Pennsylvania’s senior senator says the White House needs more muscle to disrupt how global terror groups make money to pay their fighters, produce propaganda and buy weapons.
Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow the president to penalize countries deemed to be lax on monitoring and prosecuting those who financially help terrorists.
“It’s a big void in our strategy,” Casey said in an interview with McClatchy. “The tools we have now are not enough. . . . (Terrorists) don’t use the international banking system.”
The U.S. military and its allies have used airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past year to destroy some Islamic State cash storage facilities, oil fields and refineries, and gas tanker trucks. Those airstrikes have been effective in reducing the Islamic State’s financing ability, according to U.S. Treasury and State Department officials who testified at congressional committees in recent weeks.
Cutting off terrorists’ cash flow in other ways is crucial, Casey said.
“If you cut off their money, they can’t recruit,” he said. “If you cut off their money, they can’t pay for fighters and supplies and propaganda and all kinds of things.”
$1 billion Estimated Islamic State revenues in 2015, according to U.S. Treasury officials
Casey and Isakson’s bill would empower the president to levy economic sanctions, cut development assistance and military sales and to limit credit to countries that tolerate terrorism financiers.
Still, some say it’s difficult to gauge that plan’s effectiveness, given that some of the United States’ closest allies may be passively supporting terror groups.
“It is hard to believe that if the president feels that the Saudi government is not cracking down hard enough on Islamic State fundraising in the kingdom – which, by the way, I am certain they are going to be doing after the recent attacks – he would use a blunt instrument like economic sanctions,” says Jim Piazza, a Penn State University professor who’s an international politics and terrorism expert.
“I am a bit dubious about how much a bill like this would affect the Islamic State,” Piazza said. “Most experts think that a very small amount of ISIL’s operating resources come from fundraising abroad or passive state support.”
But Casey says giving the president a new way to “level a penalty” is the right move.
“It’s no good if we’re experts at it and we’re working like hell to cut off financing and most of the Middle East is not,” he said. “I think we’ve got to make it painful or consequential.”
Power for a new administration?
Casey and Isakson’s bill, called the Stop Terrorist Operational Resources and Money (STORM) Act, is the second bipartisan piece of legislation Casey has co-sponsored in recent months aimed at undermining the Islamic State’s funding. In May, President Barack Obama signed into law a Casey-promoted bill that bars Syrian antiquity imports from the United States.
The Islamic State is estimated to make millions selling artifacts stolen from museums and collections in territory it controls. U.S. officials have said it’s difficult to track sales of stolen antiquities on the black market.
Total, the Islamic State made nearly $1 billion in revenue last year – half of which came from oil sales, according to U.S. Treasury estimates. The organization also taxed and extorted those who live in its territory.
I want to get this president and the next president this authority as fast as we can so they can start using it.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Casey and Isakson told reporters Thursday afternoon in the U.S. Capitol that it’s unlikely their legislation could pass by the year’s end. Most likely, the 45th president of the United States – Obama’s successor – would be the first to use the authority.
Casey, who supports Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, said in a recent interview that he didn’t think the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, would prevail in November, but he acknowledged there could be concern about how the billionaire CEO might use the new authorities his bill would provide.
“You’re giving the president some discretion. . . . There’s always potential for abuse by an executive on anything,” Casey said.
The legislation wouldn’t require prior congressional approval in determining a country to be a “jurisdiction of terrorism finance concern.”
But, Casey said, it would require the president to report to Congress before ordering sanctions. And the terror finance concern designation would not be lifted until the president certified progress to Congress.
“I want to get this president and the next president this authority as fast as we can so they can start using it,” Casey said.
Isakson hopes fellow Republican lawmakers will not see it as expanding Obama’s power.
“This is not president-specific,” he said. “This is crisis-specific.”
Donald Trump, by contrast, is a wild card.
Ronak D. Desai, foreign policy expert
It’s conceivable that Clinton and Trump would use such a license differently in the Oval Office, says foreign policy and legal expert Ronak D. Desai.
Clinton, as secretary of state, called out some of the United States’ long-standing allies over the issue of terror financing, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Clinton would likely use the proposed law with discretion, given the implications of the label, Desai said.
Desai, who is an international security fellow at the nonpartisan research center New America, in Washington, says Trump, “by contrast, is a wild card.”
In foreign policy statements, Trump has advocated a forceful military approach to dealing with terrorists.
“His views on this issue are unknown,” Desai said. “. . . He appears to have very little reservation with pursuing unilateral action.”