What a Trump presidency means for the terrorist threat

OK, it’s done.  Donald Trump has become the US’ 45th President, markets have swung wildly, people are panicking, some fear the Apocalypse.  Take a deep breath and calm down.  As the 44th President, Barack Obama, predicted last night, the sun did indeed rise this morning (even if I cannot see it in cloudy Ottawa).

A Trump president will have all kinds of impacts on all kinds of issues.  Immigration.  Health care.  Climate change.  The Washington insider status quo.  And many more.

But what about our struggle with terrorism?  On this front the possibilities are mixed, but mostly negative.  Let’s look at a few things that may define the Trump Administration’s take on terrorism.

  1. It is very likely, in light of Mr. Trump’s statements, that the military will have a bigger role to play.  This is a good thing in that it will speed up the demise of Islamic State.  On the other hand, seeing terrorism solely through the prism of war is a mistake.  More specifically: using special forces to take out leaders – very good; more drone strikes (which are less targeted) – less good; more airstrikes (indiscriminate) – worse; invasions – disastrous.
  2. Mr. Trump has clearly said he does not like the nuclear deal with Iran.  That agreement certainly has its supporters and its detractors but all in all it was the best possible.  Should a Trump presidency scrap the deal and, gasp!, launch airstrikes Iran will likely unleash its proxies in the Middle East and beyond.  Our battle with Sunni terrorists will become more complicated as the Shia would now present a serious threat.
  3. In light of the “bromance” with Russian President Putin, Mr. Trump may very well team up with Russia on counter terrorism, especially in Syria.  While this would hasten the death of IS it would also force the US to target, or turn a blind eye to others targeting, anti-Syrian groups it supports.  It would also leave the Assads in power and lead to the rise of more terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian regime.
  4. Mr. Trump has vowed to stop Muslim immigration to the US “until we figure our just what the hell is going on” (his words, not mine).  Groups like IS and Al Qaeda are squealing with joy at this possibility as it supports their contention that the US/West hates Islam.  Look for an uptick in those seeking to join these groups from within the US.
  5. Mr. Trump does not strike me as the kind of man who favours CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) programming.  Not that CVE is the end all and be all of terrorism, but it is a necessary part of a comprehensive approach.  Furthermore, given Mr. Trump’s views on Muslim immigration, which American Muslim would want to work with his government?
  6. During the Obama years the Southern Poverty Law Center in the US documented an alarming spike in the right-wing, sovereign citizens and anti-government militias, most of which are violent in nature.  A percentage of Mr. Trump’s supporters come from that world.  Look for them to feel emboldened under his regime.

Then again, all of this could be wrong.  Mr. Trump is mercurial to say the least and he may surprise everyone as president.  Let’s hope so.


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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