Host: After the atrocities in Paris and San Bernardino polls show that Americans fear more attacks from killers inspired or led by ISIL. And Republican presidential candidates say they know who's to blame.
Clip of Chris Christie: We have people across this country who are scared to death.
Clip of Marco Rubio: And the President has left us unsafe.
Clip of Jeb Bush: We need to restore the defense cuts of Barack Obama to rebuild our military, to destroy ISIS before it destroys us.
Host: Meanwhile despite the worldwide threat, the refugee crisis and the latest attacks, President Obama insists that his strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL is working.
Clip of President Obama: We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. We're also taking out ISIL leaders, commanders and killers one by one. And our nest message to them is simple – you are next.
Host: Joining me now is Pete Hoekstra, Michigan Republican who formerly served as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's currently the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, an organization that doesn't shy away from making controversial claims about Muslims in America. Pete Hoekstra is also the author of Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya. Congressman Hoekstra, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. Listen, polls are showing that many people, many people are justifiably terrified after San Bernardino and Paris. But analysts who study the numbers say the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack in America are 1 in 4 million, which are worse than the odds of drowning in a bath tub. How serious is this ISIL threat really to the United States?
Hoekstra: Well the threat from radical jihadists is a significant threat and it continues to grow. When you've got four countries in the Middle East today that are no longer nation states and are ungoverned areas – Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq. The threat has moved closer to the West, it has moved closer to Europe, it has moved closer to the United States. And the trend lines are not good. That's the problem. People like to see solutions and America's and the West's efforts and the efforts by regimes in the Middle East to control, contain and defeat ISIS have not been successful.
Host: Jeb Bush has said we need to destroy ISIL before it destroys us. These kinds of statements, we heard a lot of them the other night in Las Vegas, whip up people's fears. The issue of course is whether exaggerating the threat that it is terrifies people needlessly. A number of people we've spoken to – you know, Lee Hamilton who often says cyber security is a much greater threat to Americans. Retired Colonel John Nagl says ISIL is entirely defeatable and maybe it's not even the U.S.'s problem.
Hoekstra: Well I think it's very much defeatable. But again if you talk to the people in the Middle East, go to Yemen, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, millions of people in the Middle East will tell you that ISIL is a real threat. I agree, it can be defeated and I again agree that it can be defeated by employing the resources that are in the Middle East and not necessarily utilizing American or European forces on the ground.
Host: Let me ask you about the intelligence side. This is something you know a great deal about. FBI Director Comey said on Wednesday that there is no evidence that the San Bernardino killers had any direct contact – those are his words – with any overseas group and that they were radicalized before the rise of ISIL. So again the concept of jihadist threats in America, the concept of homegrown threats may be something that the trend line is up on. It's still less likely than you drowning in a bath tub. But again, do we need to put this whole thing in perspective? We're actually talking about two issues. The problem in the Middle East and the problem of radicalization in America.
Hoekstra: Well I'm not sure that I would separate them in that way. I think the rise of ISIS, ISIL, al-Qaida and these radical jihadist groups and the success that they are seeing in the Middle East increases the threat vector here in the United States and in Europe. And so I relate the two. I think that just because the folks in San Bernardino did not have direct contact with folks in ISIS or al-Qaida or another radical jihadist group doesn't mean that they were not inspired o that maybe they might have had access to the materials on the Internet from these various groups.
Host: Congressman, you said you agree that President Obama is more responsible for the rise of ISIL than anyone else in the world. More than George W. Bush or more than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of the group that became ISIL.
Hoekstra: What I said is that his policies, the policies of this president, this administration, have not been successful. They have led to the destabilization of a number of regimes and a number of geographic areas in the Middle East, in Northern Africa that have let the groups control territory and begin to claim they have established a geographic caliphate.
Host: Let's talk about the refugee crisis which I think you and I both agree is a remarkable proportion. Now you said that there is no way to vet Syrian refugees who want to come to America. James Comey has said similar things. But if the US can't vet them they're gonna be told they can't come in here. In other words we're not letting people in who we can't vet.
Hoekstra: I think that is a good and that is a reasonable policy if the objective is to maintain the security here in the United States. Again, as people have said recently, many of these people would much rather return home, so the process here is not of taking millions of people and displaced individuals and moving them to Europe, moving them to the United States. The focus really needs to be on defeating ISIS, reclaiming that territory, and then helping those individuals rebuild their homes and their communities so that they can stay in the region that they want to stay.
Host: But that's a long-term process. I mean Syria didn't burn down in a day, it's not gonna get rebuilt anytime soon and we have millions of people looking for places. Canada is taking 25,000 of them in very, very short order. At some point we do have some obligation. We said the same thing about the Jews in Europe in the 2nd World War. They'd rather be settled there in Europe, we need to solve that problem in Europe and in the end millions died.
Hoekstra: Well the end result is that just because it is a long term problem I'm not sure that taking in refugees who are not vetted, who ISIS has said that they will use the refugee process as a way to seed radical jihadists into Europe and into the United States, that it then makes sense for us to say when our national security experts say we can't vet them, we don't know who's coming in. I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense saying well we've got a responsibility let's just –
Host: But it does. That's what the Statue of Liberty says to me. What does that say to you? We do have a responsibility to our fellow humans who are actual refugees.
Hoekstra: I'm an immigrant. We went through a process, we went through a series of steps that determined whether we were entitled to come to the United States or not. It is a privilege to come to the United States. It is not a right that we guarantee to the rest of the world. We are a humanitarian nation, we are a compassionate nation. The most effective way to be compassionate in this case is to defeat ISIS, liberate the lands, allow these folks to return home. But the first responsibility here is not to say that they have an open path into the United States.
Host: Congressman, you and I are both immigrants and we both followed a set of rules. Neither of us are refugees who had our homes destroyed by people who want to kill us by virtue of our faith or our political views. We do in the world treat refugees differently than we treat immigrants who wish to come in in lawful fashion, right? We fast track refugees. We understand that they're in a different situation than people who want to immigrate to the United States.
Hoekstra: We fast track refugees but one of the things that you do as you fast track them is you have to put them through a process so that you have an understanding of who's coming in. We have folks that are trying to sneak in one way or another. Congress and the president, they have a responsibility first to the people of the United States to keep us safe.
Host: All right let's talk about the strategy. You have said that the U.S. armed and equipped ISIL. Is the Obama administration in your view directly responsible not just for the rise of ISIL but for arming them?
Hoekstra: I love the way you're taking the quotes. What I said is that this administration beginning, well beginning in Egypt but then in Libya, made a concerted effort and a concerted strategy to engage with what I believe are groups that have ties with radical jihadists. They helped overthrow Qaddafi. They, at that point in time, gained access to weapons that NATO had shipped in to Libya. They gained access to the weapons that the UAE and Qatar had shipped into Libya. Then they got a hold of Qaddafi's cache of weapons. I believe that the United States facilitated the transfer of significant numbers of those weapons though Turkey into Syria and into the same types of groups that overthrew Qaddafi – groups with ties to radical jihadists. Eventually those groups morphed into what today we call ISIS.
Host: Go it. And I'm not trying to get you on a gotcha statement. That's why you're invited on the show. If I wanted to actually misrepresent you I'd just say you said it and wouldn't have you here to clarify. Pete Hoekstra, good to talk to you. Thanks so much for joining us.
Hoekstra: Thank you.