In the fight against terrorism, what works today will not necessarily work tomorrow. The next president will need to update America’s counterterrorism policy, taking into account the past three years’ achievements and shortcomings. The main challenge America faces is adapting and adjusting to the evolution of terrorist targeting and tactics.
The president will need to lay our a comprehensive framework within which a nimble counterterrorism strategy can be developed. The United States did precisely this at the outset of the Cold War; the policy of containment provided both focus and clearly attainable goals. Similar clarity is needed to direct our efforts through what will be an equally long and complex struggle.
The president will need to do everything possible to bring peace to Palestinians and Israelis and to transform Iraq into a stable, democratic state. But even if these regional problems are addressed, global terrorism will not end.
The United States has forged strong relationships with individual nations in the war on terror, but the next president will have to find stronger multilateral approaches, including formal mechanisms to promote intelligence-sharing and knit together the activities of many countries’ law enforcement agencies. This is critical for tracking terrorist suspects and their sources of financial and material support, monitoring borders and facilitating extradition requests.
Achieving these closer relationships will depend on harnessing the unique capabilities and experience of regional defense alliances like NATO, creating new groups directed toward combating international terrorism in other parts of the world, and persuading multinational institutions to step up their efforts to counter this menace.
Bruce Hoffman is a terrorism expert with the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, and a senior fellow at the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center.
This commentary originally appeared in Star-Ledger on September 12, 2004. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.