National Security Network

Concrete Progress on America’s Core Security Priorities

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Report 25 January 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Afghanistan iraq Obama SOTU terrorism Wars

In advance of the President's State of the Union Address this Wednesday, NSN will be releasing three reports looking back over the foreign policy accomplishments of the Obama administration, one year into office. 

We begin with piece looking at the administration's achievements on the core security issues affecting the U.S.: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorism.  It will be followed by reports looking at the administration's record on engagement and diplomacy, as well as the foundational steps taken to reorient the U.S.' overall foreign policy approach.  The NSN team will also be live blogging the State of the Union on Wednesday, and providing commentary following the address.

Concrete Progress on America's Core Security Priorities

2009 began with wars in strategic drift in Iraq and Afghanistan and a counterterrorism strategy badly in need of an overhaul. Over the course of the year, the nation and its armed forces faced significant violence in both countries and several terrorist plots and networks at home.  Despite the December 25 bombing attempt, Al Qaeda-generated attacks on U.S. interests actually declined while the U.S. aggressively disrupted and destroyed key terror cells in Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen.  In a significant departure from previous years, the U.S. garnered international appreciation for its outreach to Muslims worldwide, which included significant steps to end torture and close the Guantanamo detention facility, while simultaneously rebuilding international cooperation to increase pressure on Al Qaeda. 

The president kept a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, in the process pulling together bipartisan support around a formerly-thorny issue.  The anniversary of his first year in office also saw the withdrawal of U.S. Marines from Anbar province, something which seemed unimaginable only two years ago.  

In Afghanistan, the Administration kept another promise, bringing renewed vigor and focus to the mission along with much-needed resources.  In recognition of Americans' mounting frustration and skepticism, President Obama has devised a strategy that hones in on clear objectives for stabilizing the situation there, while also envisioning an end to direct American military involvement.

The President enters 2010 as a well-established commander-in-chief, with high public ratings for his national security policies as he and his administration face the many challenges the year presents. 

Ending the Iraq War. Political turmoil and tragic violence during both the summer and fall have neither brought down the Iraqi government nor altered the Iraqi determination that American troops depart on schedule while Iraqis devise their own path to durable stability.

Consolidating security gains. As the year in Iraq unfolded, the administration presided over a successful transition of security responsibilities from the U.S. military to Iraqis, as well as historic decreases in violence against both Iraqis and U.S. troops.

Fulfilling his promise to the American people. By announcing a phased withdrawal of American troops, President Obama fulfilled a major pledge he made as a candidate: "ending the war."

Keeping the withdrawal timetable on schedule. The almost-unnoticed January 23 handover of Anbar Province security from U.S. Marines to an Iraqi-led force supported by the 82nd Airborne served as significant milestone in the American withdrawal. While Iraqis will still face serious challenges long after American troops are gone, the president's timetable has moved steadily with support from Iraqis and Americans alike.

Seizing responsibility as Commander-in-Chief. A month into his administration, President Obama completed a major internal strategy review on Iraq with an integrated political, diplomatic and military plan to end the war in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Gates said of the process: "this really was the product of a dialogue between the president and the chiefs and the commanders."

Achieving a foreign policy consensus. After years of an Iraq policy that drew contempt from Iraqis and produced deep political divisions at home, President Obama united 7 out of 10 Americans behind his new strategy, which drew historic support from Iraqis, as well as leading conservatives.

Reversing course in Afghanistan & Pakistan. When the president took office, Afghanistan and Pakistan were in a downward spiral and U.S. policy was adrift. The president led a comprehensive review of the political, military, humanitarian and regional issues.  For the first time since 2001, the U.S. has a strategy with clear goals that envisions an end-state to American military involvement there.

Setting strategy from the top. President Obama asserted his role as commander-in-chief, marshalling civilian and military leadership behind a thorough strategy review  that attended to legitimate concerns about continued American involvement eight years after the first arrival of American troops.

Staying focused on clear goals, and keeping the end-game in sight. The result of the president's leadership is a strategy that sets core goals, rejects calls for limitless commitment or narrow military focus and envisions an end-game to the American mission.

Facing tough questions. Throughout the process, the administration has signaled its willingness to face the hard questions and hold itself accountable - something sorely lacking for the previous eight years.

Re-engaging reluctant partners, critical for success. The Obama administration prioritized engaging the international community, whose resolve had withered due to a lack of American leadership, to make a renewed commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Turning the page on years of neglect for Pakistan. The administration's appreciation of Pakistan's centrality to American efforts in the region - demonstrated by intensified diplomatic engagement, robust international cooperation, and increased assistance - has borne fruit, reversing years of neglect and mismanagement.

Advancing a smarter approach to counterterrorism.  The administration moved decisively to rebalance a counter-terrorism policy that relied too heavily on military measures against enemies who, in addition to military activities, also effectively used social, economic and propaganda tools to advance their agenda. 

Exchanging damaging rhetoric for policies that work. Rejecting the "global war on terror" or "clash of civilizations" language which granted Al Qaeda the grandiosity it seeks, the Obama administration has instead opted for efforts that combat extremism through political, economic, and social campaigns as well as military and law enforcement operations.

Taking the fight to the extremists.  In 2009, the Obama administration executed key military operations that either disabled or disrupted extremist organizations in PakistanSomalia, and Yemen, including killing Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Making our law enforcement system work to stop extremists at home. In 2009, domestic agencies uncovered significant networks of homegrown extremism, including one Al Qaeda plot called the "most serious terrorism case in years."  They accomplished this deftly and quietly, without alienating the communities which must be law enforcement's first allies or re-igniting domestic anxiety from the "wolf at the door" mentality promulgated by the Bush administration.

Increasing cooperation with international partners. Following the failed attack by the underpants bomber, a report issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described how "foreign partners are often the first line of defense" against terrorism. The Obama administration has strengthened a range of partnerships from Europe to India to Yemen to combat extremists.

Denying extremists powerful recruiting tools by rebuilding respect for America.  National security experts and terrorism analysts agree that past misdeeds at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, allegations of torture, and the perception that the U.S. generally opposes Islam, formed powerful recruiting tools for al Qaeda and its allies.  Correcting this -- by acting quickly to ban torture, committing to close Guantanamo, and adopting a new tone in outreach to Muslims worldwide -- is an essential facet of the administration's efforts to combat terrorism and protect America.  Over the year, Muslim public "support for Al Qaeda and terrorist tactics dropped significantly" and "the ‘al Qaeda brand' seems to be in retreat."

Bringing terrorists to justice, in line with American values and traditions.  The administration understands that America's identity as a nation of laws is inseparable from the fight against terrorists.  Whether it is bringing the 9/11 conspirators to justice in Federal courts, or creating instruments for interrogating terrorist suspects that reflect our values, President Obama and his team have labored to remain consistent with our country's finest traditions.