U.S. Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) today called for a new United States strategy to combat the spread of violent terrorist ideology before a forum of 150 national security experts and practitioners. Smith and Thornberry discussed their legislation, recently included in the House-passed Defense Authorization bill, which would require the President to develop a comprehensive, integrated strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy.
“Strategic communication and public diplomacy were central to our fight against communism in the Cold War, and they should remain front-and-center as we work to roll back al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among disaffected populations. Various organizations within our government work in some way to counter terrorist messages, but we lack a coordinated, comprehensive, adequately resourced plan to confront al-Qaeda’s ideology through a strategic message campaign,” Smith said.
Our nation’s multifaceted fight against al-Qaida and their allies includes efforts to counter their ideology – a war of ideas. Terrorist groups aggressively push their narrative through new and traditional media with the aim of radicalizing and recruiting from new populations. Through clever use of the Internet and a steady trickle of video messages distributed to and through the media, al-Qaeda drives its central messages and takes us on in the marketplace of ideas. Numerous commissions and experts recommend improving the United States’ engagement with foreign audiences beyond traditional government-to-government relations. Unfortunately, U.S. efforts remain insufficient to counter violent extremist narratives around the world. Smith’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threat, and Capabilities repeatedly receives testimony that:
- The U.S. doesn’t have a coherent, high-level interagency strategy on these issues;
- The State Department and Defense Department aren’t coordinating sufficiently; and
- We lack focus and nuance in our strategic communication messaging.
To address these gaps in our counter-terrorism strategy, Smith and Thornberry offered their good-government amendment through bipartisan cooperation and with support of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairmen. The Senate and the President must approve the defense bill before the Smith Amendment becomes law.