Is America Winning The War Against Terrorism?
Next month will mark nearly two decades since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our American home front by Islamic jihadists—the U.S. government’s ‘official’ story, most of terrorist who hijacked the planes were Saudi nationals. The question to ask is, “Is the U.S. winning its war against the jihadists?”
According to Russell E. Travers, former Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2019 to 2020, the United States’ post-9/11 counterterrorism effort has been nothing short of extraordinary. The U.S. government took the fight overseas, identifying and killing countless terrorist leaders, simultaneously utilizing sophisticated screening to keep terrorists from slipping into the U.S. and made it even more difficult for jihadists to operate in the country—part of this success was Washington’s working with the private sector to make cyberspace and financial networks less hospitable for terrorists.
The military campaign under Trump against ISIS in Syria and Iraq seems to have been decisive and successful, resulting in the capture of nearly all of the group’s territory and the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
President Trump has displayed more constancy in fighting Islamic radicalism than his predecessors. The most important one, I hold, associating the terrorism carried out by Muslims to their religion: ‘Islamic extremism.’ He has imposed a line of new sanctions on an Iranian-backed terror organization, Hezbollah, and its top allies in the Hamas movement operating in the Gaza Strip, as well as the Islamic Liwaa al-Thawra, which assassinated Egyptian General Adel Ragai in 2016. He has also tackled the state-sponsored terrorism from Iran by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, consequently curtailing their funding of jihadists by imposing sanctions and eliminating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
Trump has also taken on some nongovernmental organizations that have at least indirectly aided Islamic terrorists, such as his decision to withhold $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, specifically $45 million pledged to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The Saudi-backed Hamas has been carrying out military training for UNRWA UNRWA children: they are given “machine guns and schooled for war, while top Hamas officials on site encourage jihad, and lecture on the importance of taking back their villages—by force of arms.”
As Peter R. Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at King’s College London, explains that for now there is no evidence that since Donald Trump took over the White House that there has been a substantial increase from jihadist terrorism, or that large numbers of Muslim Americans have radicalized. Nevertheless, the terrorist threat is more diverse and diffuse than ever.
Al-Qaeda, for example, has been substantially degraded, half a dozen of its franchises operate across the world. The Islamic State has also regrouped after losing its safe haven, and it now oversees more than 20 branches and networks—both militant groups are still trying to conduct attacks in the U.S., and let us not forget a number of Shi’ite jihadists, backed by Iran, are also poised to threaten U.S. interests.
Part of this is not necessarily due to a lack of incentive, but rather confronting the Islamic threat as if it were to be pyramidal. The Trump administration and its operatives have given primary focus to a military solution against the jihadists, without taking into consideration some of the sociopolitical aspects of Islamic radicalism. This mentality continues to unite a global and cross-cutting network of groups, organizations, and individuals—not all of whom are classified as terrorists, which means that winning against extremist groups alone is a losing battle.
There is also the problem of homegrown terrorists—not just from Muslims but also from non-Islamists, particularly white supremacists, who account for most of the recent terrorist violence in the United States, such as the El Paso shooting that killed 23 people and injured another 23. In fact, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 2018 saw the highest number of “right-wing extremist murders” in any year since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City—while Black Lives Matter tends to be more of a pro-anarchist organization, it too has become a domestic terror threat.
It certainly would be wrong to put the blame on President Trump, just as those who say that he has failed in fighting Islamic terrorism—he has not, he just has not been able to win it. If he does want to be victorious, then he must also make a temperate calculation of risk, concentrating on the evolving threat both in the American and abroad, taking methodical steps to mitigate it. This includes not abandoning our allies, as the U.S. has done with the Kurds who helped us defeat ISIS. Terrorism is not going to disappear, and as Travers put it, “[I]n some ways it is a more complicated threat than it was 20 years ago.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States”—in retrospect this tends to be retracted propaganda—and an increased surveillance of mosques, which breed hatred toward Americans. He also vowed to work with genuine Muslim reformers and establish a commission on radical Islam to protect America’s borders from Islamic terrorism. Its proposed mandate included a profound study in order to explain the core convictions of radical Islam, chart how Islamists recruit and deploy jihadists and to examine political correctness. This commission, however, has yet to have been established—it would be in the country’s interest to do so because although maintaining a strong military presence overseas to gather intelligence and conduct strikes against jihadists is part of the job, it ultimately will not get it done.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up. Book available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or WestBow Press.