National Security Expert Discusses Homeland Safety

November 20, 2015

There is a good argument to be made that the United States has never been safer than now, retired U.S. General Barry McCaffrey says.

General McCaffrey was the special guest for the University Speaker Series at Saint Leo University on Thursday, November 19. A packed boardroom of about 220 welcomed the general to hear his talk, “Policy, National Security, and the Road Ahead.”

After several days of the national and international conversation focusing on the terrorist attacks in Paris committed by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), General McCaffrey said he believes the threat is more dominant in Europe. But defeating ISIS will not be easy.

“We are competing with ISIS propaganda,” he said. “The challenge to us is, we are dealing, in some ways, with a non-ending religious, civil war. I think it's a giant problem if you're in Syria or the surrounding nations, but less so for us."

General McCaffrey served in the U.S. Army for 32 years and retired as four-star general. At the time, he was the most highly decorated serving general. Five years after leaving the military, McCaffrey served as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and taught American government, comparative politics, and international security studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY.

Currently, he is president of his own consulting firm in Alexandria, VA, and serves as a national security and terrorism analyst for NBC News.

General McCaffrey said he believes the conflict between the Shia and Sunni denominations of Islam will “be played out over 25 years.”

He said there is “nothing in Islam that is anti-U.S.” He does not think there is actually a conflict between Islam and other religions, but rather Shia versus Sunni, and that ISIS is trying to establish a caliphate and govern a country by Shia law. He added that there are many young people who crave “the great adventure” and join ISIS believing they will become heroes.

As for the debate about accepting Syrian refugees, General McCaffrey told the Saint Leo audience, “mostly, we do not have an internal threat from Muslims,” although there have been some “self-radicalized teenage girls” bound for Syria. “There is a custom in this nation of accepting refugees,” he said. “But why haven’t we gone with the European Union to stabilize the area?” That is a lot less expensive than moving people, he said. His approach is for nations to provide aid and food to the Syrian people and “stabilize them in place” so they do not need to flee.

Earlier in the day, General McCaffrey spoke to retired U.S. Brigadier General Thomas Draude’s history-political science class at Saint Leo. General Draude is an adjunct faculty member and his class focuses on the Middle East and modern wars. General McCaffrey found the Saint Leo students engaging. He said the quality of students in the class was “very encouraging” to him for the future of America.