Mount Obama belched forth a mousy counterterrorism strategy, which you can read here in its inglorious entirety. Like most of the pronouncements of this crowd, it reads rather like an undergraduate seminar paper, full of useless “definitions” that don’t define, and generalizations that beg the real questions. It’s a very lazy approach to a very serious subject.
First and foremost, it’s not very much about counterterrorism, but about how to fight a single organization: al-Qaeda (pompously written “al Qa’ida”). After some introductory self-congratulation, the document comes to what should be the central issue: the nature of the enemy.
The Threat We Face
The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates1 and adherents….A decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States remains at war with al-Qa‘ida. Although the United States did not seek this conflict, we remain committed, in conjunction with our partners worldwide, to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents to ensure the security of our citizens and interests.
The death of Usama bin Laden marked the most important strategic milestone in our effort to defeat al-Qa‘ida.
Do you really think that AQ is the most serious “security threat” to the United States? Even the unlamented Richard Armitage knew that the most dangerous terrorist organization is Hezbollah (you know, the guys that have just been indicted for assassinating Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon) and that was back when al-Qaeda was riding high in a triumphant gallop down the Arab Street. So, even if you wanted to restrict your discussion of terrorism to individual organizations, the elevation of AQ to top status would be wrong. And it’s wronger today than it was some years ago; the jihad has not been very glorious for them.
Worse yet, the Strategy seems to be based on the assumption that terrorism is our greatest national security threat, which is unworthy of serious people. And even if you give the authors a pass on that one, and say, well, it’s about counterterrorism, not the whole strategic universe, the claim that AQ should be the preeminent focus of our strategy would still be wrong. At the moment, the most serious terrorist threat is the global network led by Iran, and involves Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, along with Hezbollah (cf. “Iran and Syria”), Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various allied drug mafias and Latin American terrorist groups (FARC, for example).
I think it was President W who once said — in the early days after 9/11, before his vision was clouded by too many deep-thinking court philosophers — that we were at war with various terrorist organizations and the states that sponsor and assist them. Hence my short list above. But you will look in vain in the National Strategy for Counterterrorism for any discussion of state sponsors. Sometimes you need some real knowledge of terrorism to recognize the missing subject, but on other occasions the National Strategy just grabs you by the throat and makes you see it, as when we’re told that it’s imperative to prevent AQ and its allies from developing nukes and other WMDs, without ever mentioning the Iranian nuclear program.
It seems that someone must have mentioned this startling omission, because at the very end, out of nowhere, comes this sentence, all by its lonely self: “Iran and Syria remain active sponsors of terrorism, and we remain committed to opposing the support these state sponsors provide to groups pursuing terrorist attacks to undermine regional stability.”
That will teach them! We’re opposed to Iranian and Syrian support for the terrorists. Take that, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Assad. You needn’t look very hard for the methods — if any — we’re going to use, because that’s the entire “discussion” of state sponsorship, which has long been the key to effective terrorist campaigns against the West. Nor, needless to say, is there any mention of Tony Blair’s categorical testimony to a British Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, that you can’t defeat al-Qaeda without defeating Iran. Nor is there any mention of Bob Gates’ departing warning that Iran is stepping up its killing of Americans in Iraq. Nor, for that matter, is there any mention of the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion — and a recent complaint in a New York court reiterates it — that Iran was directly involved in the 2001 attacks against the homeland.
Moreover, in keeping with President Obama’s imaginative approach to history, we are told that “the death” of bin Laden represents the greatest achievement to date in the war against terror (sorry, I mean “our effort to defeat al Qa’ida”). That, too, is wrong. Without question, the greatest achievement to date was the defeat of al -Qaeda, along with its Iranian and Syrian sponsors, in Iraq.
The closest the strategy comes to actually discussing state sponsorship (while carefully declining to mention it in plain English) is a dense thicket of words about “denying safehavens” (sic) to AQ. See how well you can parse:
In close coordination with foreign partners, the United States will continue to contest and diminish al-Qa‘ida’s operating space through mutually reinforcing efforts designed to prevent al-Qa‘ida from taking advantage of these ungoverned spaces. We will also build the will and capacity of states whose weaknesses al-Qa‘ida exploits. Persistent insecurity and chaos in some regions can undermine efforts to increase political engagement and build capacity and provide assistance, thereby exacerbating chaos and insecurity. Our challenge is to break this cycle of state failure to constrict the space available to terrorist networks.
Maybe that sort of thing gets you on the Harvard Law Review editorial board, but it wouldn’t get past the editors here at Pajamas.
The rest of it is pure Obama vanilla. Not to worry, we’re going to keep you safe and defeat AQ without doing anything that might remotely upset the most avid ACLU member (most of those avids are working for the administration anyway), we’re going to be really really transparent, we’re going to respect your privacy, and so on and so forth. And we’re of course going to be on the right side of history, however the current mess in the Middle East turns out. Not to worry, “Our approach to political change in the Middle East and North Africa illustrates that promoting representative and accountable governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our CT goals.”
That remains to be seen. This administration, like its predecessors, hasn’t done much of anything to promote good government in Iran and Syria.
No wonder this document vanished before it was ever read.