Can we be confident that President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy is headed in the right direction?
When I posted a chart to suggest that the numbers don’t bear that out, many in the blogosphere tried to turn interpreting the chart into a debate over whether the GOP or the Democrats are better at dealing with terrorists. Personally, I think jiggering a debate about counterterrorism strategy into a partisan issue makes no sense. After all, the terrorists don’t care whether the West Wing is run by the left wing or the right wing. All they are trying to do is kill us.
The chart just makes that the point the great downturn in terrorist attacks aimed at the United States took place before President’s Obama term of office. (Article continued beneath chart)
Terrorism aimed at the U.S. peaks from 1987 to 1991 and then drops. That is largely a reflection of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism though the 1980s.
As they invested at the front end of the decade, terrorist groups developed capabilities and with that expanded capacity came after the U.S. As Soviet-sponsorship began to collapse in 1989, attacks aimed at the U.S. taper off. The problem with the decline in the late 1990s was that America basically started paying insufficient attention to transnational terrorism at exactly the time bin Laden and al-Qaeda where organizing their global networks. We cut intelligence budgets. We did less with special operations. While we did not ignore emergent groups like al-Qaeda completely, we did too little in those years to prevent the outbreak that followed running up to and after 9/11.
The drop post-2005 was clearly the result of policies implemented after 9/11 that, of course, took several years to put in place and have effect. In addition, we have done a better job at stopping attack on the U.S. (at least 44 so far since 9/11).
The effects of Obama’s policy changes will be seen in the years ahead, not the years behind.