National Strategy for Combating Terrorism: Background and Issues for Congress
National Strategy for Combating Terrorism:
Background and Issues for Congress
November 1, 2007
Raphael F. Perl
Specialist in International Crime and Terrorism
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
National Strategy for Combating Terrorism: Background
and Issues for Congress
On September 5, 2006, the White House released the 2006 National Strategy
for Combating Terrorism. This report examines the Strategy in the context of its
predecessor, released in 2003, and identifies issues and options for consideration by
The 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism provides a framework for
protecting the United States and its allies from terrorist attacks. Core components
of the Strategy are to disrupt and disable terrorist networks across the globe, and
foster international cooperation in these efforts. Creating a global intolerance of
terrorism is central as well.
The 2006 Strategy differs from the 2003 version primarily in that it sets different
priorities for the strategic elements designed to achieve its goals. Perhaps most
significant of these differences is a major increase in emphasis on democratization
as a method of combating terrorism. Additionally, the 2006 strategy places greater
emphasis on denying terrorists sanctuary in underdeveloped, failed, and rogue states.
The use of economic and political tools to strengthen nations vulnerable to the spread
of terrorist influence appears to receive less emphasis in the 2006 Strategy than in the
Inherent in the National Strategy are a number of issues for Congress. These
include (1) democratization as a counterterrorism strategy; (2) the validity of the
Strategy’s assumptions about terrorists; (3) whether the Strategy adequately addresses
the situation in Iraq including the U.S. presence there as a catalyst for international
terrorism; (4) the Strategy’s effectiveness against rogue states; (5) the degree to
which the Strategy addresses threats reflected in recent National Intelligence
Estimates; (6) mitigating extremist indoctrination of the young; and (7) the efficacy
of public diplomacy. To the degree that the 2006 National Strategy for Combating
Terrorism may not adequately address the importance of these and other relevant
factors, some adjustment of the strategy and its implementation may be warranted.
This report will not be updated.
This report is based on extensive research and writing by Sam Reid, a
Research Associate from the University of Texas, Austin.
In troduction ......................................................1
Preventing Attacks by Terrorist Networks.......................3
Denying WMD to Terrorists and Rogue States...................3
Denying Terrorists the Support and Sanctuary of Rogue States......4
Denying Terrorists Control of Any Nation......................4
Winning the War of Ideas by Advancing Effective Democracy......4
Promoting International Coalitions and Partnerships..............4
Enhancing Government Counterterror Infrastructure and
Issues for Congress................................................5
Democratization as a Counterterrorism Strategy......................6
Validity of Strategy Perceptions about Terrorism.....................8
Impact of U.S. Policy in Iraq.................................9
Impact of U.S. Efforts to Prevent Terrorist Attacks..............10
Perception of Poverty Issues................................10
Perception of Importance of Arab-Israeli Peace Settlement........10
Adequacy of Strategy’s Treatment of Situation in Iraq................11
Strategy’s Effectiveness Against Rogue States and Groups............11
Engaging Rogue States....................................11
Selective Engagement of Terrorist Groups.....................12
Degree to Which Strategy Addresses Threats Reflected in Recent NIE...14
Mitigating Terrorist Indoctrination of the Young....................14
Efficacy of Public Diplomacy...................................15
National Strategy for Combating Terrorism:
Background and Issues for Congress
In the national security field, publication of strategies serves a number of
purposes. Strategies alert Congress, government agencies, the public, and foreign
nations to the general direction of policy in a specific arena, and help clarify policy
goals, objectives, and threat perception. They also assist Congress in identifying and
prioritizing funding priorities, any potential need for legislative changes to reflect
policy direction, and issues for oversight activity.
On September 5, 2006, the White House released the 2006 National Strategy1
for Combating Terrorism (NSCT or “Strategy”). The 2006 NSCT complements the
National Security Strategy of the United States, released by the White House in2
March 2006. Subsequently, on May 31, 2007, the Bush Administration released a
public diplomacy strategy that addressed the issue of counterterrorism and set up a3
rapid response counterterrorism communications center. In June 2007, the
Administration released a National Implementation Plan (NIP). The document,
according to press reports, designates lead and subordinate agencies to carry out a
multitude of tasks to include destroying Al Qaeda; enlisting support from allies; and
training experts in foreign languages and cultures with emphasis on gaining a better
understanding of Islam. Its overarching goals reportedly are to (1) defeat terrorism
as a threat to America’s way of life as a free and open society, and (2) create an
environment inhospitable to terrorism worldwide.4
The White House subsequently released an updated (second) National Strategy
for Homeland Security on October 9, 2007. It is described as “a companion to the
 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” since both strategies include
sections on preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks that are complementary and
reinforcing.5 In addition, unclassified key judgments of National Intelligence
3 U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, at
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ document s / or gani zat i on/ 87427.pdf ] .
