There are many signs that a new sheriff is in town: one being how the White House has started turning immigration and border security policies on their head. Instead of looking for loop holes on how not to enforce the law, the new administration has made restoring the rule of law its top priority. Next up on the agenda could be a revamping of US counterterrorism strategy. In particular, a big rethink about how the US addresses Islamist extremism.
Obama famously relabeled efforts intended to battle the ideas that fuel the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda and ISIS—as Countering Violent Extremism or CVE. Basically, our past president didn’t want a label for bad ideas that included the name of the Islamic religion. Even white-washing the concept didn’t make some happy. The ACLU complained that the federal government’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program “stigmatizes American Muslims and cast unwarranted suspicion on innocuous activity.”
Whatever glossing over the ideas that fuel terrorism was meant to accomplish—what is clear is that CVE has done nothing to curb the growing threat of global Islamist terrorism. The frequency of plots against the US continues to rise. While ISIS maybe on the run in Iraq and Syria, the organization still has a global footprint. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has a larger presence than it did a decade ago.
The firing of FBI Director James Comey maybe about a lot of things, but likely it has little to do with how the FBI fights terrorism. A 2015 review of FBI programs found significant progress in the agency’s terrorism combating efforts since 9/11. Rather, the incoming administration’s concerns are likely largely about the federal CVE program that seems amorphous, unfocused, ineffective and more concerned about being “politically correct” than stopping terrorism. Most of these programs are administered by the department of State and Homeland Security.
One signal that CVE might be a likely target was the appointment of Sebastian Gorka-a vocal critic of these programs- to the White House. Since working in the West Wing, Gorka has weathered innumerable personal attacks. Part of that effort appears to be just to weaken the White House by attacking people around the president. Gorka, however, is also a target for pro-Islamist organizations that front for extremists groups. Part of their tactics is labeling any efforts at more robust anti-Islamist initiatives as “Islamophobic.”
Regardless of whether Gorka toughs it out at the White House, CVE at home and abroad looks to be in for some careful scrutiny. That’s good. There is a lot to that could be done to make these efforts much better. The government also needs to take a more serious look at what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates are doing in the United States.