National Security

The Good News on Terrorism

The State Department's latest report on global terrorism shows that current policies are working.

Michael Swartz · Sep. 21, 2018

While there are no doubt many millions around the globe who reflexively dislike President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, many of those critics in certain strife-torn nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria should thank him for the terrorist attacks that never happened there.

Upon release of the latest edition of an annual report called Country Reports on Terrorism, State Department Ambassador-at-Large Nathan A. Sales explained that, compared to 2016, “the total number of terrorist attacks worldwide in 2017 decreased by 23 percent. Similarly, the total deaths due to terrorist attacks decreased by 27 percent.” That’s very significant progress in one year, but there’s a good reason for it, as Sales elaborated further.

“2017 saw the United States and a global coalition accomplish major efforts against ISIS. Ninety-nine percent of the territory ISIS once held in Iraq and Syria has now been liberated. Approximately 50 percent of those gains were achieved since January of 2017,” said Sales, adding, “Similarly, more than 7.7 million people have been liberated from ISIS’ brutal rule — approximately 4.5 million in Iraq and 3.2 million in Syria. Of those 7.7 million people, an estimated 5 million have been liberated since 2017.”

In a year’s time, then, Trump’s change in strategy took a population that’s on par with that of South Carolina out from under the boot of the brutal, short-lived Islamic State’s caliphate. It should have been headline news, right?

Of course it wasn’t, nor did the crack investigative reporters who drool over the latest details of a long-ago Trump dalliance ever bother to look into why the Islamic State grew to be a threat in the first place. (Hint: It was the guy who most recently tried to take credit for the resurgent Trump economy.)

Once our coalition forces were withdrawn, Barack Obama’s “moment of success” in Iraq became just that. When Obama won re-election, in part thanks to his administration’s Benghazi cover-up, we saw the further deterioration of conditions in the Middle East that led militants to declare themselves a sovereign Islamic State, better known as ISIS or ISIL. For three harrowing years, much of Iraq and Syria was under the control of this rump thugocracy.

On the other side of the Iraq frontier, Iran was sufficiently emboldened by Obama’s hands-off policies — as well as $1.7 billion in American cash — to itself meddle in Iraq’s affairs. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran was the icing on the cake, so much so that treasonous former Secretary of State John Kerry has encouraged the Iranian leaders to simply wait out the Trump administration in the belief that some subsequent president will undo what Trump has done.

The success of Trump’s strategy in dismantling the Islamic State — which allowed those on the ground to run the war rather than DC-based bureaucrats — worked brilliantly in a military sense. But the global War on Terror is an asymmetrical battle, which explains why terrorist incidents, while down worldwide, have increased in severity and frequency in certain areas. (An annex to the Country Reports on Terrorism points out that, while still a small number in comparison to world hotspots, deaths or injuries from terror attacks were significantly higher year-over-year in the United Kingdom and Spain, while France also had a 59% increase in the number of attacks.)

Notably, Western Europe has taken in a huge number of Middle Eastern migrants in the last decade.

Undeterred, President Trump is planning to ratchet up pressure on Iran, including the restoration of the Iranian oil embargo, which had been lifted as part of the Obama deal. But harsher measures may be required to curb Iran’s malevolence, because, as Ambassador Sales noted, “Iran uses terrorism as a tool of its statecraft. It has no reservations about using that tool on any continent.” While Iranian leadership will be in New York for the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting, there are no plans for talks between the Iranians and the Trump administration regarding this or other issues — so they may be taking Kerry’s advice.

Iran isn’t the whole problem, though. Wrapping up a question-and-answer session on the release of the report, Ambassador Sales, who’s also the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, was asked about a domestic threat: “I think all three of them [al-Qaida, ISIS, and Iran] have both the capability and intent [to carry out domestic terror attacks],” he replied, “so the key question then becomes: What are we doing about it? And I think there’s a suite of tools that are useful against all three of those diverse threat streams.”

Those tools include stopping their flow of money, cutting off terrorist travel, and using law enforcement to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate suspected terrorists. In other words, tools that the previous administration either lacked the will to employ or, worse, were complicit in working against. But at least there’s now evidence that a new approach has turned the tide in the Long War.

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