4 At the writing of this report the 2007 implementation plan remains a classified document.
5 National Strategy for Homeland Security: A Comprehensive Guide for Securing the
Homeland. October 2007, [http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/homeland/nshs/NSHS.pdf].
Beyond the scope of this report, and arguably a topic timely for analysis, is the degree to
which the Homeland Security Strategy incorporates core elements of, and dovetails with,
Estimates that address issues relevant to counterterrrorism strategy, were released
by the Administration in April 2006,6 January 20077 and July 2007.8
The 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism Strategy follows on an
earlier strategy released by the Bush Administration in 2003.9 The 2006 Strategy
differs from the 2003 document in a number of strategic and tactical areas. This
report examines the 2006 National Strategy in the context of its predecessor in 2003,
and identifies issues and options for consideration by Congress.
The 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism:
!provides a framework for protecting the United States and its allies
from terrorist attacks. Core components of the Strategy include
disrupting and disabling terrorist networks across the globe and
fostering international cooperation. Creating a global environment
intolerant of terrorism is central as well.
!emphasizes the need to engage actively in the “War of Ideas” (i.e.,
to combat and counter the dissemination of terrorist ideology and to
promote international intolerance of terrorists and of terrorism as a
tactic). International cooperation and support to bring about such a
worldwide ideological shift are seen as crucial to the success of such
!shares the same major goals as its 2003 predecessor: protecting the
Homeland, disabling terrorist networks, and creating an international
community intolerant of violent extremism.
!like its 2003 edition, calls for utilization of all elements of U.S.
power to combat international terrorism: diplomatic, economic, law
enforcement, financial, intelligence, military, and information
dissemination. It also reiterates the importance of preemptive action
against terrorist groups and their sponsors in conjunction with
measures which seek to deny sanctuary, funding, and arms to
the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.
6 Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate: Trends in Global
Terrorism: Implications for the United States. April 2006. [http://www.dni.gov/press_
releases/Declassified_NIE_K ey_J udgme nts.pdf].
7 Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate: Prospects for Iraq's
Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead. January 2007. [http://graphics8.nytimes.com/
8 Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate: The Terrorist Threat
to the US Homeland. July 2007. [http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/20070717_release.pdf].
9 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. February 2003. [https://www.cia.gov/
news-i nformation/cia-the-war-on-terrorism/Counter_T errorism_Strategy.pdf].
However, the 2006 Strategy differs from the 2003 version primarily in that it
sets different priorities for the strategic elements designed to achieve those ultimate
goals. Perhaps the most significant of these differences is a major increase in
emphasis in the 2006 document on democratization as a method of combating
terrorism. Additionally, the 2006 Strategy places greater emphasis on denying
terrorists sanctuary in underdeveloped, failed, and rogue states. The use of economic
and political tools to strengthen nations vulnerable to the spread of terrorist influence
appears to receive less emphasis in the 2006 Strategy than in the 2003 version.
The 2006 Strategy is broadly divided into short-term and long-term objectives.
The short-term objectives address the immediate problem of violent extremism;
whereas the long-term objectives concern the eradication of terrorism in the future.
The Strategy’s short-term objectives include (1) preventing attacks by terrorist
networks; (2) denying weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to terrorists and rogue
states; (3) denying terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states; and (4)
denying terrorists control of any nation.
Preventing Attacks by Terrorist Networks. Important to this objective
are sustained, relentless — often preemptive — attacks on the personnel and
infrastructures of terrorist networks. Emphasis is placed on:
!Attacking and targeting leaders in the hopes of weakening the
cohesiveness, strategic guidance, and morale of terrorist
!Targeting the foot soldiers of terrorist groups by law
enforcement and military means.
!Disrupting the recruitment of foot soldiers by terrorist
!Targeting the communications centers and propaganda
operations of terrorist groups.
!Disrupting the flow of funding and weapons to terrorist
Denying WMD to Terrorists and Rogue States.10 This component of the
Strategy seeks to deny terrorists WMD and WMD-related material. It includes
elements of both prevention and response (i.e., enhancing U.S. ability to determine
10 Note that the term “rogue” states is not defined, although rogue is implied in terms of a
nation’s support for terrorism or inclination thereto.
terrorist intentions and capabilities regarding WMD), as well as U.S. ability to
prevent and respond to a WMD attack, should such an attack take place.
Denying Terrorists the Support and Sanctuary of Rogue States.
This component of the Strategy places emphasis on discouraging state sponsorship
of terrorism through imposing economic and political sanctions on states that
support, harbor or fund groups that use terrorism as a tactic.
