National Security Network

No Apologies for Effective Counterterrorism

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Report 6 May 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Allies diplomacy International Cooperation


The U.S. request for Pakistani assistance in investigating connections between the failed Times Square bombing and militants operating within its borders highlights the vital link between partnerships abroad and security at home.  A year ago, the Administration set out to rebuild what had been anemic counter-terrorism cooperation at best, by improving the broader tenor of U.S.-Pakistani relations.  As the U.S. looks to Pakistan to help unravel the Times Square plot and prevent similar attacks in the future, it highlights a larger reality: effectively combating terrorism is a global challenge, which requires a cooperative response.

Conservatives have seized on officials' initial reluctance to link the Times Square attack to extremist groups abroad before the facts were fully known to argue that the Administration has failed to grasp the realities facing the U.S.  But it is their belligerent, go-it-alone approach that misses the reality mark.  By labeling the Administration's efforts to improve the tenor of U.S. global relationships as ‘apologizing,' most recently with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor's address at the Heritage Foundation, conservatives displayed a profound ignorance of the links between enhanced international partnerships and effective counter-terrorism.  Despite clear shortcomings, conservatives have espoused a go-it-alone approach, characterized by belligerence, even apathy when it comes to America's allies. Fortunately, both the American people and the world reject this vision, expressing invigorated confidence in the Obama administration's counter-terrorism policies and it efforts to renew respect for America.

Administration request for Pakistani aid in investigating failed Times Square attack underscores importance of U.S.-Pakistan relations for countering terrorism.  Since taking office, the Obama administration has made strong efforts to bring U.S.-Pakistan relations out of Bush-era strategic drift.  As evidence mounts of a connection between the botched Times Square bombing and militants operating in northwest Pakistan, the wisdom of that approach is increasingly evident.  In this morning's Washington Post, Karen DeYoung detailed requests by the Obama administration for assistance in investigating connections between Times Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad, and militant groups located in Pakistan.  According to DeYoung, "The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, held preliminary meetings in Islamabad on Wednesday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi."  An Administration official told DeYoung, "The Pakistanis understand that they will have responsibilities as this investigation moves forward...We need to provide them with some information. Based on that information, there are clearly things that they're going to need to do."

This kind cooperation, which has the potential to provide U.S. counterterrorism officials with insights as to how to thwart such plots in the future, is exactly what the Obama administration hoped to achieve when it set out to improve the tenor of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.  The Atlantic Council's Pakistan expert Shuja Nawaz told the Cable's Josh Rogin, "The U.S. and Pakistan have been doing very well at increasing their cooperation and joint efforts in combating terrorism in that area recently.  This is the kind of incident that can kind of derail some of those efforts and I hope it doesn't."  In late March, Center for American Progress experts Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams outlined the preliminary successes of the Administration:  "The Obama administration has embarked on a comprehensive approach to Pakistan that has shifted dynamics to make America safer" in a strategy with three main components: stepped up counterterrorism policies, a more substantive and effective aid program, and a multi-faceted regional strategy.  As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained, this shift represents the Administration's view that that Pakistani and U.S. interests are interconnected. "Pakistan's stability and prosperity is in the best interests of people everywhere. Its struggles are our struggles. Its future and ours are entwined," said Clinton.  [Washington Post, 5/6/10. Shuja Nawaz via The Cable, 5/4/10. Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams, 3/24/10. Secretary Clinton, 3/24/10]

Terrorism is a global challenge that requires a global response.  The Administration's attempts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation with such critical countries as Pakistan, reflects a broader reality: Terrorism's international dimensions make cooperation a key part of any successful counterterrorism policy. 

Daniel Benjamin, the coordinator for counterterrorism at the Department of State said this week that, "The global nature of the common challenge we face is clear. Citizens from dozens of countries around the world, the vast majority of them not Americans, are being victimized by terrorism and violent extremism... The President recognizes that the United States cannot address this threat alone. Rather, we have and will continue to reach out, and, on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect, forge international coalitions. Our focus has been on building (and sometimes rebuilding) partnerships, whether they be bilateral, with multilateral organizations such as the UN, the private sector, or civil society."   

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, "Our first line of defense lies in the capabilities and actions of other states - particularly our friends and allies in Muslim states and states with large Muslim populations... The U.S. must continue to work with other states, and strengthen formal international efforts in counterterrorism - in spite of their limits - but that much more is required. Informal efforts will be as important. One has only to consider what would have happened if we had not steadily improved counterterrorism cooperation and support from countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to realize how much more often the US would be under direct threat; how much more often our other allies would be attacked, and how many of our global economic and strategic interests would face far more serious threats."

