President Trump approved a new national counterterrorism strategy on Thursday, in what the administration framed as a significant departure from Obama-era policy.
The strategy emphasizes pursuing sources of terrorism and isolating their support, with an increased focus on combating extreme ideologies, national security adviser John Bolton told reporters at the White House. The Trump administration calls it the first comprehensive strategy since one released by the Obama White House in 2011.
The strategy encompasses combating “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase the president has embraced — and border security, two key elements of his campaign and agenda in office.
“It is a departure,” Bolton told reporters in a briefing on the strategy Thursday. “And the reason is that it’s not simply a unilateral decision by the United States to end this ideological war. It’s not enough that we find it inconvenient that we’re still under attack. The fact is the radical Islamic threat that we face is a form of ideology.”
Bolton called the “conceptual framework” of the strategy the most important difference.
“We recognize that there is a terrorist ideology that we’re confronting,” Bolton said. “And it’s long been the president’s view that without recognizing we’re in an ideological struggle, that we can’t properly address the terrorist threat.”
One tangible example of the differences between the two strategies is the lack of reference to climate change as a factor in terrorism, something the Obama strategy included.
“I don’t think climate change is a cause of international terrorism,” Bolton told reporters wryly.
The national security adviser emphasized that securing the southern border from drug smugglers and other malicious actors — one of the president’s longtime priorities — is a key piece of the strategy. But when pressed on the threat of homegrown terrorism, Bolton said that too is included.
Last year, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly called homegrown terrorism the most common terrorist threat, but acknowledged he didn’t know how to detect or stop it. “There are so many aspects to this terrorist thing,”. “Obviously you got the homegrown terrorists. I don’t know how to stop that. I don’t know how to detect that.”
Asked how the administration has made progress in detecting homegrown terrorism since then, Bolton cited the Trump administration’s focus on the ideology behind acts of terror and the recruitment tools terrorists use.
“I am not saying that we have understood it completely or have been able to constrain it completely, but it remains one of our highest objectives because while we can stop some people at the border, there is no doubt they would like to recruit and use people who are already here,” Bolton said.
Bolton didn’t suggest the strategy comes with any new funding, but it does set the priorities for the Office of Management and Budget to consider in the near future.
In announcing the strategy, Mr. Trump said it “outlines the approach of the United States to countering the increasingly complex and evolving terrorist threats and represents the nation’s first fully articulated counterterrorism strategy since 2011.”
“It provides the strategic guidance needed to protect the United States against all terrorist threats, while simultaneously fostering the agility to anticipate, prevent, and respond to new threats,” the president said. “Guided by the National Strategy for Counterterrorism, we will use all instruments of American power to protect our great Nation, and we will defeat our enemies with the full force of American might.”
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