Donald Trump emphasized during his electoral campaign that fighting terrorism will be one of his priorities as the president of the United States. He started to deliver on this promise through a highly controversial ban on citizens from seven Muslim countries and through approving a risky raid of the US troops in Yemen, ended with the loss of a Navy Seal.

Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University in the United States, describes the features of Trump’s policies against terrorism, as they were revealed until now, in an interview given for Europunkt to Vladimir Adrian Costea.

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Vladimir Adrian Costea: To what extent the election of Donald Trump produces a shift of paradigm on addressing the issue of terrorism?

Peter Feaver: President Trump is paradigm shifting in many ways but not, I do not think, in the area of terrorism. Much has been made of his use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”, which does represent a departure from Obama and Bush’s practice.  But it is not a paradigm shifting departure from “military islamist terrorism”, which has been the preferred phrase of many national security professionals for over a decade.  More to the point, he seems likely to embrace the key bits of the paradigm that have governed U.S. action in the past 15 years: (1) this is more than law enforcement, this is a war and so all the tools in the toolbox are available; (2) this is a more serious threat than the denialists claim and so it is worth extraordinary measures to reduce the risks; (3) better to fight them over there than fight them over here, but a comprehensive response requires heightened border security.  That is a good description of Bush and Obama’s approach and, at the end of the day, I think that will be where Trump nets out.

What are the main points which have helped change US strategy on the fight against terrorism?

President Trump seems willing to accept a higher risk of collateral damage and a higher risk of blowback from partners angered by changes in immigration policy than either Bush or Obama was. Also President Trump is willing to approve missions that entail slightly higher risk to U.S. forces, as with the Yemen raid. But beyond that, there may be more similarities than differences. Obama, for instance, substantially ramped up drone strike operations.

To what extent policies against Muslim immigrants represents a solution to reduce terrorist attacks on America?

President Trump insists that he is not aiming at ‘Muslim immigrants.’  There are many majority Muslim countries that are not affected by any proposed changes in the regulations.  He is aiming, instead, at 7 countries that he says have been identified by national security professionals (including by the Obama Administration) as being high-threat locales, meaning higher than average likelihood to generate terrorists.  Those and other similar countries were already the subject of very tight vetting put in place by the Bush and Obama Administrations.  Trump proposes to intensify that vetting even more with “extreme vetting.” What that would entail and how much additional security that would buy the country beyond existing measures is hard to say at this point.  We have already reduced the threat considerably by virtue of the vetting procedures already put in place.  It may not be possible to reduce the threat substantially further.

How was the security dimension of NATO reshaped after the proliferation of terrorist attacks carried out by followers of the Islamic State?

Over the past several years, NATO allies have ramped up the domestic security portion of their counter-terrorism response.  This is a natural reaction to the heightened sense of threat in the wake of numerous attacks launched by, or inspired by, the Islamic State.

In the context of the emergence of terrorism and instability in the region transatlantic space, how could it be improved US strategy on combating ISIS?

The United States needs to better integrate its Syria and Iran policies with its counter-ISIS policy. Obama had three separate policies that worked at cross purposes.  If the Trump Administration wants to do better than the Obama Administration, it will need to better integrate across all three of those lines of action.  You cannot defeat ISIS without addressing the Syrian civil war.  You cannot push back on Iran’s regional ambitions, if you give Iran a free hand in Syria.

What are the challenges facing the United States at this time in relation to the issue of combating terrorism?

The American public still view terrorism as a major threat, even more than 15 years after 9/11.  Maintaining public support for the effort is still a challenge, but it is a winnable challenge.  Perhaps a more daunting challenge is making sure that the counter-terrorism effort does not crowd out all other strategic objectives, including the need to check Putin’s aggression in Europe and China’s hyper-assertiveness in Asia.

Peter D. Feaver (Ph.D., Harvard, 1990) is a Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University. He is Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS) and also Director of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS). From June 2005 to July 2007, Feaver was on leave to be Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform on the National Security Council Staff at the White House where his responsibilities included the national security strategy, regional strategy reviews, and other political-military issues. In 1993-94, Feaver served as Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council at the White House where his responsibilities included the national security strategy review, counterproliferation policy, regional nuclear arms control, and other defense policy issues. He accepted to explain his perpective on the challenges faced by U.S. Strategy after ISIS, in an interview given to Vladimir Adrian Costea, for Europunkt.



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