Strings Attached

How politics and fear threaten a new global effort to combat terrorist recruitment.

The fight against terrorist recruitment is getting a big -- and much-needed -- injection of cash. But the politics behind the money could undermine an otherwise exciting international effort.

In late September, Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the creation of a $200 million "Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience." The fund will provide grants to organizations working to counter violent extremism (CVE). It was unveiled at a meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum in New York, a relatively new body consisting of 29 countries and the European Union that deliberates on counterterrorism policy and programs. The United States is set to initially contribute $2-3 million to the fund in the hopes of encouraging other nations and private companies to reach the $200 million mark over the next ten years.

The fund is a promising development in the realm of CVE, which is notoriously ill-defined and under-resourced. NGOs in poor countries often have a good sense of how to curb terrorist recruitment in their own backyards, but they do not know where to find money -- and their governments often interfere with their programs for political reasons. Wealthy countries, meanwhile, are not good at identifying effective local NGOs in donor recipient nations. So they spend a lot of time in their own cubical labs cooking up new ways to thwart terrorist recruitment in faraway lands, often without much verifiable success. Compounding the problem is that most wealthy countries are bureaucratically structured to award large grants for multiyear development projects, whereas most good CVE programs are much smaller in scope and ambition.

The new global fund seeks to solve these problems by pooling the resources of wealthy nations so that NGOs in poor countries can apply for small grants to fund their CVE programs. Such programs might include interfaith dialogue among religious leaders, or educational and vocational training for former militants in countries like Pakistan and Mali. Projects agreed on by a local government and stakeholders will be vetted by subject-matter experts before being submitted for consideration to the governing board, which will make the final decision.

According to friends of mine at the State Department involved in creating the fund, it brings together an array of key stakeholders in a way many other CVE initiatives do not. Representatives of donor states will sit on the governing board, as will representatives of the governments of countries where funded programs will be conducted. So, too, will representatives from the private and NGO sectors who are involved with CVE work at the local level.

Integrating all of these stakeholders into the governing structure of the fund increases the chances that small but important programs will be implemented. Yet the management design also increases the chances that the board will not fund certain politically risky programs that could make a real short-term difference in diminishing support for terrorist organizations.

Although it represents perhaps the most important part of CVE, most governments and NGOs have been leery of trying to turn around young men and women who have expressed support for terrorist organizations -- and are thus in prime positions to be recruited -- but have not broken any laws. This is because they worry about violating laws against support for designated terrorist organizations. For example, a government development agency or an NGO will not want to put an al-Shabab fanboy -- even a law-abiding one -- in their programs for fear of being seen as aiding a terrorist group. And, even they decide it's acceptable to try and reform the al-Shabab fanboy, they risk huge political backlash if he later engages in terrorism.

Reorienting even one of such individual in a more positive direction through a CVE program could tangibly reduce the number of potential violent actors in the world, which is the whole point of counter-radicalization. Yet governments usually prefer to either turn these would-be terrorists into intelligence assets or, if they are uncooperative, to build cases against them.

Governments and NGOs also expend their energies on reintegrating former, known terrorists into society and on reducing mass public sympathy for terrorist organizations. The latter, it seems, is meant to do the work of more politically sensitive, turn-around programs that don't typically receive funding. Decreasing mass sympathy, the argument goes, will eventually decrease active support. But this does not appear to be the case. To be sure, a well-orchestrated media campaign can drive down public sympathy for a terrorist organization like al Qaeda. But, while this has occurred in the years since September 11, the level of active support for the organization has remained small but constant -- suggesting that there is no correlation between sympathy and support, at least in the short term.

Ideally, both kinds of programs would get funded: those that aim to decrease mass sympathy and those that seek to reform law-abiding supporters of terrorist groups. A single government, however, is unlikely to fund the latter programs because of the political risks involved. A collection of governments, like the one that will oversee the new global CVE fund, is even less likely to do so.

Despite this probable flaw, the fund is a major improvement over the status quo. It will be easier to finance and implement certain small, locally designed CVE initiatives. The real test of the fund's impact, however, will be whether the work of programs receiving money leads to fewer terrorist attacks. At the end of the day, that is the only measurement that matters when human lives and $200 million are on the line.    

Khan Raziq/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Peace Through Strength

How no-nonsense negotiations can prevent a war with Iran.

