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Obama's Counter-Terror Strategy In Brief: Promise and Problems

Economic crises and terror attacks reside in different parts of the America brain. The former requires patience and discipline, the latter demands action and decisiveness. Several months ago, it's quite likely the more violent aspects of the American psyche would've sent John McCain to the White House. Then came the financial meltdown. According to exit polling, terrorism ranked just 5th in most important issues concerning the American voter, garnering approximately 10% and just behind Iraq. While I consider both issues, terror and the War in Iraq intrinsically linked, combined they were considered paramount by only a quarter of the populace. The economic crisis flipped a switch in the United States, and suddenly people favored the academic professor to the grizzly warrior. It must be noted, however, that the qualities that have made President-Elect Obama so appealing to voters, his pragmatism and attention to nuance, can be quite problematic in outlining a meaningful and effective counter-terror strategy.

Don't get me wrong. I FIRMLY believe in attention to detail and an ability to redefine goals and re-assess the situation. I also FIRMLY reject a counter-terror policy that is based on pure ideology and a black-and-white clarity that reduces the conflict to "us versus them' (I think we all know to whom I am referring). However, it is important to have an underlying philosophy that the American people can support and the world can understand. Here is what I know of Obama's view of the "War on Terror' and International Conflict.

1. He has opposed the War in Iraq from the on-set, yet now hails the surge as a success and will defer further judgments on troop deployment to "commanders on the ground'.
2. While opposing the War in Iraq, he has frequently advocated intervention of some sort in troubled Darfur.
3. He opposes the torture or mistreatment of military detainees.
4. Obama would like to see an increased American presence in Afghanistan.
5. He is willing to launch military strikes within other nations should they be unable or unwilling to respond to terror-specific intelligence.
6. He views an unstable Pakistan and a nuclear-armed Iran as grave dangers to the international community and the United States.
7. In broad terms he views terror as an issue of law enforcement, not military engagement, although some military intervention is necessary.

All of this is sensible, rational, and pragmatic. However, like the Clinton years, it lacks a cohesiveness and clarity that is beneficial when launching a renewed terror strategy. Clinton's biggest flaw was his lack of an over-arching principle. Bush the elder had his "new world order', yet Clinton took every issue on a case-by-case basis. Engage in Africa for one conflict, yet ignore the other. Attack bin Laden for one bombing, yet ignore other atrocities. For better or worse, the Bush administration understood their position and was able to execute their policy with effectiveness. The American people too, understood the actions taken by their leaders.

Obama runs the very real risk of having to explain every single action he takes, defend each and every decision, and waste time explaining to a weary world why America has gone down her specific path.
This is in no way an indictment of Obama's stance on counter-terrorism. The man isn't even in office yet. This is simply a gentle urging that in the months ahead, he lay out an effective, clear-cut strategy through which his administration and the American public can move forward in the face of this threat.

Call it the Obama Doctrine. Call it a National Security Directive. Whatever. Just name it something and reference it often.



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


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