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U.S. Terrorism Strategy Troubles Muslim World

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U.S. Terrorism Strategy Troubles Muslim World


U.S. Terrorism Strategy Troubles Muslim World

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Next, we're going to find out what else was in a document that received wide attention this week. President Bush released portions of an analysis of the war on terror. It came from U.S. intelligence agencies. It names the war in Iraq as one factor encouraging Islamist movements around the world. Now, that finding has been widely discussed, but there are other findings, and Daniel Benjamin has been reading them. He's a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank here in Washington. Mr. Benjamin, welcome to the program.

Mr. DANIEL BENJAMIN (Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at the first page of this Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate. And here on the first page it says, Activists identifying themselves as jihadists are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion. What does that mean?

Mr. BENJAMIN: It means that there are more people who buy into the arguments of bin Laden and others who espouse violence against the United States and its allies, and that the threat of terrorism is therefore not just deepening but also spreading to different parts of the world.

INSKEEP: Meaning that there are more people willing to bomb the United States, become suicide bombers in Iraq, on and on?

Mr. BENJAMIN: Yes, certainly people who are prepared to take violent action against not just the United States but the West and also Muslim governments that are seen as collaborating with the West; that's where the jihadist movements started.

INSKEEP: Interesting that you mentioned that, because this document then goes on to give some underlying factors, which it says are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement. One of them is grievances against corruption, injustice, fear of Western domination. And another is the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations.

Has the situation improved at all for people in the Islamic world over the last four or five years?

Mr. BENJAMIN: Not very much at all. In fact, one of the downsides of our democracy campaign is that many of the governments in the region have actually responded by tightening the screws. In many different countries there has been a resurgence of jihadist activity. Things are going in the wrong direction right now.

INSKEEP: So you have a variety of things that the U.S. intelligence agencies say are fueling the jihadist movement. Then they go on to say that, We assess that these underlying factors outweigh the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement, and that they're likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this estimate. What is the timeframe of this estimate?

Mr. BENJAMIN: Well, I don't really know because we don't have the whole estimate in front of us. But my guess is this estimate is good until the next one. I think they're probably done every five to 10 years.

INSKEEP: So this document is saying that terrorists are in a position to gain ground against the United States for perhaps another five years or more.

Mr. BENJAMIN: Yes, I believe that's the meaning. This is a very durable ideology. There's a lot of charismatic leadership out there and a lot of anger.

INSKEEP: Now, this report also talks about vulnerability of people described as jihadists. What are some of the vulnerabilities listed here?

Mr. BENJAMIN: Two key ones. One is that their view of the future is not shared by lots of Muslims. They have not managed to mobilize the masses behind this idea of a future that looks like Afghanistan under the Taliban, or something like that - that's one big vulnerability. And the other vulnerability is that most Muslims are deeply disturbed when they see indiscriminate violence that kills other Muslims, but there's also still a lot of concern about killing noncombatants.

INSKEEP: Does American strategy - as far as you can tell, as one analyst - seem to take these realities into account?

Mr. BENJAMIN: The short answer is certainly no. One of my colleagues summed things up quite well when he said when you drive the car over the cliff, your options narrow. That's what we did in Iraq. There is one very telling sentence in this document - and it comes on the second page - and it says, Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated, multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

This is code that says we need to have a strategy for getting people not to believe in the jihadist ideology. This needs to be something that the United States and all of its allies need to be onboard with. And we need to have a really convincing story about why people shouldn't see us the way bin Laden and his followers do.

INSKEEP: That's one interpretation of this intelligence document; it comes from Daniel Benjamin, who worked on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Thanks very much.

Mr. BENJAMIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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