Assessing the true terror threat
Immersed in a war against terrorism, the United States is in crisis because it has been unable to reach a consensus about the true nature of the threat it faces. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the contrasting ways in which the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have described the central military challenge confronting the United States.
The Bush administration characterized the challenge in its 2006 document National Strategy for Combating Terrorism: “America is at war with a transnational terrorist movement fueled by a radical ideology.” Its recommended strategy to combat this movement entailed “destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement.”
Declaring that the United States was in a global struggle, a long war, against opposing concepts of civilization, the Bush administration addressed the issue of jihad while respectfully mentioning Islam: “The terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder” against those who have beliefs different from theirs.
John Brennan's statements, made in the summer of 2009 when he was assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, are a clear articulation of the administration's position: Al-Qaida poses “the most serious terrorist threat we face as a nation,” not the broader movement of distorted jihad.
In fact, Brennan said, “President Obama … (does not) see this challenge as a fight against ‘jihadists.' Describing terrorists in this way — using a legitimate term, ‘jihad,' meaning to purify or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal — risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself.”
The Obama administration has realized the importance of understanding various meanings of jihad but has dismissed the idea that some form of jihad — as well as radical Islamic elements beyond al-Qaida — pose a threat to the United States and the West.
President Obama made his most comprehensive statement about terrorism since taking office in a speech at the National Defense University on March 23. He cautioned against seeing “our effort ... as a boundless ‘global war on terror' — but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” He reported that “Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure.”
Yet the recent decision to close nearly two dozen embassies in the greater Middle East because of a threat from al-Qaida in Yemen reveals that the war is far from over.
Declaring that the United States is in a long war or stating that the war is nearly over does not address the deeper issue of the role of distorted jihad in geopolitics. The most immediate threat to the United States is al-Qaida. But there are other distorted jihadists at work. Just look at Egypt and Syria.
In a way, America's divided outlook on the nature of the threat it currently faces makes the war against terrorism seem even more dangerous and deeply disturbing than the Cold War.
Kiron Skinner is director of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for International Relations and Politics and a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Acme man’s ephemeral sculptures appear to defy laws of physics
- Rossi: After L.A., NFL should tread carefully
- Oncologists wary of scaled-back guidelines in cancer screenings
- Cal (Pa.) softball loses slugfest; season comes to an end
- Early success in White House race a pleasant surprise for Carson
- Posthumous election wins have happened in Western Pa., nation
- Neighbor arrested after McKeesport house fire, authorities say
- Motorist killed in Armstrong County rollover crash
- 4 dogs found dead in Beechview home; woman charged
- Starter Liriano strikes out 12, leads Pirates to series sweep of Mets
- Saudi King Salman vows retribution for suicide attack on mosque