Denying Terrorists Control of Any Nation. This component of the
strategy seeks reduction and eventual elimination of safe havens overseas by
combining military assistance and nation building to support governments that are
effectively unable to combat terrorist activity on their own. Support is envisioned in
the form of measures to facilitate economic development, foster creation or extension
of the rule of law, and strengthen law enforcement. Included in the concept of
terrorist safe havens are physical and legal (extradition-proof) safe havens, cyber safe
havens, and financial safe havens.
The long-term objectives of the Strategy include (1) winning the War of Ideas
by advancing effective democracy; (2) promoting international coalitions and
partnerships; and (3) enhancing government counterterrorism infrastructure and
Winning the War of Ideas by Advancing Effective Democracy.
Important here is the promotion and support of democracies that not only hold free
elections but also uphold democratic rights such as freedom of religion, conscience,
speech, assembly, association, and the press. The assumption is that establishing and
strengthening democratic institutions, principles and practices will, in turn, reduce
the four major causes of the spread of terrorist ideology outlined by the Strategy:
!Grievances and perceived injustices that can be blamed on others,
!Subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation, and
!An ideology that justifies murder.
Promoting International Coalitions and Partnerships. The Strategy
calls for assisting allies in their efforts to strengthen their counterterrorism
capabilities, so these can be used more effectively to combat terror. Recognizing the
need for broad based international cooperation in fighting the war on terror is key.
Enhancing Government Counterterror Infrastructure and
Capabilities. This component of the Strategy emphasizes strengthening and
restructuring U.S. government mechanisms to promote inter-agency collaboration
and to formulate clear national priorities. Also key is developing a community of
counterterrorism experts with enhanced knowledge and capabilities to address more
comprehensively the growing problems of terrorism and violent extremism.
Issues for Congress
The 2006 National Strategy raises a number of challenging issues for Congress.
These include (1) effectiveness of democratization as a counterterrorism strategy; (2)
the underlying factors fueling the spread of terrorism and the motives of terrorists;
(3) implications of the war in Iraq for U.S. counterterrorism strategy; (4)
effectiveness of the policy of U.S. non-engagement with states that support or harbor
terrorists (i.e., rogue states), as well as select terrorist groups; (5) alignment of the
Strategy with recent National Intelligence Estimates; (6) mitigation of extremist
indoctrination of the young, disenfranchised, and economically marginal; and (7)
efficacy of public diplomacy. Important as well, but difficult to ascertain, is the
degree to which current funding follows the priorities of the 2003 Strategy in contrast
to those of the 2006 document.
The focus of the Strategy is primarily the terrorist threat from radical Islam.
However, there may be potential threats from groups or individuals aligned with
other extremist causes or ideologies. Some wonder whether the emphasis on a single
front in the war on terror might leave the country vulnerable to surprise attacks from
groups that have been overlooked.
There is a tacit presumption in the Strategy and its goals that meaningful data
exist on which to base and implement policy decisions. These data might include
results on issues relating to terrorism from: attitude surveys in various populations;
interrogations or profiles of known terrorists; demographic and socioeconomic trend
analyses; risk analyses; cost-benefit and funding studies; and other sources. The
nature and extent of data actually available, the interpretation and implications of this
data, and the degree to which the Strategy reflects the data, are open questions.
Another unresolved question is the need, if any, for periodic — if not ongoing
— review of strategy components and for appropriate institutional mechanisms and
resources to implement such review. The issue of coordinating strategy with key
allies may warrant examination by Congress as well. To what degree was such
coordination accomplished? To what degree were allies on whose support the United
States relies in combating international terrorism simply presented with a fait
accompli? What are the overall pro’s and con’s of advance coordination of strategy
and its formulation with important counterterror allies?
The Strategy does not include a discussion and contingency plan for a scenario
in which one does not “win.” In such a scenario, one might choose to opt to measure
“victory” — or progress — in terms of acceptable losses rather than triumph. Few
would contend that there has been complete triumph in the war on drugs or the war
on crime, for example, despite decades of effort and countless billions of dollars
spent. It is therefore possible, perhaps even likely, that the war on terror may have
a similar long-term outcome: stalemate — whether against decentralized, well-
funded terrorist adversaries with formidable resources and weaponry or against
isolated cells of homegrown extremists.
More than six years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there are few agreed-upon
criteria for measuring the success or failure of U.S. strategy for combating terrorism.
Therefore, while the Strategy can be analyzed, discussed and critiqued, its results and
effectiveness are difficult to evaluate reliably.11
Democratization as a Counterterrorism Strategy
The 2006 National Strategy bases much of its long-term approach on the
premise that effective democracy combats the conditions and circumstances that
legitimize and spread terrorism. Indeed, the Strategy asserts that “the long-term
solution for winning the war on terror is the advancement of human freedom and
human dignity through effective democracy.” According to the Strategy, democratic
institutions that support human rights counter the four factors identified as major
contributors to the rise of terrorism:
1. Political Alienation
2. Grievances and perceived injustices that can be blamed on others
3. Subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation
4. An ideology that justifies murder
Some, however, see efforts to promote democracy as a sign of unrestrained U.S.12
imperialsim, which can contribute to the spread of terrorism. In this camp are also
those who suggest that western democracies are increasingly becoming morally
bankrupt — societies where materialism and money-worship reign, where drug use,
pornography, and violent crime are widespread, and where the traditional family and
traditional values are disintegrating with little substance to replace them.
