Wednesday, May 26, 2010

America's national security effort

Just one week ago, I was in Washington as a faculty leader for The Washington Center's "Top Secret" seminar that examined critical issues associated with national security.

One of our presenters was supposed to John Brennan, who is the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. His schedule was changed just before the seminar started and he was not able to speak to us. Today, Mr. Brennan spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which hosted us during the seminar.

The themes relating to terrorism and America's national security he reviewed today were those he had planned to use if he had addressed the seminar.

Mr. Brennan indicated that the "enemy is not not terror...nor Jihadist or Islamist." Instead, he said, "Our enemy is al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates."

He reaffirmed that the U.S. remains at war with these groups and not with Islam. But this war cannot be fought simply with military might, Mr. Brennan noted. Sometimes a fight is fought with a "scalpel and not a hammer," he said. This approach is consistent with one of the themes that students at the TWC seminar heard -- the definition of war has changed, and it is neither wise nor possible to fight as America and its allies once did.

"The cancer of violent extremism" also must be dealt with, and Mr. Brennan said the "false hope" of jihad must be shown for what it is -- an empty promise. He noted that international partnerships must be used to "undermine the forces that can put the disillusioned" on the path to endorsing terrorism.

Mr. Brennan called "the new phase" of terrorism the growth of domestic terrorists. And combating them will become more important than ever before in this war, Mr. Brennan said.

The media are jumping on a point that deserves attention: President Obama's strategy provides additional evidence that the policies of the Bush administration no longer define how the U.S. will deal with terrorists.

Mr. Brennan said the "power of America's example" in spreading freedom and democracy explains why Bush-era practices such as "building defensive walls" and "brutal methods of interrogation" are not the way the U.S. will do business.

The president will address the topic on Thursday, though I expect the comments he will make in the early afternoon about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might overshadow his remarks.

You can watch Mr. Brennan's address here. A transcript also is available.

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