In politics, optics — the look of something and the press it generates — sometimes, no, often matter more than policy. And on Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) described the optics of Obama's decision to continue planned state visits to Cuba and Argentina after Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels as pretty darn bad.
On "Fox News Sunday," Nunes described Obama's time in Cuba as "hanging out...with a known financier of terrorism." Nunes implied that the president's time might have been better spent last week focused on rooting out terrorist cells around the world. He also described these cells in language typically reserved for the coordinated efforts of nation states to create empires. Nunes said the cells have effectively established "colonies" for terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and al-Qaeda in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Here's the key part of what Nunes said from a show transcript.
So what needs to happen here is that the Obama administration submitted their strategy to the United States Congress which was a seven page strategy on defeating what they call extremism.
First of all, you have to define the problem. And so, look, I think it's fair whether people say, what is your strategy? Well, look, the president of the United States should not be hanging out in Cuba with a known financier of terrorism.
What the president of the United States should be doing is calling together all our allies in a coalition of the willing, including those in the Middle East that want to sit down together as leaders at a neutral location, put all the intelligence on the table so that we can find out where all the pockets of ISIS and al Qaeda are. Because remember, we have colonies now that have spread from Western Africa, all the way to Southeast Asia and now it looks like they have a command and control structure in parts of Europe.
So, what the president should be doing is sitting down with these leaders, identifying the problem, and then coming up with a plan and asking all the countries to participate more than they ever have in what is really going to be a long war, a generational war against radical Islamic extremism.
In 1982, Cuba earned a slot on the shortlist of nations the United States officially considers as having financed terrorist activity. Cuba helped to finance leftist political movements — some of them militarized and violent — in Latin America during the 1980s.
In May, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the list, one step in a larger effort to normalize relations between the United States and the island nation. Only three countries remain on the current U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, placed on the list in 1984; Sudan, placed on the list in 1993; and Syria, which has been included since 1979.
Obama's state visit to Cuba was planned long before the Brussels terror attacks. He described his decision to continue the visits to Cuba and Argentina as an effort to show no capitulation to terrorist organizations. However, Nunes connected the uninterrupted state visits with what he described Sunday as an overall absence of a meaningful strategy to address terrorism and the chaos of Syria.
Well, look, there's never really been a plan. So when you look at what needs to be done in Iraq and Syria, that is a containment strategy. That is not a strategy ultimately to defeat ISIS, because ISIS has spread over to North Africa. So, a lot of the fighters and weapons and money, et cetera, have been coming from North Africa into Syria and Iraq.
So, it's a containment strategy that's not working. We know it's not working because the threat that was identified by the intelligence community several years ago was that worst thing that could happen is allowing people to go from the West into Iraq and Syria and then back out. So, there's just a failed strategy here that's getting worse. You have the secretary of state just on Friday saying that we're winning against Syria — against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
This seems to me to be just delusional, while at the same time, you've got the president of the United States dancing down in Argentina when he should be meeting with the leaders of Europe and other allies to try to take the fight to the enemy.
Nunes, who is in his early 40s, is the youngest member of Congress to serve as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. As such, Nunes was born after the United States' 55-year-old Cuban embargo began. However, Nunes's comments Sunday indicate that he is not part of the growing contingent of Americans who view Cuba favorably or the nearly 60 percent who support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a pair of Gallup polls conducted this and last year.