The protests in Afghanistan that were sparked by Florida pastor Terry Jones's burning of a Quran last month raged for a fourth day. At least 21 people have been killed so far, including seven United Nations workers. The Quran burning was, as Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus said, "hateful... intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful." Yet the violent response, which killed innocent aid workers and civilians, was, as President Obama said over the weekend, "an affront to human decency and dignity." It's clear that the actions of Jones do not represent the views of the vast majority of Americans - just as the actions of the protestors in Afghanistan do not represent the views of all Muslims. Free speech is a cherished American right, but individuals must recognize there are also real consequences - and in this case, predictable ones - to inflammatory actions. In the aftermath of this episode, the only real winners appear to be those who thrive on extremism and violence.
As the budget debate continues in Washington, fringe conservatives have put core elements of 21st century American national power - including diplomacy and development - on the budget chopping block. Specifically, the House of Representatives is seeking to cut 16 percent from the Obama administration's request for the international affairs account for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, through the "Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 1)". Making drastic cuts to this account would have a harmful impact on our country's ability to advance its interests, by defunding - especially through threat of a government shutdown - our diplomats and development workers just as they are being asked to shoulder an ever-increasing burden in support of our nation's security.
Today's House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee hearings on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and the Community's Response" were a flop. "The hearings produced political theater for Chairman King, but failed to produce new substance in policy or oversight to make our nation safer," said National Security Network's Executive Director Heather Hurlburt. "Indeed, what the witnesses had to say reinforced the strength of partnership between American Muslims and law enforcement, and underlined that an effective approach to counterterrorism does not isolate a community based on its faith."
Today, Congressman Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." This hearing - the first of its kind to focus on a single religious group - and the false assumptions that Rep. King has based it on have been roundly rejected across the country. Counterterrorism experts, veterans organizations, interfaith leaders, local leaders and editorial boards across the country have rejected King's approach. This is for a simple reason: this hearing represents the wrong approach to homeland security. It is not only ineffective, but it is actually harmful to America's anti-terrorism efforts both at home and abroad. Furthermore, not only is King's approach bad policy, but it's also bad politics.
Yesterday Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough outlined how concerns about domestic terrorism fit into the administration's broader counter-terrorism policy - and into a broader spectrum of outreach between American Muslims and their government. National security, counterterrorism and police experts have stressed that inclusion, outreach and focus on actions are the effective way to combat and prevent terrorism. Mr. McDonough's presentation comes ahead of hearings scheduled later this week by Peter King (R-NY), singling out the alleged susceptibility of Americans Muslim - and only Americans Muslim - to terrorism. Experts stress that King's approach will harm homeland security - and our national unity.
Yesterday, the House passed a short-term spending measure to keep the federal government running through March 18. Congress has yet to approve a budget for the 2011 fiscal year and the GOP's piecemeal approach is beginning to take a real toll on our government's ability to ensure national security. This latest Continuing Resolution will kick the can a little further down the road, while the House and Senate debate the GOP's irresponsible budget proposal for the remainder of the fiscal year. To compound the problem, the spending resolution that the House passed last month recklessly slashed funding for critical national security programs. There was no rationale or careful planning-conservatives simply wanted to cut the budget.
This week, the FBI arrested Khalid Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi exchange student, for charges related to explosives. He was reportedly radicalized overseas and came to the U.S. with grandiose visions of targeting the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush and the residences of three Americans who served at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Aldawsari's arrest demonstrates a success of the system and the men and women who work tirelessly to protect America. It highlights the role that businesses, local law enforcement and the public at large share in combating terrorism. And it is a reminder that resolve and resilience will actually prevent and deter attacks, while overreaction hands would-be terrorists precisely what they want to achieve.
During the election this past November there was much speculation about what the divide between establishment conservatives and Tea Party-backed conservatives would mean for public policy. This was particularly true for national security issues, which both conservative factions barely discussed last fall. Unsurprisingly, over the past two weeks, a series of congressional votes and debates have demonstrated that there still remains no clear vision of America's role in the world - or even coherence on important national security measures at home - for the deeply divided conservatives. Their lack of coherence is instead making matters worse on foreign policy and is now breeding confusion and unpredictability for the Pentagon and administration officials at precisely the moment when clarity is needed. As Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said about this situation and how to integrate it into his military planning: "It's a mystery to me." Particularly troubling is that this debate is occurring against a backdrop of multiple international crises that need to be handled with both responsibility and a clear strategic outlook. Unfortunately, it is becoming stunningly clear that conservatives in congress cannot provide such coherence.