In this regard the 2006 Strategy appears to make a major assumption that the
2003 Strategy does not, namely that democratization is, in and of itself, an effective
means of combating terrorism in the long- term. However, the 2006 Strategy is silent
on when and how democracy promotion should be implemented vis-a-vis the various
other counterterrorism tactics and objectives, both long- and short-term.
The 2006 Strategy implies that effectively implementing democracy in a
community promotes conditions that deter terrorist recruitment and activity. In
contrast, the 2003 Strategy suggests the converse — that by combating terrorism in
conjunction with stabilizing areas vulnerable to terrorist recruitment effective
democracy could eventually come into existence.
There is heavy emphasis in the 2006 Strategy on democratization as a means of
countering terrorism. Viewed in the context of the mixed success of fledgling
democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistence of autocratic regimes among
11 See CRS Report RL33160, Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring
Effectiveness, by Raphael F. Perl, March 12, 2007.
12 See for example: Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror by Michael
Scheuer. Brassey’s, 2004, 309 p.
U.S. allies in the Middle East, the credibility and effectiveness of this strategic thrust
may merit scrutiny.
Supporters of democratization as a pillar of U.S. counterterrorism policy argue
that the history of the past century is replete with examples demonstrating that
advancing effective democracy and human rights over the long-term contributes to
the legitimacy and stability of governments, and to the economic prosperity of
nations. They see implementing democracy as a tool of U.S. foreign policy as an
effective deterrent to violent internal anti-systemic activities, including terrorism.13
In effect, they suggest that where effective democracy is achieved, higher degrees of
political stability and economic prosperity evolve, and terrorism, if it emerges at all,
is short-lived or marginalized.
Proponents of the 2006 Strategy contend that spreading democracy is important
to the long-term stability of the Middle East and South Asia. They assert that
promoting democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is an important aspect of creating a
democratic environment throughout the region, which could reduce the threat of
terrorism in the long-term.
Skeptics caution that there is often a trade-off between the idealistic goals of
democratization and U.S. security interests. Democratization, under certain
circumstances, may actually undermine U.S. security interests and exacerbate the
terrorism problem. Recent experience in the Middle East and South Asia has shown
that democratic elections can bring to power governments that show little interest in
the principles and practices of liberal democracy; possess insufficient power or
legitimacy to counter or prevent terrorism within their borders; support or condone
terrorist activity within or beyond their borders; and/or are hostile to U.S. national
interests. As examples they cite: Iraqi Shiites voting in 2005 elections for an Iranian-
style Islamic republic in areas under their control; terror-linked organizations winning
democratic elections in the Middle East (e.g., Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in
Lebanon); and popular election of a radical Islamic government. The election of
Pakistani President Musharraf is cited as well.
Also at issue is the question of whether democracy, in and of itself, can stabilize
a nation, given the troubling growth in numbers and influence of radical groups in
some democratic countries. Skeptics argue that the burgeoning popularity of
extremist and terror-linked groups, such as the Mujaheddin Council in Indonesia, the
Party Islam in Malaysia, the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, Hizballah in Lebanon
and the democratically elected Hamas party in Gaza, would seem to indicate that
democracy per se does not entirely dissuade or discourage the ideology of terrorism.
The rise of these parties in democratic societies presents a major foreign policy
dilemma for the United States, since it pits U.S. support for democracy directly
against U.S. commitment to combat terrorism aggressively.14
Given these examples, some observers fear that democratization of some of
America’s closest allies in the Middle East — the autocracies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
13 Francis Fukuyama and Michael McFaul, Should Democracy be Promoted or Demoted?
The Stanley Foundation, June 2007.
14 See CRS Report RL33555, Trends in Terrorism: 2006, by Raphael Perl.
Jordan and Morocco — may, at least in the short — term, result in democratically
elected governments that are less supportive of the war on terrorism than those they
replace, if not actively hostile to U.S. security interests in the region.
Others argue that making democratization a pillar of U.S. counterterrorism
strategy while pursuing regime change only selectively in the region (aggressively
pursued with respect to Syria and Iran; not so with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan or
Morocco) generates cynicism and distrust throughout the region — and the world —
regarding U.S. motives. This, in turn, may undermine support for democratization
efforts, if not directly provoke increased support for terrorist activity in nations such
as Iraq, Afghanistan or other states tenuously allied with the United States.
