February 18, 2015
President Obama came to office promising to draw a sharp distinction between himself and the way George W. Bush fought terrorism. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slow-rolled designation of Boko Haram as a terrorist group so as not to offend Nigeria. A blogger for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “Progressive Change Campaign,” praised Hezbollah as a force for social progress. Presumptive Republican candidates are all over the map on terrorism. Govenor Jeb Bush’s embrace of former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, for example, suggests a willingness at least to pivot back to pre-9/11 policies. Too often, candidates are imprecise with their rhetoric. Of course they will oppose terrorism, but how do they actually understand it? Answers to these five questions, however, would give clarity to any would-be president’s counterterrorism policy whether they want it or not.
1. How do you define terrorism?
There are more than 250 definitions of terrorism in use today just among Western police and security agencies. Too often, countries adopt an à la carte approach which condemns all terrorism as bad, except for those causes with which a particular country agrees. Hence, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemns the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist group, but embraces and supports Hamas; and the Iranian regime condemns the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MEK, MKO) as a terrorist organization, but donates hundreds of millions of dollars to “resistance groups” like Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. The United Nations has yet to settle on a definition, and there is no single definition in use among US government agencies. No president of the free world should have a free pass to talk about terrorism without actually defining precisely what he or she means by it.
Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: Terrorism edition