US should re-examine its badly flawed "war on terror"

US should re-examine its badly flawed "war on terror"
Comment: A much-touted summit on violent extremism this week in Washington appears to be very light on substance. Better for the US to reassess long-standing policies, especially in the Middle East.
5 min read
18 Feb, 2015
US VP Biden speaks at the opening of the DC summit on violent extremism (AFP)

On Tuesday, American Vice President Joe Biden kicked off a three-day White House summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) by urging Europe to follow America's example in assimilating its immigrants, and provide a chance for success to all.


The summit brings together officials from across the United States and relevant ministers from around the world. It is

     The whole CVE is more about show and much less about substance.

intended to highlight how the White House is taking the initiative in leading a war against violent extremism in cities worldwide, following criticism it was disengaged in the wake of Paris attacks in January.


The issue was brought into sharp focus, yet again, with the attacks in Copenhagen and the savage beheadings of twenty one Egyptian Copts working in Libya by militants of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly IS) over the weekend.


In his opening remarks, Biden said, "We have to engage our communities and engage those who might be susceptible to being radicalized because they are marginalized." He added, "Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities, a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging that discredits the terrorist’s appeal to fear, isolation, hatred, resentment."

Wide scope

Believing that Europe is especially vulnerable to such attacks as those experienced in Paris and Copenhagen because immigrants are much less integrated there than in America, Biden implored participants, "I’m not suggesting that I think America has all the answers here. We just have a lot more experience.”


Explaining why the White House is holding the summit, a senior administration official briefing the press said, "Countering violent extremism, or what we call CVE, is something that the administration has prioritized for quite some time. We think it is one incredibly important element of our counterterrorism and national security toolkit. Obviously the summit took on added attention in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, but the issue of CVE is one in which we've invested for quite some time."


The summit is divided into two days. Wednesday will see a focus on domestic efforts, with US officials briefing delegates about their experience, and both private sector actors and international cities making presentations. Thursday will then see ministerial level meetings.


With over 60 countries represented, the participation of the vice-president of the EU and secretary general of the UN, as well as other regional and multi-national organisations present, the administration is keen to characterise this as a “landmark summit”. Moreover, Barack Obama, the US president is also likely to make a series of announcements during the summit, though the official briefing reporters off-thre-record did not intimate what those might be.


Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have taken aim at what they see as Obama’s resistance to engaging in a direct fight with Islamic radicalism. Michael McCaul, a Texan lawmaker and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, questioned in a statement on Tuesday whether you can "talk about defeating an enemy you cannot name?"


He added: "Instead of simply making speeches this week, I urge the president to overhaul his strategy and to develop a bold, actionable plan to confront violent Islamist extremism worldwide and to immediately staunch the flow of fighters." 


The administration has also come under criticism for Obama’s reactions to terrorist attacks in Paris at a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store. They argued Obama should have joined other global leaders in a unity march after the killings at Charlie Hebdo and that Obama was wrong to describe the shootings at the Jewish supermarket as "random”.


Ted Cruz, a right-wing senator also from Texas, had harsher words for the president who he has accused publicly of cozying up to Muslims and refusing to associate Islam with violence.

Hastily organised

From the outset, in addition, the summit appears hastily organised and fraught with gaps. As of Tuesday afternoon, neither the White House nor the State Department had announced the names of participating countries.


There is also criticism from liberals. Naureen Shah, a former legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union who recently became the security and human rights director at Amnesty International, described the whole affair as "bizarre". She said, "On the one hand they’ve been touting this summit and trying to showcase US and global efforts to combat violent extremism. But on the other hand, they’re not providing any information about what’s going to happen."


Corey Saylor, the national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, (an organisation often accused by the American right as being one and the same with Hamas) said, "I think, unfortunately, the whole thing has a reactive feel to it."


My sense, especially after listening to the Senior Administration Official on Tuesday, is that the scarcity of publicity is largely due to the absence of real substance. The whole CVE is more about show and much less about substance.


The truth of the matter is that more than thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the ongoing American "War on Terror" remains hugely flawed. The US response has been hyper-militarized, is dominated by drones, counter-terrorism and heavy-handed security measures, and shrinking civil liberties and freedoms as a result of laws such as "The Patriot act".


The numbers speak volumes. In many key countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan, polls show that positive opinions of the United States have fallen off a sharply in the last thirteen years. Just 10, 12, and 14 percent of the populations in these three countries, respectively, have a positive image of America, according to the latest Pew Global Research.


So as this gathering at the CVE summit gets underway, maybe the US needs to place one item at the top of its agenda: How wise have its Middle East wars and policies over the last 40 – not just 14 – years been? And just what it has wrought, whether from supporting vicious Arab dictators or supporting a vicious Israeli occupation, during that time?

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.