Moreover, emphasis on democratization in Afghanistan and Iraq, some suggest, may
reflect a tendency to underestimate the many political and cultural barriers to
effective democracy in these countries, diverting resources from other critical
elements of a long term stabilization effort, such as economic development.
Those who question the efficacy of democratization as a means of countering
terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan point out that the democratic governments that
were hastily erected in these countries, to replace the regimes ousted by the United
States and its allies, remain only marginally effective. They note that sectarian
conflict and terrorist activities in Iraq continue to limit severely the effectiveness of
the central government,15 and that in Afghanistan the power of the elected
government does not extend much beyond the capital city. In both countries the
democratic governments appear to exert effective influence over a limited portion of
their territories and populations, while the rest remain heavily influenced by
insurgents and more traditional forms of tribal or sectarian leadership.
Validity of Strategy Perceptions about Terrorism
The 2006 Strategy predicates many of its objectives on a set of perceptions
about terrorism and terrorists that some would argue is incomplete, if not flawed.
Emphasizing the need to win the long-term “War of Ideas,” the 2006 Strategy, for
example, argues explicitly that the terrorism we confront today springs primarily
from four factors:
!grievances and perceived injustices that can be blamed on others,
!subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation, and
!an ideology that justifies murder
The first three factors clearly have been exploited by terrorists in many different
countries and contexts in their efforts to advance various social, political or religious
objectives. The 2006 Strategy’s elaboration of the fourth well-spring of terrorist
15 Baker, James A., Hamilton, Lee H. The Iraq Study Group Report. Vintage Books 2006.
Online at [http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/iraq_study_group_
activity, “an ideology that justifies murder,”16 offers a perspective on terrorist motives
and objectives that some observers consider simplistic and inaccurately villifying of
Islam. However, others contend that actively confronting terrorist ideology and
radical religious doctrine is long overdue, delayed by political correctness.
While acknowledging that the transnational movement of terrorist organizations,
networks and individuals is not monolithic, the 2006 Strategy observes that the
movement is united by an “ideology of oppression, violence and hate” and the shared
pursuit of “a world vision darkened by hate, fear, and oppression.” Skeptics argue
that this portrayal of transnational terrorism mischaracterizes and thereby obscures
other, different goals and motives of terrorists, along with their motivational appeal,
which the United States seeks to counter. They contend that terrorists rally their
supporters around specific social, religious, or political agendas urging retaliation for
real or perceived injustices, not around a world vision of hate, fear and oppression.
Critics also argue that the Strategy’s portrayal of terrorist motives and objectives
is overly simplistic and unidimensional perhaps intended to draw clear battle lines
in the War of Ideas, erodes U.S. credibility and diverts attention away from specific
terrorist grievances and objectives that might be addressed or resolved through
diplomacy, negotiations, or other non-violent means. On the other hand, as a high
level policy document, the Strategy must simplify certain complex topics in the
interests of brevity. More detailed treatment may appear in other reports or plans.
The 2006 Strategy also invites questions about the interpretation of the
underlying causes of terrorism by explicitly downplaying the importance of a number
of factors that many view as major contributors to the recent spread of terrorist
ideology and activity: (1) U.S. policy in Iraq; (2) U.S. efforts to prevent terrorist
attacks; (3) poverty; (4) Israeli-Arab issues.
Impact of U.S. Policy in Iraq. The Strategy states prominently that17
“Terrorism is not simply a result of hostility to U.S. policy in Iraq.” However,
many would argue that U.S. policy in Iraq has become a major focal point of terrorist
activity and related rhetoric and has perhaps even become a cause celebre for terrorist
recruitment. The Iraq Study Group Report of 2006 states:
The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality.
It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda,
and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to
stability. The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not
adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or
delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.
If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A
slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a
humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia
clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its
16 U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, Page 5.
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ document s / or gani zat i on/ 87427.pdf ] .
17 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, p. 6.
base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be18
diminished. Americans could become more polarized.
Impact of U.S. Efforts to Prevent Terrorist Attacks. Many argue that
U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and South Asia, primarily U.S.
military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as what many consider U.S.
political favoritism towards regimes in Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and
Egypt, plus policies avoiding active engagement of nations such as Iran and Syria,
have been important factors fueling the spread of global jihad. Critics of the 2006
Strategy argue that failure to recognize the full impact of this phenomenon limits the
Strategy’s effectiveness. Others however, see recognizing such factors as a given
which is inherently incorporated into the Strategy and its component parts.
Perception of Poverty Issues. The Strategy downplays poverty as a
contributing factor to terrorism, citing the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were from the
middle class. While acknowledging that the leaders of major terrorist groups and
their front-line operatives in advanced industrialized nations come mostly from more
educated middle class, skeptics point out that impoverished communities with
Islamic backgrounds, in Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza and other parts of the Middle East
and South Asia, have proven to be fertile spawning grounds of terrorist activity,
recruitment, and support. Well-funded terrorist organizations often provide social
services that host governments do not, winning popular approval. Moreover, the level
of corruption in such terrorist charitable endeavors is widely perceived to be minimal.
