Bluster:Donald Trump’s War on Terror
by Peter Neumann
The Trump Administration in the US spearheaded a number of foreign policy changes such as a more confrontational approach with regard to international trade, twitter diplomacy and President Trump’s personal approach in striking deals. Despite this, when it comes to countering terrorism the National Security Strategy and the National Counterterrorism Strategy published by the Trump Administration appear to be remarkably consistent with the strategies pursued by Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama. However, there are subtle yet important differences that must be explored and understood, while the future of the Administration’s counter-terrorism efforts appears different from its recent past.
In this context, the Euro-Gulf Information Centre (EGIC), hosted Peter Neumann, Professor at King’s College University, London and founder of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). Neumann presented his latest book titled Bluster: Donald Trump’s War on Terror. The presentation was structured as a conversation between the author, the audience and the moderator Alessandro Politi, Director of the NATO Defense College Foundation, and allowed a comprehensive understanding of the peculiarities of the Trump Administration’s focus against terrorism and why such peculiarities are so important.
According to Neumann there are significant divergences between Trump’s personal opinions, his rhetoric and the policies that his administration has actually pursued. Despite the President’s isolationist tendencies, the Administration has continued Obama’s strategy of limiting US direct global engagements while training and developing partnerships with local actors on the ground. This is most evident when taking into account US consistency in its efforts to roll-back Daesh’s territorial gains in Iraq and Syria and in Afghanistan where US forces continue to support Kabul’s struggle against the Taliban and Daesh. Neumann argues that such continuity is a direct result of Trump’s initial choices in the composition of his Administration as he filled positions in the US National Security Council with experienced generals and Republicans close to the traditional establishment. For instance, it is well known that former US Defence Secretary, General James Mattis, had a key role in convincing the President that it was necessary to maintain troops in Afghanistan and Northern Syria. Notably, Neumann pointed out that now, ‘following the latest changes in the US Administration, President Trump lost all constraints in foreign policy decision making’ and we are likely to witness to the development of a foreign policy vision more aligned to the President’s isolationist tendencies. Some key terrorism-prevention and counter terrorism initiatives are already under review as ‘Trump is increasingly unenthusiastic about funding de-radicalisation programmes.’ Trump is also keen to scale-back US efforts against Daesh now that the group no longer represents the formidable threat that it was in 2015. Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Northern Syria remains the most explicative example of the kind of global disengagement that the President would like to implement in the years ahead. Such decision is a crucial breakaway from the previous strategy of supporting and empowering allied local forces which could fight terrorists in the region on behalf of the United States and its allies. According to Neumann the ‘US withdrawal from Northern Syria sends a terrible message to potential future partners in the fight against terrorism’ and a disturbing signal to US allies in the war-torn Middle East.
EGIC will continue to monitor the impact of Trump’s decision making vis à vis the terrorist threat. The US has traditionally a leading role and the greatest international impact in coalition-building and initiatives against terrorism. Meanwhile, terrorism continues to be at the centre of the security concerns for a number of Washington’s allies in Europe and the Arab Gulf alike with internal radicalisation and the return of foreign fighters from the territories once occupied by Daesh still at the top of policymakers’ agendas.
10 December 2019