Coming into office, President Donald Trump declared defeating and destroying ISIS to be his top foreign policy priority.
In contrast with the Obama administration, he had no hesitation defining precisely the root of the threat: Islamist terrorism—not vaguely phrased “violent extremism,” “workplace violence,” or “manmade contingencies.”
This definition of the threat also needs to come with a far more concise strategy to combat it. The shorthand for the Obama strategy was “CVE,” or “Countering Violent Extremism.”
Like the evasive title, this program failed. The United States continues to face terror attacks from radicalized individuals, such as last year’s Orlando nightclub massacre.
In a recent article for The National Interest, “Top 10 Ways to Make War on the ‘War of Ideas,’” The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano writes that “the new team in Washington needs to right-size the effort, making it complementary with effective counterterrorism measures and U.S. strategy overseas.”
Carafano’s 10 points are:
- Helping Americans understand the changing nature of the war. This could potentially occur through the creation of a 9/11-style commission to define the threat for this new era.
- Do not allow efforts to be captured by ulterior motives. This happens when the perpetrators of violence are excused as victims, and therefore not seen as to blame.
- Focus on Islamist threats. The Islamist threat is a very specific and anti-democratic threat that cannot be countered with a generic counterterrorism approach.
- Limit domestic programs and keep them modest in character. Overly broad programs to counter radicalization have failed in the past. For instance, one FBI anti-terror program in 2012 identified the real terror threat as right-wing terrorism, not Islamism.
- Focus domestic programs on counterterrorism. Identify and hone in on individuals that pose potential threats, and prevent those individuals from successfully striking. Most domestic terrorists have been on law enforcement’s radar screen prior to attacking.
- Make domestic programs bottom-up. Equip local communities and law enforcement to confront terrorism, instead of hoping that the federal government can handle the terror threat all by itself.
- Emphasize support to the field in overseas programs. Again, local officials and political leaders will be far better equipped than central authorities to deal with radicalization on the ground in trouble spots.
- End handouts that don’t deliver. No more government-funded conferences and meetings for ineffective NGOs, such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
- Avoid obsessing over social media. Social media is not itself the root cause of terror attacks. Social media is a contributing factor in radicalization that is most effective where there is already a local network to carry out attacks.
- Drop the label. The Obama administration’s “Countering Violent Extremism” label is too vague. Islamist extremism represents a well-defined threat that we need to fight in the name of all that human decency and liberal democracy stand for.
An 11th point that should be added is the importance of information and communication in defeating the enemy.
For that, the United States government has powerful tools—in particular, the civilian entities of U.S. International Broadcasting under the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
These broadcasters are legitimate and important tools of U.S. foreign policy, and have been ever since they were created in World War II.
The U.S. government has devoted millions of dollars over the last 15 years toward expanding these broadcast services to the Middle East and Afghanistan, with varying degrees of success.
Networks that came from these efforts include the Middle East Broadcasting Network (which consists of Radio Sawa and Al Hurra Television), Voice of America’s Persian News Network, Radio Free Afghanistan, and Radio Farda (for Iran) produced by Radio Liberty in Munich.
The Trump team must now create a comprehensive broadcasting strategy to reach and inform audiences who are trapped behind enemy lines, often by autocratic Islamist regimes. This should become part of a clear, focused, and revitalized counterterrorism strategy.