Perception of Importance of Arab-Israeli Peace Settlement. Critics
suggest that the Strategy fails to address the importance of a peaceful settlement to
the Arab-Israeli conflict as an overall tool to reducing terrorism. In support of their
linkage of progress against terrorism to Arab-Israeli peace they note that the Iraq
Study Group Report of 2006 states:
The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless19
the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Others, however, while recognizing that the Arab-Israeli conflict is important to
consider, emphasize that the multifacated conflict is only one of many issues that
terrorists seek to exploit and suggest that, should aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict
be peacefully resolved, terrorists will simply move on to other causes celebres.
18 Baker, James A., Hamilton, Lee H. The Iraq Study Group Report. Vintage Book, 2006.
The Iraq Study Group (ISG) Report, released December 6, 2006, was the result a bipartisan,
independent, forward-looking “fresh-eyes” assessment of Iraq undertaken by a bipartisan
group of individuals with distinguished careers in public service at the urging of several
Members of Congress with agreement of the White House. The ISG was co-chaired by
former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III (R) and former chairman of the House
International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton (D). The U.S. Institute of Peace acted as
the facilitating agency for the ISG, with the support of the Center for the Study of the
Presidency, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the James A. Baker III
Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
19 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, p. 54.
Adequacy of Strategy’s Treatment of Situation in Iraq
Skeptics argue that a major shortcoming of the Strategy is its failure to address
adequately the importance of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. According to the 2006
National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) data on incidents of terrorism,
approximately 45% of all terrorist attacks worldwide occurred in Iraq, resulting in
almost 65% of global terrorism-related fatalities. The same data show that the
number of acts of terrorism in Iraq nearly doubled from 2005 to 2006. However, it
is often not fully clear whether such data reflect “terrorist” incidents that could be
considered the product of casualties of a civil war.
Moreover, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) “Trends in
Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” notes as one of its key
The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep
resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters20
for the global jihadist movement.
These data and judgments, to the degree that one accepts them, indicate that Iraq
is currently both a major source of terrorists and terrorist activity and a major global
catalyst for the spread of violent extremism. However, the 2006 Strategy makes no
specific recommendations for U.S. policy in Iraq, leaving many issues unaddressed.
For example, what is the long-term strategy for continued troop presence in Iraq? Is
it to be increased or reduced, and for what purpose? What steps are being taken to
address the perception of Iraq as a rallying point for terrorists? What are the
anticipated steps to be taken to strengthen the fledgling Iraqi democracy?
Iraq is increasingly perceived as both the current center of terrorist attacks
worldwide and one of the most important negative elements in winning hearts and
minds, arguably necessitating some means of addressing these concerns directly. It
is widely believed that a stable and democratic Iraq would be an invaluable asset to
U.S. interests in the Middle East. However, many believe that if Iraq’s disintegration
into terrorism and sectarian violence continues, America’s standing and influence in
the region will be further reduced, and other nations may increasingly fall prey to
radical Islamist attempts at incitement and destabilization. The 2007 troop surge in
Iraq also has some impact on the current Strategy. The degree of success or failure
of the U.S. troop surge may serve as a model for counter-terror related policy in
Afghanistan and other areas, such as Southeast Asia.
Strategy’s Effectiveness Against Rogue States and Groups
Engaging Rogue States. It is difficult to determine if the 2006 Strategy
adequately addresses rogue states. The Strategy states: “The United States and its
allies and partners in the War on Terror make no distinction between those who
commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor terrorists.”21 Accordingly,
the Strategy recommends a policy of isolating and sanctioning rogue states until they
renounce terrorism and their support of terrorist groups.
In 2007, however, diplomatic channels were used with Syria and Iran,22 with the
goal of acquiring their support in stabilizing Iraq. Some view this approach as
visionary, arguing that isolation and sanctions appear to have had little effect on
either government’s willingness to sponsor terrorism, and that cautious dialogue with
these regimes may at least provide opportunities to explore directions of potential
mutual benefit. However, opponents of relaxing the policy of non-negotiation with
rogue states warn that such overtures will be seen as a sign of weakness and will only
serve to legitimize terrorism and its sponsorship. Moreover, concern exists as well
that current leaders of nation’s such as Iran simply might not be trusted to keep their
Others maintain that the reopening of negotiations with rogue states will be
ineffective without an overall adjustment on the part of the United States of its stance
towards the regimes in question. The United States has repeatedly stated a desire for
regime change in both Syria and Iran, adding to these regimes’ mistrust of U.S.
motives and actions. Many contend that near-term regime change in Iran or Syria is
unlikely, and that under current conditions the disintegration of either regime would
have major destabilizing effects on the region as a whole. Considering the effect a
destabilized Iraq has already had on the region (refugee flows, cross-border ethnic
tensions), destabilization of another nearby nation could potentially threaten the
stability of the region as a whole. Iran and Syria will not likely accede to U.S.
demands without incentives or inducements, so proponents of negotiation could
perhaps consider what incentives the United States can offer to either nation without
compromising the U.S. overall interests in the region.
