Fareed speaks with Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, and author of The Accidental Admiral, and Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, about the threat posed by ISIS. Watch the full interview Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Daniel Benjamin, you’ve written that you believe that the ISIS threat to the United States, and I think to the West, is being exaggerated. Why don't you explain?
Benjamin: Correct, Fareed. I think that there’s been a lot of hyperventilation about the threat. I think over the long-term, the safe havens that have been established in Iraq and in Syria do pose a significant challenge for the United States. But right now, this conflict is primarily about Sunni versus Shia. This is an insurgent force. It is not a terrorist force, first and foremost, although they use terrorist tactics locally against their enemies.
The U.S. authorities, whether from the National Counterterrorism Center or from the Department of Homeland Security or from the FBI, have said that they don't know of any plotting against the United States at home and, in fact, there's been very little reporting on any desire to carry out attacks outside of the area.
And let's remember, this is a group that has no carried out a terrorist attack outside of its immediate neighborhood, ever. And that's a major fact.
Jim, it does feel like they've got their hands full, ISIS, that is, between Iraq and Syria and all the forces that are battling them.
Stavridis: I think that this is a kind of a short-term/long-term set of constraints for us. In the short-term, I completely agree, they've got their hands full. They've got Peshmerga coming from the north, they've got Iraqi security from the south, they've got bombing in the west. They're very busy. They're going to be in the middle of a three-front war very soon.
Long-term, there's not only, as Dan mentioned, I think ultimately the threat to the homeland – they have said they intend to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House. I don't know how more direct they can be. But it is long-term.
You said, though, “it is only a matter of time before a wave of EU-passport-bearing jihadists will be headed back home to wreak havoc.” So that sounds…
Stavridis: It's a matter of time. How long will that be? I don't know. Will it be different with individuals, different countries, different cultures? Absolutely. But that threat is building. It's a looming tower, as one person said about 9/11 a few years back.