issue even though he has supported Obama in virtually every aspect of Obama’s failed foreign policy. But, after all, Plumb helped write it. Obama needs to create a plan to combat ISIS like Congress demanded. Sign your name here to tell Obama we need a plan!

Tom Reed
May 1

Our government needs to put the priorities of the American people first, but President Obama has done the opposite by failing to create a plan to combat ISIS, by instituting Common Core and hurting our kids, by pushing Obamacare on us and causing our premiums to rise. And, unfortunately, Obama’s former aide and my opponent John Plumb is standing by Obama’s policies. I have held Obama accountable on each of these issues and I will continue to do so every day that I am in office. Like and share this post to join me in holding Obama accountable.

May 26 · 

ISIS is gruesomely murdering men, women, and children around the world. Earlier this week reports stated that ISIS is using a new horrific method to murder their prisoners. We need to have a plan to combat ISIS which is why I along with Republican and Democratic members of Congress united to call on President Obama to create a plan for ISIS by February 15, 2016. He has failed to do so and his former foreign policy aide, “DC John” Plumb, has continued to support Obama.


Tom Reed

June 12 at 5:26pm · 

Our world has been shaken by terrorism repeatedly, but Obama still hasn’t created a plan to combat ISIS. This Administration also dropped sanctions on Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, because of the dangerous Iran Nuclear Agreement. DC John Plumb was a foreign policy aide in the White House when the Iran Nuclear Deal was written and now this deal is the reason Iran is able to fund terrorist activities.

Yesterday, our entire nation, our entire world was shook by the horrific shooting in Orlando. It is important that we support each other and unite to mourn this tragedy. We need to look at the real enemy here which is radical Islamic terrorism. As a nation, we need to create a plan to combatISIS in order to prevent these tragedies here at home and internationally.


Tom Reed

We have seen terrorists attack innocent citizens without reason. We are still mourning this tragedy and supporting our ally, but we also need to learn from it. I along with Republicans and Democrats passed fair legislation requiring our government to thoroughly vet refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Sudan. We cannot have terrorists take advantage of our refugee program. I care about our families and their safety comes first.

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This is from Tom Reed's official government  Facebook page

I voted in support of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act because I care about keeping Americans safe by keeping terrorists out of our country.

This bill strengthens our national security by ensuring that vigorous screening procedures and thorough background checks are conducted on every refugee from Syria and Iraq. It also requires our nation’s top security officials – the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence – to certify that each refugee does not pose a threat to our national security.

There is no doubt that we are a compassionate nation, as demonstrated by the $5 billion in aid that we have already provided to the people of Syria to address the refugee crisis. However, we must remain vigilant and ensure that terrorist groups like ISIS do not take advantage of our generosity to inflict harm on American citizens.



The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act that Reed mentions in the post above passed the House.  No equivalent act passed the Senate and President Obama threatened to veto it if it came across his desk.  This was President Obama's statement explaining why he would veto this bill.

The Administration’s highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of the American people. That is why refugees of all nationalities, including Syrians and Iraqis, considered for admission to the United States undergo the most rigorous and thorough security screening of anyone admitted into the United States. This legislation would introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism, and would undermine our partners in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis. The Administration therefore strongly opposes H.R. 4038.


The current screening process involves multiple Federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), State, and Defense, all aimed at ensuring that those admitted do not pose a threat to our country. These safeguards include biometric (fingerprint) and biographic checks, medical screenings, and a lengthy interview by specially trained DHS officers who scrutinize the applicant’s explanation of individual circumstances to assess whether the applicant meets statutory requirements to qualify as a refugee and that he or she does not present security concerns to the United States. Mindful of the particular conditions of the Syria crisis, Syrian refugees – who have had their lives uprooted by conflict and continue to live amid conditions so harsh that many set out on dangerous, often deadly, journeys seeking new places of refuge – go through additional forms of security screening, including a thorough pre-interview analysis of each individual’s refugee application. Additionally, DHS interviewers receive extensive, Syria-specific training before meeting with refugee applicants. Of the 2,174 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States since September 11, 2001, not a single one has been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds.

The certification requirement at the core of H.R. 4038 is untenable and would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives. No refugee is approved for travel to the United States under the current system until the full array of required security vetting measures have been completed. Thus, the substantive result sought through this draft legislation is already embedded into the program. The Administration recognizes the importance of a strong, evolving security screening in our refugee admissions program and devotes considerable resources to continually improving the Nation’s robust security screening protocols. The measures called for in this bill would divert resources from these efforts.

Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the President were presented with H.R. 4038, he would veto the bill.