In what has been described as an "act of international terrorism," news agencies report that a suicide car bomb struck the United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, on Friday. Though details are sketchy and there is no immediate claim of responsibility, if the attack is, indeed, an act of terrorism, it reaffirms what we already know: The world continues to face an ongoing threat--and America must be prepared for the next wave of terrorist attacks.
Since September 11, 2001, at least 40 Islamist-inspired terror plots aimed at the United States have been thwarted. And though all categories of successful terrorist attacks against U.S. targets (both at home and overseas) have been on a downward trend since 2005, the number of disrupted plots has risen considerably since 2007. In a new paper by The Heritage Foundation Counterterrorism Task Force, "A Counterterrorism Strategy for the 'Next Wave,'" Heritage lays out steps that America should take to ensure a successful end to the long war against terrorism.
Unfortunately today, the United States is not on a trajectory to adequately counter the terrorism threat. Though America has enjoyed success in thwarting al-Qaeda's efforts against the United States, those victories have come as a result of a decade of taking the offensive in the war on terrorism. Now, though, the Obama Administration is changing course with its new National Strategy for Counterterrorism. Heritage explains:
The Administration now seeks to treat terrorism under a law enforcement paradigm that failed to protect Americans from terrorism when it was adopted by the Clinton Administration before 9/11. In addition, the White House intends to follow a “small footprint” strategy for overseas operations, relying primarily on Special Forces operations, covert action, and strikes with unmanned aerial vehicles.
The President’s strategy cedes the initiative to America’s enemies and provides them the opportunity to reconstitute both their moral and physical assets.
According to the task force, the President's strategy sets America on a course for failure because it fundamentally fails to appreciate that Islamist beliefs are rooted in a culture that equates honor with power--and that means that "by unilaterally withdrawing from the conflict, the Administration allows al-Qaeda to paint a narrative of the U.S. in retreat." One successful major terrorist attack will allow al-Qaeda to claim a "victory" and regain its "honor," further empowering their cause.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration offered an ambivalent response to the "Arab Spring," failed to capitalize on the opportunity to build a plan for the future of U.S. engagement with the "new" Middle East, has allowed al-Qaeda to physically re-establish itself in the Afghanistan–Pakistan theater, has ignored what al-Qaeda has been doing on a global scale, and has paid insufficient attention to state-sponsored terrorism. The Heritage task force offers its recommendation of what America should do next:
The primary goal of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy must be to prevent the emergence of a global Islamist insurgency. The danger to the security, freedom, and prosperity of the U.S. and the Western world is far graver than what might be achieved by any individual terrorist act. An insurgency is a threat to the fundamental legitimacy of all free societies.
The first element of the U.S. strategy should be persistence, the Heritage task force says, and the right way to conquer the terrorist threat is to divide and defeat the enemy. American can get there through "hard" power and strong bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and nations that share a commitment to defending free, just, and open societies.
Though the United States has had success since 9/11 in combating terrorism and averting attacks at home and abroad, that success did not come easily--and it was not accomplished without taking an aggressive stance against al-Qaeda. Continued terrorist attacks around the world should remind America that the threat to our homeland remains and that the right strategy is needed in order to ensure our continued security at home and abroad.