Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 14, 2011

The New Counterterrorism Strategy–This Verse Same as the First?

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on July 14, 2011

The Obama Administration recently made public the new “National Strategy for Counterterrorism.”  If you didn’t notice (and missed Phil’s earlier post referencing the strategy and Brennan’s public roll-out ), no worries, as little has changed since the last such strategy was released by the former Administration.

There are differences between the plans, however they reflect different viewpoints of the same problem set, namely the threat posed by one specific terrorist group: Al Qaeda.  The Obama Administration’s strategy is crystal clear about the focus:

This Strategy recognizes there are numerous nations and groups that support terrorism to oppose U.S. interests, including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and HAMAS, and we will use the full range of our foreign policy tools to protect the United States against these threats.

However, the principal focus of this counterterrorism strategy is the network that poses the most direct and significant threat to the United States—al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and its adherents.

The focus begins to widen when a definition of the enemy is offered:

  • Al-Qa’ida has murdered thousands of our citizens, including on 9/11.
  • Al-Qa’ida affiliates—groups that have aligned with al-Qa’ida—have attempted to attack us, such as Yemen-based al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25, 2009.
  • Al-Qa’ida adherents—individuals, sometimes American citizens, who cooperate with or are inspired by al-Qa’ida—have engaged in terrorism, including the tragic slaughter of our service members at Fort Hood in 2009.

If one only has to be “inspired” by the ideology to be considered part of the war, is there any possible end in sight for the war against Al-Qa’ida?  New Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seems to think so:

The United States is “within reach” of defeating al-Qaeda and is targeting 10 to 20 leaders who are key to the terrorist network’s survival, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday during his first trip to Afghanistan since taking charge at the Pentagon.

“Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them, because I do believe that if we continue this effort that we can really cripple al-Qaeda as a threat to this country,” he told reporters on his plane en route to Afghanistan.

“I’m convinced,” he added, “that we’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.”

Bruce Hoffman disagrees, and if he is correct, the U.S. may be in a war with “affiliates” and “adherents” for quite some time:

“Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written countless times over the past decade,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor of security studies at Georgetown University. “Each iteration has proved to be ephemeral, as the moment has continually shown itself to have a deeper bench than we imagine.”

“While it is certainly true that al-Qaeda’s leadership has been significantly eroded over the past two years, there is no empirical evidence that either the appeal of its message or the flow of its recruits has actually diminished,” Hoffman added.

The Bush Administration’s last “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism” also focused on Al Qaeda:

Our strategy involved destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement. Since 9/11, we have made substantial progress in degrading the al–Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support. Through the freedom agenda, we also have promoted the best long-term answer to al–Qaida’s agenda: the freedom and dignity that comes when human liberty is protected by effective democratic institutions.

However, it laid out U.S. counterterror efforts in a more general (almost strategic) framework as opposed to the regional focus of the Obama strategy:

As laid out in this strategy, to win the War on Terror, we will:

  • Advance effective democracies as the long–term antidote to the ideology of terrorism;
  • Prevent attacks by terrorist networks;
  • Deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states;
  • Deny terrorists control of any nation they would use as a base and launching pad for terror; and
  • Lay the foundations and build the institutions and structures we need to carry the fight forward against terror and help ensure our ultimate success.

On the surface, it would seem that the new strategy is a significant departure from what came before.   Yet both focused almost entirely on Al-Qa’ida, and except for the Bush Strategy’s efforts attempting to assert the primacy of the Iraq war in the Global War on Terrorism, most of the same tools and tactics are on display: concerns about WMD;  eliminating safehavens; the importance of international partnerships; countering Al-Qa’da ideology; etc.

Same wine, different bottles?

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 14, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

Arnold, Tomorrow I will also post on the new CT strategy. My first draft is done… and, thankfully, focuses — mostly — on a different angle. My post will start, however, with where you have focused: strategic continuity.

A half-considered thought that I did not think was far-enough along for the front page:

When earlier this week I went back to read the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, it was a very different document than I remembered. The focus on al-Qaeda was as much a feature of the 2006 document as the new strategy.

But the context in 2006 caused me to read/remember it differently. Oklahoma City still seemed fresh. Eric Rudolph had been sentenced just one year earlier. In late 2005 and early 2006 eleven alleged eco-terrorists were arrested. The Liberty City Seven were on trial.

When the 2006 document was still new, I was involved in training California law enforcement officials. North of Sacramento the officers were more concerned about ELF and White Aryan Nation than al-Qaeda. In San Diego the focus was much more on the Mexican drug cartels. Al-Qaeda was on everyone’s CT list, but not necessarily at the top of the list… and somehow this seemed coherent with the strategy.

Contemporary readers of a new document comprehend it in context. Retrospective readers are, usually, reading and understanding from a different context. I wonder how I will remember the new strategy five years from now? How will my reading and understanding of the same words shift over time?

Comment by John Comiskey

July 14, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

Won’t get fooled again –meet the new boss same as the old boss.

A number of years ago I cheered as The Who’s Roger Daltrey roared those very words.
If you’re so inclined drink about six warm beers and watch the Who on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp6-wG5LLqE

I was seventeen, in college, drove a 73 Grand Torino (before the movie), and was very very liberal and I roared those same words back.

Much can be said of re-issues of national strategies that seek to demonstrate change in policy especially departure from one’s political adversaries stated positions, less the six warm beers.

But, even O had one beer with a Massachusetts cop and a Professor. See: beer summit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/30/beer-summit-begins-obama-_n_248254.html

In essence both the 2006 and 2011 NSCT say the same things: a national effort is necessary to effectively combat terrorism and AQ et al is # 1 on our enemies’ lists.

Context and timeline are noteworthy:

The National Strategy for Homeland Security 2002 reflects a nation traumatized and ready for a new kind of war. At least a type of war that the US was not accustom to.

The National Strategy for Homeland Security 2007 reflects awareness that natural hazards and especially Katrina-like hurricanes require at least the same amount of attention as AQ-like terrorists.

The de-facto 2010-National Strategy For Homeland Security 2010, i.e. the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, did, IMHO, little more than emphasize homeland security’s current buzzword: resiliency. I do not say the last in the pejorative. I am a student and staunch advocate of Phil Palin’s Resiliency: The Grand Strategy. (Its required in one of my classes) Whatsmore, when President Obama was criticized for saying that we can absorb another attack, in a rare moment, I defended that assertion.

Final point, will the next National Security Strategy reflect the implications of UBL’s demise?

Comment by Counterterrorism Today and Tomorrow

July 15, 2011 @ 4:45 am

In five years (60 months only), the world will most assuredly be far different than today – at least from my doomsday perspective – as will be counterterrorism measures and policy for by then we will have unfortunately learned just how intent the “Brutes of Tehran” had been in their quest to control Jerusalem versus its adversary, the Vatican and the Germans at any cost….and while to the demise of the Iranian thugs, so many innocents willingly and uncaringly slaughtered along the way in cold blood as seen previously in history as the pages are repeated and though at least a few will differ w/me, however I sure hope that this present administartin is finally booted out of office as a result of their ienptnes in every way, yet who can really take the reigns and make the decision necessary to carry our beloved Republic forward?

Again from my “Main Street USA” perspective, as the world – twiddles and diddles – the Iranians awash in American blood which should have demanded immediate action against (attack) on Tehran long ago, again we shall see far mre atrocities and unfortunately many innocents will be directly affected as a consequence of the inability of those entrusted to make necessary decision to counter the growing terrorism threats in Tehran, Yemen and other.

To keep a democracy strong, difficult decisions must be made…the bottomline.

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

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