As we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, experts in and out of government are reviewing the successes and mistakes of the approach to counterterrorism that has dominated the decade. Yesterday, the Obama administration released its first National Counterterrorism Strategy outlining its overall approach to combating terrorism. It highlights the need for whole-of-government efforts that go beyond any one agency or tool; for partnerships built on trust between nations and within our own society; and for standing strongly with our own institutions and values to face terror with resilience. These lessons have been outlined again and again by experts in terrorism and national security. New polling this week also showed that the American people clearly prefer this results-oriented approach to doubling down on failed policies of the past.
As newly elected officials arrive in Washington to be sworn-in, serious national security issues await the 112th Congress. But perhaps unexpectedly, where a political lens sees conflict, an expert lens shows substantial agreement around principled, pragmatic policy choices. 2011 will mark a significant milestone for the war in Afghanistan, as experts coalesce around an effective, sustainable exit strategy. While some seek to debate counterterrorism strategies, practitioners agree on a comprehensive approach that brings the fight to terrorists, hews to our Constitution and denies terrorists the propaganda victory they seek. Congress can bring bipartisan debt-cutting zeal to a leaner, modernized defense budget. And as senior military officials have warned, dealing with Iran will demand bipartisan subtlety and restraint, lest we cement Iran's determination to acquire the bomb and destroy the beginnings of political reform within the country.
As the holiday season approaches so does an increased concern over terrorism and security. As we saw yesterday with the disruption of a plot in Baltimore and a similar instance last month in Portland, the challenge of terrorism remains. To address this challenge, a comprehensive strategic approach that combines vigilance at home with effective partnerships abroad, along with a commitment to our values, is necessary. However, some politicians have chosen to promote divisive and harmful demagoguery that instead only hurts America's interests. As American counterterrorism and law enforcement officials work tirelessly to protect America's security, it is important to remember that the American people have an important role to play in remaining resilient and to reject this fear mongering. By refusing to succumb to the paralysis of fear, American resilience will continue to be central to preventing terrorist plots - either carried out or disrupted - from becoming truly successful.
Today, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and co-chairman of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, spoke with a panel of terrorism and homeland security experts, about the status of terrorism nine years after the tragic 9/11 attacks. The conveners of the event, the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness Group, are also releasing a report by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, two of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and al Qaeda. The report outlines the changing nature of al Qaeda's strategy from large scale 9/11-style attacks to a more "diversified" approach that seeks to overwhelm its adversaries with small-scale attacks and cause overreaction from America both at home and abroad.
Yesterday American leaders, including the president, spoke out to condemn a Florida group's plans to burn the Quran. They stressed, and counter-terrorism experts including the FBI agree, that this fringe group's actions present serious national security concerns. Referring to riots and protests in his area of command, General David Petraeus said this past weekend, it "could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan." The FBI predicts real or threatened reprisals "with high confidence." The best thing for America is that unrepresentative fringe radicals not receive the attention they so desperately seek at the expense of the country's well-being - and that this overheated, political discourse be rejected by all sides going forward.
Yesterday CIA Director Leon Panetta appeared on ABC's This Week, reviewing the Administration's comprehensive counter-terrorism approach: refocusing on the threat and applying all the tools of government - military, intelligence, law enforcement, court system - to prevent attacks and bring terrorists to justice. This approach has had concrete results. al Qaeda's international operations have been greatly reduced, and a multilayered interagency approach has proven to be effective at disrupting plots at home. As Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Under President Obama the US has killed or captured hundreds of terrorist leaders including much of the top leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban." Yet success at weakening extremists abroad is itself causing such groups to refocus on hurting us at home, through domestic radicalization. In response, America must remain resilient - able to withstand the increased likelihood of unsophisticated and even failed plots without succumbing to fear or overreactions - the exact purpose of terrorism.
Today, in a courtroom in New York Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, will enter pleas for 10 criminal charges, six of which face a life sentence. This is what successful counter-terrorism looks like: international cooperation helped produce the indictment; law enforcement and intelligence partnered to produce a court case and actionable intelligence from the suspect; alert citizens and the government together kept our people safe. As Assistant Attorney General David Kris said at a recent Brookings event, the criminal justice system "can disrupt terrorist plots through arrest... incapacitate terrorists through incarceration ... and ... can gather intelligence..."
The joint-operation between the U.S. and Pakistan to capture the Afghan Taliban’s number two leader and military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar highlights efforts by the Obama administration to prioritize Pakistan as part of an effective regional security approach global counterterrorism strategy. Since taking office, the Obama administration has embarked on a steady campaign of military, diplomatic, and development measures to improve the tenor of U.S. – Pakistan relations, with broader regional and global counter terrorism goals driving this approach.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the number two in the Afghan Taliban and the de facto leader of the insurgency -- was captured in Pakistan. This is the most recent in a trend of success in the Administration's counterterrorism efforts at home and abroad that utilizes diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and armed force to disrupt and dismantle terrorist organizations and plots. Yet simultaneously, conservatives have gone to Dick Cheney for leadership and actually heightened their criticism, opting for an ideological, not reality-based approach to America's security.
With renewed focus on the nation's economic agenda, many commentators have concluded that last night's State of the Union signaled a downplaying of national security. But the speech , as well as the actions of his administration, underscore the point that affairs abroad are intertwined with the issues confronting Americans at home. In sum, the President's words were an affirmation of his administration's strategy for the 21st century, one that brings together both foreign and domestic instruments to project American power.