Selective Engagement of Terrorist Groups. If there is merit in
negotiating with state sponsors of terrorism under certain circumstances, the question
arises whether in select instances there may also be merit in negotiation with terrorist
groups or individuals. Neither Hamas nor Hizballah is itself a nation; however both
are powerful entities with abundant political influence in the Middle East. To date,
the United States has yet to make substantive overtures to either group, continuing
to adhere to the policy of non-negotiation with terrorist organizations. However,
some argue that this policy should be reexamined in light of current circumstances.
Complicating U.S. policies supporting non-engagement of such groups is the
increasing role of many such groups in democratic processes and lack of consensus
with allies as to the terrorist nature of some of these groups.
Considering the significant and growing influence of such groups, one might ask
whether reluctance to engage them is effective policy or simply a matter of principal
at variance with realpolitik. Supporters of the current policy of non-negotiation
argue that any relaxation of this policy will lend legitimacy to terrorism and the
21 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2006, p. 15.
22 Considered by the State Department to be the two most prominent state sponsors of
organizations that perpetrate or otherwise support terrorist activities. Proponents of
selective engagement, on the other hand, argue that the current policy of isolation
leaves the United States with too few tools — only sanctions and military options —
to combat terrorist activity effectively, whereas cautious dialogue with selected
terrorist organizations may yield opportunities to redirect the political agendas of
these organizations away from terrorist activity and towards non-violent strategies
for achieving their objectives.
A factor of interest is whether other major governments are negotiating with
these organizations, which may put the United States at a disadvantage politically if
it refrains. This underscores the importance of international cooperation on terrorism
As is the case with state sponsors of terrorism, the question of potential
incentives arises vis-a-vis a terrorist group; that is, what, if any, incentives can the
United States offer to groups such as Hamas and Hizballah to facilitate and/or reduce
their involvement and support of terrorism without fundamentally compromising
U.S. goals and interests in the region? Given the stated commitment of both Hamas
and Hizbollah to bring about the destruction of Israel, America’s longstanding ally
in the Middle East, this is indeed a difficult challenge.
Negotiations with rogue governments or terrorist groups bring different cultures,
methods, goals and agendas from the various parties involved. Under such
circumstances, one party may seek compromise and resolution, while another party’s
goal may be delay, deceit, publicity, or other tactical advantage, without the desire
for peaceful resolution.23 Duplicity, misdirection and sabotage of the negotiation
process itself can be the goals of a recalcitrant party. However, without negotiation
at some level it is difficult to identify a leadership structure and to establish criteria
and objectives for each side.
Increasingly the viewpoint is advanced that too little has been done to determine
the specific goals of various terrorist groups and to understand whether acceptable
compromises are possible. History shows that highly disparate positions can often
be resolved. Moreover, even if the pervasive terrorist doctrine of a group is simply
to destroy the West or impose another culture upon it by force, knowing this early
can help improve subsequent policy decisions — or target selection, if military force
must be used.
23 Knowledge of the culture and language of one’s interlocutors during negotiations may
enhance precision in understanding what, if anything, has actually been achieved. For
example, the Arabic word “hodna,” or “hudna”, which translates as truce, armistice, or
ceasefire, often connotes a negotiated agreement which is breakable. For a literal translation
see A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, by Hans Wehr (Fourth Edition), edited by
Milton Cowan, Spoken Language Services, Inc, Ithaca, N.Y.
Degree to Which Strategy Addresses Threats Reflected in
Some suggest that there is a disconnect between the 2006 National Strategy and
key judgments contained in the unclassified April 2006 and January and July 2007
National Intelligence Estimates. They observe that in many cases the 2006 Strategy
does not address concerns or recommendations raised by NIE’s, and that in certain
instances the 2006 Strategy and the NIE judgments seemingly contradict each other.
For example, the April 2006 NIE states
Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1)
Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western
domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the
Iraq jihad; (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political
reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment24
among most Muslims all of which jihadists exploit.
In the 2006 Strategy’s declaration of four factors contributing to the spread of
terrorist ideology only one is shared with the NIE: that entrenched grievances are a
significant contributing factor. However, the Strategy does not specifically flag the
importance of stagnant economic conditions or the need for social and political
reforms, and does not address the pervasive anti-US sentiment in many Muslim
The Strategy also seemingly does not give full import to the degree to which
conditions and events in Iraq are a contributing factor in spreading terrorism, an issue
strongly emphasized in the April 2006 NIE. The Strategy states:
Terrorism is not simply a result of hostility to US policy in Iraq. The United
States was attacked on September 11 and many years earlier, well before we25
toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.
