What’s Missing From Obama’s Counterterrorism Strategy
President Obama declared at West Point that “for the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.” He proposed that the United States should adjust its counterterrorism strategy “to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.”
Partnership can indeed be a component of an effective strategy for countering terrorism. But partnership requires effective partners. This missing ingredient in Mr. Obama’s strategy will be its downfall.
The president cited Afghanistan as an example of where this partnership policy has succeeded. “Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al-Qaeda core, and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country. But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. That’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.” He proposed extending this model to North Africa, where al-Qaeda affiliates are establishing havens in Mali, Libya, Nigeria and Somalia, as well as partnering with Syria’s neighbors to counter the threats posed by a massive refugee crisis, humanitarian disaster, and rapidly growing al-Qaeda offshoots.
Many states affected by al-Qaeda are ineffective or pursuing policies that fuel its recruitment. Libya never developed an effective government to replace Moammar Qaddafi, and order there continues to fray. Governments in Yemen and Somalia struggle to maintain–and even establish–control outside of their capitals. Strengthening their militaries is not the same as strengthening their state institutions in ways that increase security and reduce ungoverned space.
Partnership with many of these countries is also not consistent with another principle of U.S. foreign policy. “Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror,” Mr. Obama said. Yet this Obama doctrine would make us even more dependent on regimes that violate human rights. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki uses armed force to break up protests against his government and has politicized individual and mass arrests. U.S. reliance on him to fight al-Qaeda eliminates any leverage we might have to alter his behavior.
Read the rest of this article at The Wall Street Journal.