Daniel Benjamin writes: Donald Trump came to the presidency on a wave of overheated rhetoric about the terrorist threat, the failures of his predecessors, and promises, as he said in his inaugural address, to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” Four months into his term, and on the heels of Saturday’s terrorist attack in London, which killed seven and injured dozens in the third attack in Britain in three months, it’s worth asking: Is Trump actually delivering decisive counterterrorism?
Let’s break it down. Yes, he’s been decisive and even dramatic, from the issuance of his initial travel ban a week after being inaugurated to his May trip to Riyadh, where he tried to galvanize the Muslim world against terror. But it isn’t serious counterterrorism—that is, policy that will diminish the terrorist threat—that he is producing. Instead, Trump’s steps so far seem to be designed to exacerbate the danger and lengthen the life expectancy of jihadism.
Of course, many of the policies that Trump inherited remain—somewhat reassuringly—in place. In the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the central theater of the fight against terror, the administration continues to pursue the strategy of the Obama administration, despite Trump’s many campaign claims that he had a super double-top-secret plan in the waiting. A mix of airstrikes from drones and manned aircraft against ISIS leadership targets, special forces raids and military advisory and training assistance to the Iraqi army, Kurdish and other anti-ISIS force is whittling down the so-called caliphate, whose days as an extremist enclave are numbered. A spike in civilian casualties may mean that targeting restrictions have been relaxed—which the Pentagon denies—but the strategy is fundamentally unchanged. [Continue reading…]