Hamas..continued embrace of violence and terrorism is something that the
Palestinian people, I think, have to continue to tell Hamas leaders that
this is not going to bring them what they truly deserve, which is a
Palestinian state side-byside with Israel.
CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (CSIS) “A NEW APPROACH FOR
JOHN BRENNAN,ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY AND
THURSDAY, AUGUST 6, 2009 11:00 A.M.
CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
Transcript by Federal News Service Washington, D.C.
.. What I want to do today is to talk about the new thinking and the new
approach that President Obama brings to the task of safeguarding the
American people from violent extremism and terrorism. ...To this end, he and
Secretary of State Clinton have renewed America’s commitment to diplomacy,
rebuilding old alliances, strengthening critical partnerships with nations
such as Russia and China and naming special envoys and representatives to
focus on some of the most pressing international challenges, from Middle
East peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan to climate change to the crisis in
He has launched a new era of engagement with the world, including committing
the United States to a new partnership with Muslims around the world, a
partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
... Secretary of State Clinton outlined how American diplomacy will advance
American interests by building new partnerships, promoting universal values
and heeding the power of our example.
Today, as the president’s principal advisor on counterterrorism, I want to
outline the president’s efforts to safeguard the American people from the
transnational challenge that poses one of the greatest threats to our
national security, the scourge of violent extremists who would use terrorism
to slaughter Americans at home and abroad. I want to note at the outset that
my professional and personal experience has greatly shaped my perspective on
how best to confront the challenges we face. ...
A deep appreciation for our nation’s unique example and relationships with
the world has always informed my service. This includes our ties with Muslim
communities. While in college in the mid-1970s, I spent a summer traveling
through Indonesia, where, like President Obama, I came to see the beauty and
diversity of Islam. In the decades since, I studied as an undergraduate at
the American University in Cairo, I worked as a State Department political
officer in Saudi Arabia and I served as a CIA station chief in the region.
And in that time, I saw how Arab and Muslim attitudes toward the U.S.
hardened, often into hatred. It was these collective experiences and the
worldview they shaped that led me to an extended discussion with
then-president-elect Obama last November. He, too, was deeply concerned with
how the United States was viewed in the world and how these attitudes were
fueling the flames of hatred and violence. He showed a clear understanding
of the historical forces and conditions shaping the world and the unique
role and responsibility of the United States at this moment in history.
... the president rejects an absolutist approach or the imposition of a
rigid ideology on our problems. Like the world itself, his views are nuanced
not simplistic, practical not ideological.
He understands the complexities and many dimensions of the challenges
presented by violent extremism. He understands that preventing terrorists
from slaughtering the innocent sometimes requires making very difficult
decisions – deployment of military forces, authorization of sensitive
intelligence activities, the handling and disposition of terrorists that
capture and detain and the policies we make and the measures we take to
protect our homeland. And so, as he has said on many occasions, he rejects
the false choice between ensuring our national security and upholding civil
This new approach has five key elements.
First, and perhaps most significantly....Rather than looking at allies and
other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism, whether they are with
us or against us, the administration is now engaging other countries and
people across a broader range of areas.
...Why should a great and powerful nation like the United States allow its
relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world be defined by
the narrow hatred and nihilistic actions of an exceptionally small minority
...This leads directly to the second element of the president’s approach –
a clear, more precise definition of the challenge. This is critically
important. How you define a problem shapes how you address it. As many have
noted, the president does not describe this as a “war on terrorism.” ...can
never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat a
tactic of war itself. Likewise, the president does not describe this as a
... describing our efforts as a global war only plays into the warped
narrative that al- Qaida propagates. It plays into the misleading and
dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the
. Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against jihadists.
Describing terrorists in this way, using the legitimate term “jihad,” which
means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks
giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in
no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States
is somehow at war with Islam itself. And this is why President Obama has
confronted this perception directly and forcefully in its speeches to Muslim
audiences, declaring that America is not and never will be at war with
Instead, as the president has made clear, we are at war with al-Qaida,
which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its
violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al-Qaida’s murderous agenda.
These are the terrorists we will destroy; these are the extremists we will
defeat. Even as the president takes a more focused view of the threat, his
approach includes a third element – a broader, more accurate understanding
of the causes and conditions that help fuel violent extremism, be they in
Pakistan and Afghanistan or Somalia and Yemen.
The president has been very clear on this. Poverty does not cause violence
and terrorism. Lack of education does not cause terrorism. But just as there
is no excuse for the wanton slaughter of innocents, there is no denying that
when children have no hope for an education, when young people have no hope
for a job and feel disconnected from the modern world, when governments fail
to provide for the basic needs of their people, then people become more
susceptible to ideologies of violence and death.
