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9/11 Commission Chairmen: To defeat terrorists, we must defeat their ideas

USA Today

Friday, September 8, 2017

As we commemorate the anniversary of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, policymakers should pause to reflect on what it would actually mean to defeat Islamist terrorism, and what a comprehensive strategy to achieve that goal would look like. 

The basic challenge is that terrorist ranks are being replenished almost as quickly as the military can decimate them. In 2014, the CIA estimated ISIS had at least 20,000 members. Since then, U.S. forces claim to have killed 60,000 ISIS fighters, but in 2016, according to the State Department, the terrorist group was still 15,000 strong.

As long as jihad maintains its overpowering appeal, even in the face of almost certain death, then terrorist movements will persist. ISIS will live on, even as its caliphate lies crushed amid the rubble of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. Al-Qaeda will reorganize and rebuild. New groups and new generations of terrorists will continue to emerge.

As we commemorate the anniversary of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, policymakers should pause to reflect on what it would actually mean to defeat Islamist terrorism, and what a comprehensive strategy to achieve that goal would look like. 

Defeating terrorism must entail weakening this magnetic attraction. To do this, we must discredit and supplant the jihadist ideology that legitimizes and incites people to violence.

Policymakers of both parties have long recognized this. “The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals,” President George W. Bush declared in 2005, “is the great challenge of our new century.” Four years later, President Obama called for “rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject.” Most recently, President Trump argued that a peaceful “future can only be achieved through defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it.” 

Yet the U.S. has struggled to make combating terrorist ideology an effective piece of its counterterrorism policies. If the current administration is to succeed where previous ones have failed, it should craft its policies keeping in mind the following principles first articulated by the 9/11 Commission and now reaffirmed by a Bipartisan Policy Center review of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton served as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 Commission and are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Program.

KEYWORDS: 9/11, 9/11 COMMISSION