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This is a warning to the civilized world: Don’t forget about the supporters of Usama bin Laden and the ISIS caliphate. They have not forgotten about you.
Washington today is largely focused on “great power” competition. What’s next in the trade war with China or the tug of war with Russia? What’s up with North Korea’s missiles and the ayatollah in Iran?
Of course, these struggles do matter. And America must stay on top of what these mighty but misguided nations are up to.
But that doesn’t mean that we, our friends and our allies can afford to lower our guard against the terrorists lurking in the shadowlands who still seek to establish an Islamist dictatorship over a third of the Earth.
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These terrorists have more than amply demonstrated their willingness to advance their cause, no matter how many innocents they may slaughter or sacrileges they may commit along the way.
Sure, there is no doubt that ISIS has taken a beating. Losing half of its self-proclaimed caliphate was deeply humiliating. Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies continue to hunt down Al Qaeda’s leadership and operatives.
Yet even a scattered and humbled enemy is still an enemy. The fundamental hate driving the Islamists burns fiercely still. Their terrorism isn’t rooted in poverty, oppression, religious fervor or social injustice.
Rather, their terrorism is rooted in the rejection of the modern world and its promise of individual liberty and tolerance. As long as there is modernity, these haters will hate – and they won’t stop trying to hurt the rest of us.
Committed vigilance is essential, because we don’t know where the terrorists will try to strike next.
The Easter church bombings in Sri Lanka this year were a horrifying reminder that no place is out of bounds. ISIS is happy to kill anywhere, in any numbers, to demonstrate it is still a force to be reckoned with.
A recent report by the United Nations concluded that ISIS could have tens of millions of dollars in cash reserves. Or not. Nor do we know where all the foreign fighters who flocked to the “caliphate” are now hiding. Or what their plans are.
Also unclear is where the Islamist insurgency’s next base of operations will be established. Syria remains a contender: some rebel forces that control territory in Idlib recently aligned with Al Qaeda.
In addition, both Al Qaeda and ISIS are operating in Yemen. And ISIS recently staged a high-profile, bloody bombing in Kabul in Afghanistan.
Terrorists also still roam throughout Southeast Asia. Then there is the Sahel, where Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operates. And in West Africa the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) has become one of ISIS’s most active affiliates.
People on the left were always uncomfortable with the war on terror. They fretted that it was an affront to Muslims everywhere and a threat to civil liberties anywhere.
The terrorists are not just a problem in the top half of Africa. ISIS also recently claimed credit for attacks in Mozambique and the Congo. Meanwhile, the U.S. is bombing Al Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate.
In short, America can’t take its eyes off terrorists.
Washington can’t get so wrapped up in competing with other nations that it loses interest or the capacity to manage the problem of non-state enemies. Indeed, we ought to anticipate that some hostile states will try to sponsor – or at least enable – transnational terrorists as another weapon to be used against us.
The global war on terrorism might be over, but the global watch, response, and preventative action campaign has to continue.
The U.S. must also figure out how dealing with domestic terrorism fits in. It is hard not to conclude that the left’s obsession with domestic right-wing extremists is more rooted in political opportunism than public safety.
People on the left were always uncomfortable with the war on terror. They fretted that it was an affront to Muslims everywhere and a threat to civil liberties anywhere. They are, on the other hand, ready to unleash all the resources of counterterrorism on anyone associated with the other half of the political spectrum here at home.
It is true that America has recently suffered more from domestic terrorists – on both sides of the political spectrum – than from the transnational Islamist terrorist movement. But that’s because the U.S. has done such a remarkable job stifling overseas threats before they get here – not because the government has turned a blind eye to domestic terror threats.
What we need to do is put the politics aside, and show a little maturity and proportionality on how we address terrorist threats.
Over the last decade, the U.S. developed a remarkable capacity to address terrorism, and managed to do so without impinging on the civil liberties of Americans, as many feared. What we need to do is to continue to apply resources with prudence and determination and not be distracted by geopolitics or Washington’s politics.