The purpose of strategy — sez me — is to generate comparative advantage to deal with uncertainty. The source of uncertainty — enemy, adversary, competitor, lover, child, weather, markets, or the innate complexity of the universe — is one influence on choosing a strategy. But in many cases strategy is less about a specific source of uncertainty and much more a matter of capacity and opportunity. We choose to do what we can do.
As of June 29 the United States has a new National Strategy for Counterterrorism. This document replaces — or perhaps builds upon or clarifies or updates — the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. There is considerable continuity.
The 2006 document states:
Today, the principal terrorist enemy confronting the United States is a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals – and their state and non-state supporters – which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends. This transnational movement is not monolithic. Although al-Qaida functions as the movement’s vanguard and remains, along with its affiliate groups and those inspired by them, the most dangerous present manifestation of the enemy, the movement is not controlled by any single individual, group, or state. What unites the movement is a common vision, a common set of ideas about the nature and destiny of the world, and a common goal of ushering in totalitarian rule. What unites the movement is the ideology of oppression, violence, and hate. Although its brutal tactics and mass murder of Muslims have undermined its appeal, al-Qa‘ida has had some success in rallying individuals and other militant groups to its cause. Where its ideology does resonate, the United States faces an evolving threat from groups and individuals that accept al-Qa‘ida’s agenda, whether through formal alliance, loose affiliation, or mere inspiration.
The new document states:
The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents… In addition to plotting and carrying out specific attacks, al-Qa‘ida seeks to inspire a broader conflict against the United States and many of our allies and partners. To rally individuals and groups to its cause, al-Qa‘ida preys on local grievances and propagates a self-serving historical and political account. It draws on a distorted interpretation of Islam to justify the murder of Muslim and non-Muslim innocents. Countering this ideology—which has been rejected repeatedly and unequivocally by people of all faiths around the world—is an essential element of our strategy… Adherence to al-Qa‘ida’s ideology may not require allegiance to al-Qa‘ida, the organization. Individuals who sympathize with or actively support al-Qa‘ida may be inspired to violence and can pose an ongoing threat, even if they have little or no formal contact with al-Qa‘ida.
There is a source of uncertainty, tension, and conflict that we call al-Qa’ida. We also acknowledge important aspects of uncertainty beyond al-Qa’ida. These relate to historical, ideological, economic, political and religious complexities that al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and adherents draw upon and can exploit.
Neither the 2006 strategy nor the new strategy give much detailed attention to these deeper sources of uncertainty. This reflects, I perceive, both a lack of consensus as to the nature of the deeper uncertainties and a lack of confidence in the ability of the government of the United States to positively engage these profound complexities.
So we do what we can do — or hope we can do — including:
- Protect the American People, Homeland, and American Interests,
- Disrupt, Degrade, Dismantle, and Defeat al-Qa’ida and Its Affiliates and Adherents,
- Prevent Terrorist Development, Acquisition, and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction,
- Eliminate Safehavens,
- Build Enduring Counterterrorism Partnerships and Capabilities,
- Degrade Links between al-Qa’ida and its Affiliates and Adherents, and
- Deprive Terrorists of their Enabling Means.
Each of these bullets are subtitles within the new strategy and each receive a long paragraph’s explanation. These are ambitious, difficult, but practical and measurable goals. Choices are made. Priorities established. These each and all strike me as reasonable. Elsewhere in the document there is a shout-out to resilience in case these efforts fail.
In the midst of the prior seven is the following goal with its own long paragraph.
Counter al-Qa‘ida Ideology and Its Resonance and Diminish the Specific Drivers of Violence that al-Qa‘ida Exploits. This Strategy prioritizes U.S. and partner efforts to undercut al-Qa‘ida’s fabricated legitimization of violence and its efforts to spread its ideology. As we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa, al-Qa‘ida’s calls for perpetual violence to address longstanding grievances have met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements that seek solutions through expanded individual rights. Along with the majority of people across all religious and cultural traditions, we aim for a world in which al-Qa‘ida is openly and widely rejected by all audiences as irrelevant to their aspirations and concerns, a world where al-Qa‘ida’s ideology does not shape perceptions of world and local events, inspire violence, or serve as a recruiting tool for the group or its adherents. Although achieving this objective is likely to require a concerted long-term effort, we must retain a focus on addressing the near-term challenge of preventing those individuals already on the brink from embracing al-Qa‘ida ideology and resorting to violence. We will work closely with local and global partners, inside and outside governments, to discredit al-Qa‘ida ideology and reduce its resonance. We will put forward a positive vision of engagement with foreign publics and support for universal rights that demonstrates that the United States aims to build while al-Qa‘ida would only destroy. We will apply focused foreign and development assistance abroad. At the same time, we will continue to assist, engage, and connect communities to increase their collective resilience abroad and at home. These efforts strengthen bulwarks against radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization to violence in the name of al-Qa‘ida and will focus in particular on those drivers that we know al-Qa‘ida exploits.
The intent of this paragraph is to move beyond treating symptoms and get to the heart of the problem. With the possible exception of the sentence underlined (my underline), does this policy stance strike you as much more defensive than offensive? Is this the sort of problem we mostly have to defend against and wait out?
Maybe the offense is being handled outside of CT per se. In explaining the new strategy John Brennan cautioned, “Our strategy recognizes that our counterterrorism efforts clearly benefit from—and at times depend on—broader foreign policy efforts, even as our CT strategy focuses more narrowly on preventing terrorist attacks against our interests, at home and abroad.”
Today Hillary Clinton begins an eleven-day round-the-world tour. She will visit Turkey, Greece, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and China and engage in plenty of multilateral meetings along the way. Writing in The Guardian Simon Tisdall offers, “But paradoxically, this diplomatic tour de force may unintentionally highlight the apparently inexorable decline of American power and influence.”
In this context, it is relevant that Public Diplomacy is on the GAO list of High Risks and Challenges. This means, in my dictionary, its a tough and important job with a very uneven track record of success.
In the Department of State’s Congressional Budget Justification for Public Diplomacy we read:
The FY 2012 request includes a $6.2 million dollar investment for the creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication (CSCC) which is tasked with leading a U. S. Government wide rapid guidance and communication effort to counter violent extremism. As stated in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the CSCC will coordinate, orient, and inform whole-of-government communications activities targeted against violent extremism to audiences abroad. The QDDR also acknowledges that the Center will work closely with the Secretary‘s Coordinator for Counterterrorism or its proposed successor Bureau of Counterterrorism, as well as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice‘s National Security Division, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies responsible for information programs related to counterterrorism.
Clearly the CSCC is only one small part of how we might put forward a “positive vision of engagement”. But I will note the last time I heard, one predator drone cost $4.5 million. The new reaper drones cost about $13 million each. Perhaps even in these tough times the CSCC might be worth an investment equivalent to two predators or even one reaper? Apples and oranges some will complain. Apple seeds and dragon’s teeth I am inclined to reply.