Given these potential issues, it’s crucial that Congress and the public continue to pressure the Trump Administration to be more forthcoming about its counterterrorism operations and the legal and policy framework under which they are conducted.
This is because it is impossible to arrest drift or correct missteps before they go too far if all of our counterterrorism operations and policies occur in the dark.
● Similarly, what might be termed “second generation” counterterrorism issues – like terrorists’ growing cyber capabilities or use of social media – have not been the subject of as much sustained public and congressional attention as the issues that emerged in the immediate wake of 9/11, such that no similar consensus has emerged.
The Administration is thus operating on much more of a blank slate in these domains.
These “faux counterterrorism” efforts are largely absent from the recently released strategy, and the Trump Administration does not appear to have applied the language animating them to other counterterrorism issues.
But that calculus could of course change, perhaps in the wake of a significant terrorist attack.Indeed, a lack of transparency has been perhaps the Trump Administration’s biggest discontinuity with the approach of its predecessor – and the counterterrorism strategy does nothing to reverse or suggest that we are mistaken in perceiving this trend.One final note before turning to a more detailed analysis of President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy.In that way, the current consensus is a real benefit.* * * * * The similarities between the Trump Administration’s counterterrorism strategy and that of his predecessors are immediately apparent. Government’s previous two public counterterrorism strategies — produced by President Obama in 2011 and President Bush in 2006 — primarily focused on lists of “priorities of action” (Bush) and “overarching goals” (Obama) rather than Trump’s more complex framework with interlocking objectives, end states, and lines of effort.The definition of terrorism is actions made to frighten the people and threaten them to achieve some political, ideological or religious goals.So it can be classified by the goals the terrorist try to achieve and by the methods they use to do this.We recognize that there are those from both the left and the right who dissent from the rough counterterrorism consensus that has emerged in recent years, particularly the continued deployment of our troops to combat the threat.Children not yet born when we first invaded Afghanistan are now old enough to serve in the conflict there – when, many of these dissenters ask, will this “forever war” ever end?While both of us think it is unlikely that President Trump or a Democratic successor would pivot away from an approach to countering terrorist threats that relies on the military anytime soon, we both agree that it is entirely appropriate to question whether the prevailing consensus makes the correct tradeoffs. In what theaters beyond Afghanistan should we be taking strikes or deploying troops?When should we be willing to deploy forces beyond relatively safe training and advisory activities to supporting partners in combat?