Extremist violence and terrorist attacks are therefore, often the final,
murderous manifestations of a long process rooted in helplessness,
humiliation and hatred. Therefore, any comprehensive approach has to also
address the upstream factors, the conditions that help fuel violent
extremism. Indeed, the counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and
Afghanistan apply equally to the broader fight against extremism.
We cannot shoot ourselves out of this challenge. We can take out all the
terrorists we want – their leadership and their foot soldiers – but if we
fail to confront the broader political, economic and social conditions under
which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the
pipeline, another attack coming downstream. Indeed, our failure to address
these conditions also plays into the extremists’ hands, allowing them to
make the false claim that the United States actually wants to keep people
impoverished and unempowered.
It is important to note that these factors not only help fuel violent
extremism, but also contribute to a wide range of national security threats,
from other types of organized violence and sociopolitical instability to
resource competition. And addressing these factors will help the United
States deal with a wide range of threats, including violent extremism.
This is why the president’s approach includes a critical fourth element –
the recognition that addressing these upstream factors is ultimately not a
military operation, but a political, economic and social campaign to meet
the basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people – security for
their communities, education for their children, a job and income for
parents and a sense of dignity and worth.
...For even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by
terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and
grievances of ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent, which
leads to the fifth and final part of the president’s approach – integrating
every element of American power to ensure that those upstream factor
discourage rather than encourage violent extremism.
After all, the most effective long-term strategy for safeguarding the
American people is one that promotes a future where young man or woman never
even considers joining an extremist group in the first place, where they
reject out of hand the idea of picking up that gun or strapping on that
suicide vest; where they have faith in the political process and confidence
in the rule of law; where they realize that they can build, not simply
destroy and that the United States is a real partner in opportunity,
prosperity, dignity and peace.
That is why President Obama is committed to using every element of our
national power to address the underlying causes and conditions that fuel so
many national security threats, including violent extremism.
.. And that is why the administration is aggressively pursuing negotiations
to achieve the goal of two states – Israel and Palestine – living
side-by-side in peace and security.
..The president understands that, for the fanatical few, no amount of
outreach or engagement will ever dissuade them from violence and murder. So
faced with that persistent and evolving terrorist threat, President Obama
and his administration will be unrelenting, unwavering and unyielding in its
efforts to defeat, disrupt and dismantle al-Qaida and its allies.
...Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the
early ’80s and has evolved significantly over time. And now it has members
of parliament, in the cabinet; there are lawyers, doctors, others who are
part of the Hezbollah organization.
However, within Hezbollah, there’s still a terrorist core. And hopefully
those elements within the Shia community in Lebanon and within Hezbollah at
large – they’re going to continue to look at that extremist terrorist core
as being something that is anathema to what, in fact, they’re trying to
accomplish in terms of their aspirations about being part of the political
process in Lebanon. And so, quite frankly, I’m pleased to see that a lot of
Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing that type of terrorism and
violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very
Hamas, on the other hand, started out as a very focused social organization
that was providing welfare to Palestinians, primarily in Gaza. Over time, it
developed an extremist and terrorist element to it that, I think, has
unfortunately delegitimized it in the eyes of many, not just throughout the
world, but also in the territories. And its continued embrace of violence
and terrorism is something that the Palestinian people, I think, have to
continue to tell Hamas leaders that this is not going to bring them what
they truly deserve, which is a Palestinian state side-byside with Israel.
... There are disenfranchised Shia within Lebanon that Hezbollah is trying
to represent. But they’re doing it in a corrupted and twisted manner. They’re
not going to help to realize those aspirations of the Shia people if they
continue to embrace that violence – same thing with Hamas. And I think these
aspirations of the people need to be realized, and it’s not going to be
through the terrorist agenda.
Q: So what do we do? What is America’s role?
MR. BRENNAN: I think what we’ve done is to demonstrate both in Lebanon and
to the Palestinians that we, the United States, are willing to engage and
have a dialogue with any organizations or groups that are, in fact,
dedicated to realizing peaceful solutions to existing problems. And I think
those elements within Lebanon, be they Hezbollah or others, know that the
United States has tried to be a very honest broker there, providing support
to Lebanese institutions.
And those who shun and eschew that terrorism will, in fact, gain favor with
the United States. The same thing in the Palestinian community – those
Palestinians that are really going to ensure that they pursue a path towards
peace that does not bring terrorism to bear are going to be partners with
the United States....