Peace through strength. It's a philosophy that guided the United States to victory in the Cold War and a policy that protected us from the calamity of nuclear war. But in the heated debate over Syria, our commitment to this approach has wavered -- and it's time we reasserted its prominence.

Some say that America's credibility was threatened when President Barack Obama drew a red line on the use of chemical weapons and then allowed the Syrians to cross it without repercussions. We couldn't disagree more -- that would be a profound misreading of Obama's response to the Syrian civil war. Our nation's democratic principles give priority to the voice of individual liberties and freedoms. We will defend them with all of our nation's might. We will not allow any nation or group to terrorize the free world -- now or ever.

But foreign policy can often be a jumble of contradictions. Global enemies of the last decade can be our allies in today's conflicts. Our friends could be our enemies tomorrow. As a result, we need to evaluate each foreign policy situation on its own merits and be open to new ideas -- new approaches to resolve old conflicts.

The world is changing quickly. Americans are now targets in Kenya. The great civilizations of the last millennium are descending into chaos. Christians are being attacked in Syria and Pakistan. Jews are being attacked in European cities, and Israelis now don gas masks in preparation of the regionalization of the Syrian conflict. 

As the same time, we've also seen rapid diplomatic developments in the war in Syria that show the power of blending our military might with aggressive diplomacy. We should seek to repeat this elsewhere -- and it should start with Iran.

As Western nations sit down with Iran this week in Geneva, we should vigorously support efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution that ensures Iran has no nuclear weapon capability and that it does not share its technology with other nations. We should also maintain -- and even strengthen -- the sanctions that have helped to bring Iran back to the negotiation table. And yes, we should keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran is not just stalling for time, but truly being transparent about its technology and its intentions.

The world should be on notice: the United States will act with overwhelming force if it is attacked -- or if vital national security interests are at stake.

In the case of the Syrian civil war, there is no clear American interest. In fact, U.S. intervention might upset the stability of the region and work against our national security interests. By going into a war on the same side as al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, we might end up aiding the cause that attacked America on 9/11. While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clearly a bad guy, there is no clear military objective in Syria.

Still, some argue that North Korea and Iran could be emboldened if the United States elects not to use force against Assad.

This is simply not true. North Korea sits atop a stockpile of weapons in close proximity to tens of thousands of U.S. troops. If Pyongyang ever used these weapons against our troops, they would see a massive response from the United States. The American people would be united, and Congress would declare war in a heartbeat. For anyone to think otherwise -- be they a hawkish American pundit or a North Korean despot -- is crazy.

Likewise, Iran -- or any nation developing nuclear weaponry -- should not doubt the military strength and unified approach of the American people toward the terrorizing of U.S. citizens and allies in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Nor should these nations doubt that international resolve will coalesce and extract harsh penalties on nations that pursue these activities. Ultimately, the United States cannot and will not take any option off the table in order to protect Israel and other regional democracies, and to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Going forward, the United States should dramatically increase our political and diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program, and we should do so alongside all interested parties. Russia and China both trade with Iran and will be a key part of the solution. 

Iran will be the next test for U.S. foreign policy after Syria. The administration should re-engage now -- it can't simply sit back and wait until a military strike is the only option. This will mean employing carrots as well as sticks -- like harsher sanctions but openness to dialogue. This will mean transparent inspections of nuclear facilities that yield trustworthy information or additional consequences that guarantee Iran isn't just playing for time. We need to ensure the Iranian regime gets clear messages about the ramifications of any hostility towards America, Israel, or regional allies.

Peace through strength is not a lonely position. In fact, there are numerous voices in the United States and in Israel calling for more political and diplomatic pressure and engagement. And many are cautioning against an Iranian (or Syrian) policy that focuses exclusively on a preemptive strike -- including a former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, a former head of the U.S. Air Force, and recent heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet.

American foreign policy leaders should heed this advice -- and learn the lessons of recent entanglements. We can and must use military force when necessary, and be willing to leave the option on the table when our security is threatened. However, we also need to engage politically and diplomatically to further our interests -- as well as the interests of our allies -- as long and as often as possible.

In the past, America's winning strategy was to seek peace through strength. It's a philosophy that served us back then -- and one that will serve us again in the future.

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