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Counter Terrorism: Bush, Obama, and Trump Policies


Whilst the US counter-terrorism policy is still being debated within the Trump Administration, there are already indications that it will remain consistent with the underlying trend observed under the Bush and Obama Administrations, whereby terrorism is framed as a foreign rather than a domestic threat against which America must protect itself with stronger borders, travel restrictions, and reductions in refugee flows and immigration as part of an open-ended conflict. Yet, in the absence of a major terrorist crisis requiring hard decisions and testing views, Trump’s counterterrorist policy is largely judged on the basis of his speeches, remarks to reporters, and tweets. This was one of the main conclusions of a roundtable on the US counter-terrorism policy organised by the Centre for the Study of Democracy following the publication of a report by the RAND Corporation entitled The Origins of America’s Jihadists which shows that US jihadists are not ‘imported’ but rather, home-grown. The round table gathered Bulgarian policy makers, experts and Sofia-based diplomats.

At the roundtable held on 12 December 2017Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation pointed out that the USA still maintains its military presence in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The Trump Administration has sent a reinforcement of troops to Afghanistan. In contrast to its predecessor, geopolitically President Trump has moved explicitly closer to Saudi Arabia and hardened the US stance on Iran. Another departure from the policy line maintained by the Obama Administration is the reduced emphasis on “soft power” and the human rights agenda, something evident in the termination of support for the Syrian rebel movement.

The domestic context within Syria remains complex. ISIS has been defeated territorially but not ideologically, which in turn provides favourable conditions for a continuing underground insurgency within a destabilised country with sharp sectarian divides. As the government struggles to maintain control both politically and militarily, the role of foreign actors, including Iran, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel and their competing interests in determining the future of Syria is likely to become ever more important.

Dr Ognian Shentov, CSD Chairman, and Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation
During the Round table, Sofia, 12 December 2017
Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation

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