Last week the Vice President gave a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The speech was mostly a quick skim of global issues and US priorities. Not much new. But as is Mr. Biden’s tendency, he can with tone or particular emphasis, give an old song new life.
Below are his remarks on counter-terrorism. I have highlighted some elements with which I agree and, in my judgment, are too seldom emphasized.
The fourth element of our strategy is countering violent extremism. As you know, we’ve engaged in a relentless campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan, in the so-called FATA, in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere. This campaign against violent extremism predates our administration, and it will outlive our administration. But we’ve made real progress against al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates since 9/11. But this threat of violent extremism is something we’re going to have to contend with for a long time.
Today, we’re confronting the latest iteration of that danger, so-called ISIL; a group that combines al Qaeda’s ideology with territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria and beyond, and the most blatant use of terrorist tactics the world has seen in a long, long time. But we know how to deal with them.
Our comprehensive strategy to degrade and eventually defeat ISIL reflects the lessons we have learned post-9/11 age about how to use our power wisely. And degrading them does not depend upon an unsustainable deployment of hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground. It’s focused on building a coalition with concrete contributions from the countries in the region. It recognizes outside military intervention alone will not be enough. Ultimately, societies have to solve their own problems, which is why we’re pouring so much time and effort into supporting a Syrian opposition and Iraqi efforts to re-establish their democracy and defend their territory. But this is going to require a lot of time and patience.
The truth is we will likely be dealing with these challenges of social upheaval not just in Iraq and Syria, but across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, which will take a generation or more to work itself out.
We can’t solve each of these problems alone. We can’t solve them ourselves. But ultimately — and we can’t ultimately solve them with force, nor should we try. But we can work to resolve these conflicts. We can seek to empower the forces of moderation and pluralism and inclusive economic growth. We can work with our partners to delegitimize ISIL in the Islamic world, and their perverse ideology.
We can cut off the flow of terrorist finance and foreign fighters, as the President chaired the hearing in the United Nations Security Council on that issue just last week. We can build the capacity of our partners from the Arab world to Afghanistan to solve their security problems in their own countries with our help and guidance. The threat posed by violent extremists is real. And I want to say here on the campus of Harvard University: Our response must be deadly serious, but we should keep this in perspective. The United States today faces threats that require attention. But we face no existential threat to our way of life or our security. Let me say it again: We face no existential threat — none — to our way of life or our ultimate security.
You are twice as likely to be struck by lightning as you around to be affected by a terrorist event in the United States.
And while we face an adaptive, resilient enemy, let’s never forget that they’re no match for an even more resilient and adaptive group of people, the American people, who are so much tougher, smarter, realistic and gutsy than their political leadership gives them credit for.
We didn’t crumble after 9/11. We didn’t falter after the Boston Marathon. But we’re America. Americans will never, ever stand down. We endure. We overcome. We own the finish line. So do not take out of proportion this threat to us. None of you are being taught to dive under your desks in drills dealing with the possibility of a nuclear attack. And I argue with all of my colleagues, including in the administration, the American people have already factored in the possibility that there will be another Boston Marathon someday. But it will not, cannot — has no possibility of breaking our will, our resolve, and/or our ultimate security.
That “And I argue… ” is interesting. I hope he does and I hope he’s right. Anticipating more freelance threats would be realistic — and resilient — behavior.