Terrorism is not going to disappear any time soon; the important thing is how the United States deals with it.
That is the message Christopher C. Harmon, Matthew C. Horner chairman of military theory at the Marine Corps University and director of terrorism and security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, had for SPU in his talk on counter-terrorism strategy Friday.
“Terrorism is too successful a tactic to ever go away,” Harmon told an audience of about 20 students in Demaray Room 259. But, Harmon said, the United States is doing its best to limit its influence.
It turns out, Harmon said, that little changed since the previous administration.
“There is more continuity in … policy between the Bush administration and the Obama administration than change,” Harmon said.
To illustrate the similarities, Harmon cited both administrations’ tendency to use predator strikes to target terrorist leaders or small groups. Before 9/11, Harmon said, military intervention was rare in counter-terrorist strategy, but since then it has become a prominent feature.
Harmon emphasized that the Obama administration needs to diversify its tactics and direct all elements of its policy toward the same goal in order to be successful.
One weakness of the Obama administration’s strategy, Harmon said, is its emphasis on defense to the exclusion of offense. No defense is perfect, he said, so a good offense is still crucial.
“There’s a lot of ways to fight in the realm of ideas,” he said. These include diplomacy, economic sanctions and good intelligence about the opposition.
Harmon said intelligence is especially important. Every other tool for fighting terrorism depends upon intelligence, he said, and an unwillingness to spend money on intelligence needlessly endangers those involved in the fight.
The main difference from the Bush administration, Harmon said, is that the Obama administration considers terrorism to be just one problem among many facing the country, not necessarily as the main problem.
They are aware of the gravity of the terrorist problem, but they are also concerned with other issues, Harmon said.
The Obama administration also favors less specific language in its discussion of terrorism than did previous administrations, Harmon said.
Whereas the Bush administration fought al-Qaeda and “terrorist organizations of global reach,” and the Clinton administration fought the Taliban and hosts of Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration avoids naming such easily defined opponents.
“Terrorism is a bit of a hot word, and they prefer violent extremism,” Harmon said. “I’m not sure it’s an improvement.”
Harmon disagreed with the use of the administration’s terminology because it can also be applied to rioters, labor unions or partisan war abroad, he said. Terrorism is a specific tactic, not just extreme action, he said.
Despite common perceptions, Harmon said, America today is more vulnerable to an attack from inside by radicalized Muslim converts than an attack from outside by foreign terrorists.
“Democracies tend to ignore the threat as it builds,” he said.
Overall, though, Harmon said American citizens have adopted the right approach and balance of fear and action toward terrorism. The problem, Harmon said, was with the ambiguity of the government’s response.
Senior Brent Miles, president of the History Club, agreed, saying that the government’s security threat codes are confusing and vague.
“We’re always in orange report; that doesn’t mean anything,” Miles said.
What the United States needs to do now, Harmon said, is determine its goal in the war on terrorism.
The White House currently defines the end state as a time in which “the threat of terrorist attacks does not define our daily lives,” he said. Harmon also noted that this statement does not–and should not–include a promise of ending terrorism entirely.
The speech concluded with a question and answer session in which students and faculty probed Harmon for answers to specific terrorist threats.
Harmon’s appearance on campus was beneficial to start a conversation about terrorism, said senior Tyler Anders, president of the Young Democrats club. Harmon’s goal was to provide a non-partisan discussion of the subject, Anders said.
“Whatever your opinion on it, terrorism exists,” Anders said. “We need to be able to talk rationally about it. The more you know, the better you can react to it.”
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Title: Harmon speaks at SPU | Author: Bekah Graham | Section: News | Published Date: 2010-10-27 | Internal ID: 7262