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August 8, 09

NEWS / United States Taking Broader Approach Against Violent Extremism

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — While taking a new and broader approach to combating terrorists and violent extremists worldwide, the United States no longer sees that as defining its foreign policy goals, President Obama’s chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser says.

“Rather than looking at allies and other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism — whether they are with us or against us — the administration is now engaging other countries and peoples across a broader range of areas,” John Brennan said in an August 6 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran and former Middle East station chief, said the threat posed by groups like al-Qaida and its allies is still very real to U.S. security, one which the president understands. The United States faces two related but distinctly different challenges: the immediate and near-term challenge of thwarting al-Qaida, and the longer-term challenge of confronting violent extremism generally.

“Faced with this clear threat, President Obama has articulated a clear policy — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its allies,” he said. Part of that strategy involves pushing the Taliban out of key population areas in Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaida from returning to that country.

But the longer-term challenge comes from the threat of violent extremism and eradicating the factors that have convinced so many to pursue violence, Brennan said. That begins with a more precise definition of the challenge that does not include a “global war” on terrorism, he said. “That is because ‘terrorism’ is but a tactic, a means to an end,” Brennan said. Instead, the United States is at war with al-Qaida and its extremist allies.

Another aspect requires developing a more accurate understanding of the causes and conditions that fuel violent extremism with the aim of eliminating those causes, he said.

“Extremist violence and terrorist attacks are therefore often the final murderous manifestation of a long process rooted in hopelessness, humiliation and hatred,” Brennan said. “If we fail to confront the broader political, economic and social conditions in which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline, another attack coming downstream.”

Addressing these factors, he said, requires not a military response, but one that meets the basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people, which include security for their communities, education for their children, jobs and income, and a sense of dignity and worth.

The United States must integrate every element of its power to ensure that those factors that now cause individuals to pursue terrorism actually discourage them, he said. “After all, the most effective long-term strategy for safeguarding the American people is one that promotes a future where a young man or woman never even considers joining an extremist group in the first place, where they reject out of hand the idea of picking up that gun or strapping on that suicide vest, where they have faith in the political process and confidence in the rule of law, where they realize that they can build, not simply destroy — and that the United States is a real partner in opportunity, prosperity, dignity and peace.”




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