Addressing the threat of terrorism, both real and perceived, will be a top priority for the Trump administration. Despite the dearth of Islamic State–directed attacks on U.S. soil, polls from earlier in 2016 showed that 73 percent of Americans saw the Islamic State as a “very serious” threat to the United States, and another 17 percent saw it as “moderately serious”—a rare priority that crosses political lines. Almost 80 percent believed the Islamic State has assets in the United States and the capacity to “launch a major terrorist attack against the U.S. at any time.”
Not surprisingly, terrorism is a political football. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump regularly warned about “a major threat from radical Islamic terrorism,” and tweeted:
Obama, he claimed, has boxed U.S. generals in with a “strategy that is destined to fail."
Fighting terrorism has been at the top of the U.S. national-security agenda since 9/11, but the terrorism threat, and thus the appropriate means of counterterrorism, is often grossly misunderstood. The danger has evolved, and counterterrorism must change to keep pace. Today, the greatest challenges abroad require the United States to reorient its counterterrorism focus. Simply arresting and killing bad guys is at best treading water; instead, the United States must become more involved in working to stop or at least contain the civil wars that fuel radical movements. Ultimately, the most effective counterterrorism effort could be fostering better governance in troubled parts of the Middle East. At home, the challenges are even more complex: the election exposed failures of societal resilience and led to the public demonization of Muslims, both of which only further empower terrorist groups.
Fighting terrorism has been at the top of the U.S. national-security agenda since 9/11, but the terrorism threat, and thus the appropriate means of counterterrorism, is often grossly misunderstood.
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