A report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stresses the importance of working with partners around the world: "U.S. government cooperation with foreign partners must be redoubled across the counterterrorism spectrum: Information-sharing, counterterrorism and law enforcement training, and border control are all areas where allies will benefit from cooperation. Foreign partners are often the first line of defense." 

This has most recently been seen at the Nuclear Security Summit last month which garnered significant commitments from such countries as Pakistan, Ukraine, Chile, India and Russia to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism. [Daniel Benjamin, 5/3/10. Anthony Cordesman, CSIS, 1/25/10. SFRC, 1/20/10. NSN Daily Update, 4/14/10]

Conservatives reject international cooperation, buck public support for the Obama administration's policies.  Immediately following the failed attack in Times Square, conservatives jumped to criticize the Obama administration for not establishing international links before the facts of the Faisal Shahzad case were known.  It is the right, however, that has repeatedly failed to understand the strong international dynamic of the Obama administration's comprehensive counter-terrorism approach.

Conservatives, as demonstrated by Rep. Eric Cantor, who spoke earlier this week at the Heritage Foundation, criticize the Obama administration's international outreach as being weak and apologetic. "What does America have to be sorry for?"  Cantor asked the crowd of conservatives.  "The problem with the Obama defense and foreign policy philosophy is that it seems to abandon the proven strategy of peace through strength. Its policies bespeak a naïve moral relativism in which the United States bears much responsibility for the problems we face around the world," Cantor asserted. These attacks represent a failure to grasp that a cooperative approach is absolutely critical for reducing the risk posed by extremists around the world.  Vice Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Alcee Hastings (D-FL) rebuked Cantor for his shortsightedness, saying "In criticizing President Obama, Rep. Cantor diminishes the great strides our nation has made over the last year to restore and strengthen our position as a world leader. Working together with our allies, we have successfully targeted and neutralized key members of the al Qaeda leadership hierarchy."

Fortunately, conservatives' message has been rejected both at home and abroad. 

A recent poll conducted by the BBC found that, "Views of the USA are now positive in most countries around the world for the first time since tracking began." [BBC, 4/18/10]

The current Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index shows improving American confidence about our role in the world with the foreign policy anxiety indicator having dropped 10-points to 122, the lowest level recorded since Public Agenda introduced the indicator in 2006. [Public Agenda, Spring 2010]

Americans also support the President's handling of national security issues including terrorism.  A recent poll conducted by Third Way and Quinlan Greenberg Rosner found that "more than half of all likely voters approve of the president's handling of Afghanistan (58 percent), national security (57 percent), "leading America's military" (57 percent), "improving America's standing in the world" (55 percent), fighting terrorism (54 percent), and Iraq (54 percent). These are strong figures at a time when America is fighting two wars abroad and continuing to face an active terrorist threat." [Third Way/GQRR 3/8/10]

[Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) via Heritage, 5/4/10. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D FL), via the Plumline, 5/4/10]

What We're Reading

Nigeria's acting leader, Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in as president of Africa's most populous country, following the death yesterday of former President Umaru Yar'Adua after  a lengthy illness.

A day after three Greeks were killed during protests, the government stressed that the country's only hope of avoiding bankruptcy is to take money from a joint EU and International Monetary Fund rescue package.

The lone surviving gunman from a 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai that killed more than 160 people was sentenced to death by hanging.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqiya alliance said a new Shiite alliance that appears positioned to form a new Iraqi government could return the country to destabilizing sectarian politics, but also said it would consider joining the coalition.

Hope for resolution to Thailand's political deadlock seems to be fading, as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected calls by anti-government protestors to clarify when he would dissolve the country's parliament.

After nearly a month of contradictory signals, a senior Russian official is now making clear that the government has not halted the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are threatening to boycott the upcoming European Union-Latin America and Caribbean summit in Madrid if Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who they view as illegitimate, attends.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the most senior Afghan Taliban leader in custody in Pakistan, is providing important information to American officials on the inner workings of the Taliban.

In the face of Greece's fiscal woes, Spain successfully raised 2.345 billion euros in the first debt sale since its credit rating was cut last week, easing investors' immediate fears of contagion.

Britain and Mauritius both go to the polls today.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times editorial board says abandoning democratic institutions in the face of terrorism is an act of surrender that will make America more vulnerable, not safer.

Matt Duss takes on those who deny the linkage between the Arab-Israeli conflict and U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Sharon Weinberger brings us inside Georgia's nuclear bazaar.


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