The new US counter terrorism plan may be counterproductive

As the nation that suffered the catastrophic terrorist attacks on 9/11 it is of surprise to no one that the US has had ‘terrorism on the brain’ since that time.  Any country that had so many of its citizens brazenly killed by a terrorist group would want to see the perpetrators – or rather in this case the group responsible since all the perpetrators died as well in the operation – brought to justice.  Some people also wanted revenge in the belief that killing others somehow made up for the deaths of Americans.

As a result, the US has undertaken a number of counter terrorism strategies over the past two decades and most these involve the military.  There is no question of course that the US armed forces are a professional and capable bunch, the finest fighters in history perhaps.  This is not to say that the military hammer is the best tool for the terrorist nail, a point I make at greater length in my latest book ‘An end to the war on terrorism’.

Two items came to my attention this week that lead me to think that the US is still getting it largely wrong when it comes up with its counter terrorism strategy.  The first was the release of the 2018 “National Strategy for Counter terrorism” (you can read the 34-page document here).  What struck me immediately was the overly martial tone of the strategy. I read a lot of ” combating” and “defeating” and “strengthening our military” and “national power” and “winning the war”.  In short, a lot of sabrerattling with short shrift given (one or two paragraphs) to CVE/PVE (countering and preventing violent extremism).  While there is no question that many terrorists have been killed in military actions over the past 17 years the fantasy that there is a military solution is just that – a fantasy. And yet this document continues to extol that approach.

The second was a rebuttal to yet another Trump lie about who is behind terrorism in the US.  Not surprisingly, the Trump administration is getting yet another thing wrong, this time by falsifying the link between homegrown terrorism and ‘foreignness’.  That link, which does exist albeit to a limited extent, has been taken completely out of context and exaggerated.  It is, however, perfectly consistent with a government that is all about ‘America First’ and is extremely xenophobic.  An article by a former senior US counter terrorism official is worth reading.

You see, here is the problem.  If you misdiagnose an illness or a challenge your get the cure or solution wrong.  If I think that mental illness is caused by demons in your head and therefore drill a hole in your skull to let them out (this was done in ancient times and is called trepanning), I have done nothing other than leave you with a well-ventilated braincase.  If you assume that we are at war with terrorism and that all terrorists are foreigners you launch military actions (invasions, air strikes, etc.) or stop immigrants from certain ‘shit hole’ countries (Trump’s words, not mine).  The result: maybe more terrorism and most likely not less.  And this is a strategy?

When digging a ditch just means you keep digging and get nowhere you need to stop digging at some point (unless you are either a masochist, an idiot or beholden to powerful interests that want your ill-guided attempts to go on).  The US is still digging the same ditch, 17 years after 9/11.

As a Canadian I have my own issues with US policies but I still consider the US a friend of my country (and have many friends within the US intelligence community).  I’d like to end this short piece by citing a public service ad I saw for preventing drunk driving: friends don’t let friends drive while drunk.  Consider this a piece of advice from a friend: don’t engage in counter-productive actions when it comes to dealing with terrorism.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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