In contrast, the released key judgments of the April 2006 NIE immediately preceding
the release of the 2006 Strategy consider the situation in Iraq one of the four most
important catalysts for the spread of violent extremism.
Mitigating Terrorist Indoctrination of the Young
Indoctrination of the young over an extended period is seen by many as an
effective means of solidly inculcating extremist attitudes and predispositions, thereby
influencing decisions made in later life concerning terrorist recruitment or support
of terrorist causes. Hence, an increasing cause for concern which may merit
consideration in the Strategy is the growing indoctrination of the young into extremist
ideology. The U.S. experience with segregation and also with the Cold War would
appear to suggest that indoctrinated hostility for target groups, whether ethnic
24 Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate. Trends in Global
Terrorism: Implications for the United States. April 2006.
25 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, p. 9.
minorities, specific nations or alternative forms of government, comes in large part
from the childhood educational environment.
Some suggest therefore that it is important to focus more attention on mitigating
extremism in educational systems. In situations where negative attitudes and values
are deeply entrenched, reducing bigotry and hatred may take a significant
transformation in the educational curriculum and a generation or more to achieve
desired results. However, if this process is not initiated, it may be more difficult —
perhaps impossible — to achieve related goals, such as democratization.26
Most experts tend to agree that benign neglect has not been a viable approach
to the threat of terrorism or indoctrination for terrorism. For decades the United
States avoided confrontation over the increasing number of Islamic schools
(madrasas) and mosques espousing radical Islamist ideology funded largely by vast
oil wealth and the mandatory charitable contributions of faithful Muslims. Similarly,
the international community has failed to resolve the problem of Palestinian refugees
living in camps for over three generations. These delays have provided enormous
opportunities, and some would say compelling justification, for extremists to expand
Increasingly, analysts view terrorism as a process. Once it gains a foothold, it
can become self-perpetuating, with vested interests, funding sources, a micro-
economy, recruitment, training, social outreach and the means to expand. Thus, a
process of terrorism that could potentially have been dislodged at an earlier stage
with relative ease often becomes increasingly robust if left unchecked, particularly
with respect to indoctrination of the young.
Efficacy of Public Diplomacy
The Strategy addresses winning the “War of Ideas” through democratization.
However, other elements of public diplomacy do not receive equally high priority in
Some might assert that this prioritization is appropriate, because it may be an
ineffective use of resources to attempt to persuade indoctrinated populations to
change their views, when such resources would be better directed towards other
areas, such as economic transformation. However, many would disagree, pointing
to the popularity of Al Jazeera and other media organizations as confirmation of the
importance of appropriately tailored broadcasts and repetition of viewpoints to target
26 See generally: America on Notice: Stemming the Tide of Anti-Americanism, by Glenn and
Carolyn Schweitzer (Prometheus, 2006).
27 Note that subsequently, on May 31, 2007 the Secretary of State released a public
diplomacy strategy that addressed counterterrorism as an important component of public
diplomacy and set up a rapid response counterterrorism communications center in the State
Since the consolidation of the United States Information Agency — a
cornerstone of U.S. public diplomacy — into the Department of State on October 1,
1999, 28 public diplomacy has had to compete against a variety of other Department
of State interests for funding and management support. Some, therefore, feel that the
consolidation was ill-advised and reduced the efficacy of our public diplomacy, while
others applaud the savings resulting from merged administrative functions and the
closer coordination of policy.29
Reasonable minds can differ on the approaches to countering terror including
the role for democratization in a counterterrorism strategy, and how to effectively
deal with rogue states. However, a central question remains: to what degree does the
Strategy’s approach adequately characterize and respond to the terrorist threat and the
current forces driving it? Congress may wish to further examine this issue, to
determine whether possible adjustments to the Strategy, its funding, and its
implementation are warranted.
28 As part of P.L. 105-277 of October 21, 1998.
29 Pachios, Harold C., Chairman; et. al. Consolidation of USIA Into The State Department:
An Assessment After One Year. United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
October, 2000. The report states that “the consolidation of the United States Information
Agency (USIA) into the State Department has to date produced a mixed record....” The
report goes on to present a wide ranging analysis. [http://www.state.gov/www/policy/
pdadcom/acpdreport.pdf]. See also CRS Report RL32607, U.S. Public Diplomacy:
Background and 9/11 Commission Recommendations, by Susan B. Epstein, and CRS Report
97-960, Terrorism, the Media, and the Government: Perspectives, Trends, and Options for
Policymakers, by Raphael Perl.