Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King

Last week the Trump Admnistration released its new “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,” [NSCT], a 25-page document outlining the President’s plan to “secure our Nation and prevail against terrorism.”


In order to understand its content and significance, we need to know context—first and foremost the Obama’s Administration’s analogous agenda, disseminated in 2011 (which was, in its turn, a modification of the George W. Bush Administration one put out in 2006).  This 19-page text focused almost exclusively on “al-Qa`ida and its affiliates and adherents” (passim) with only a few one-off mentions of other groups (Lashkar-e Tayyiba, al-Shabab, Hizbullah, HAMAS and Colombia’s FARC).  The main methodology for defeating AQ was said to be via “broad international coalitions” (p. 4) focusing on Pakistan; in fact, it claimed that  “[w]e will defeat al-Qa`ida only through a sustained partnership with Pakistan” (p. 13).  Perhaps the most glaring flaw was the misplaced hope that AQ and its ideology had “met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements” (p. 9) in the Middle East—the predicted once-and-future “Arab Spring.”  The most striking element of this Obama-Brennan concoction is that the word “Islam” is mentioned only once in the entire document—and that only to disparage AQ as “a distorted interpretation of Islam” (p. 3).

Although the Trump plan does share a few key points with Obama’s (protecting America and the homeland; stopping terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or WMDs; countering terrorist ideology), it differs significantly in several aspects—for which we should be thankful, because as Obama’s second term wound down even liberal foreign policy outlets could discern madness, and not much method, in his CT program.   In an implicit rebuke of Obama’s drone-them-all-and-let-Allah-sort-them-out approach, Trump’s states that “we must do more than merely kill or capture terrorists. We must dismantle…networks and sever the sources…that sustain them” (p. I).   The current administration also classifies the need to defeat “radical Islamist terrorism”  in the same category with our success over “oppression, fascism, and totalitarianism in previous wars” (p. II). And in fact this document mentions “radical Islamist terrorism” 16 times throughout—a welcome change from the Obama-Brennan pretense that Islam has nothing to do with the 76% (51/67) of terrorist groups waging jihad fi sabil Allah on the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.  But that phrase “radical Islamist terrorism” is problematic in its own right: it is not “radical” to fight and kill non-Muslims (as I explained at length in an explicatory blogpost earlier this year); and “Islamist” is a misleading and indeed redundant term, insofar as it commonly means “an advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism”—since the literal meaning of Islamic texts across space and time, as well as the vast majority of Sunnis (Islam’s largest branch), support Islamic fundamentalism and, often, militancy. “Islamist” in this sense truly simply means “Islamic” or “Muslim”—but even this John Bolton-inspired CT agenda won’t say that.

In fact, Trump’s CT “strategery” too often echoes Obama’s dhimmi attitude.  Besides the plentiful parroting of “radical Islamist terrorism,” we read of such terrorists’ “depraved goals” (p. 1) and the vacuous “violent extremist ideologies” (passim), as well as, in the President’s introductory letter, “twisted ideologies that purport to justify the murder of innocent victims” —all phrases which should be cast back into the oblivious and mendacious chasm whence they came.  How on earth can “strategic communications” (p. 2) aimed at undermining terrorist “radicalization and recruitment” (p. 5) be successful when our leadership—even in a maverick, non-PC administration—cannot bring itself to actually name our enemy? Our enemy is not a distortion of Islam—it is literalist Islam itself, as spelled out in the Qur’an and Hadiths and used for centuries as the motivation to wage jihad and conquer Christians, Hindus and anyone else unwilling to convert.

The chart on p. 5, illustrating “strategic objectives,” “end states” and “lines of effort” is clear and useful.  And this NSCT is adamant that the primary goal of the Trump Administration is to protect the USA itself and her citizens, while not neglecting working with allies to help them protect themselves from the likes of ISIS, AQ and Iran, which “remains the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism” (p. 9).   Other groups also pose a threat, notably Boko Haram, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e Tayyiba—but, seemingly in an effort to include non-Muslim groups, the Nordic Resistance Movement, National Action Group (UK), and the Sikh Babbar Khalsa movement in India (p. 9).  It is worth noting that none of these three organizations appears on the State Department FTO list; and while Babbar Khalsa has enaged in violence, even killings, in the past neither the NRM nor NAG seems to have done so.  Perhaps these three groups are indeed CT problems; but there is scant data to suggest that any of them constitutes a threat even remotely approaching the aforementioned Islamic ones.

Trump’s NSCT also makes clear his intentions to keep Gitmo open as a terrorist detention facility (p. 14).  It also, logically, lays out the need to protect “critical infrastructure” from “cascading effects” across infrastructure types (p. 19).  The document’s penultimate section is on “Counter Terrorist Radicalization and Recruitment” (pp. 21-22), which states that the US will “seek to promote voices of pluralism and tolerance” (p. 21)—here, let me help you, Mr. President, with a plan for this I devised nine years ago—and “demonstrate that [radical Islamist terrorists’] claims are false….” (p. 21).  But, as I said earlier: when you can’t, or won’t, truly understand those claims or the context whence they arise—how can you possibly refute them?

In its “Conclusion,” Mr. Trump’s new CT agenda trumpets that “[t]his [document] marks a shift in America’s approach to countering and preventing terrorism” and that henceforth “[w]e will lead with our principles and a clear-eyed understanding of a constantly changing operating environment” (p. 25).  I have no doubt the folks in his administration will foreground American principles far more than the ones under Obama did. But this latest NSCT is far from clear-eyed—in fact, in its stubborn refusal to acknowledge the civilizational clash that Islam engenders with all the rest of the world, particularly the Christian parts, Trump is at best one-eyed.

But in a  world of blind leaders, the one-eyed man is still king. Hail to the King, baby!