U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today won approval for his amendment to the fiscal year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act to enhance U.S. efforts to combat the spread of violent terrorist ideology.  The Smith Amendment would address major gaps in our counter-terrorism strategy by requiring the President to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy.  The House of Representatives approved the amendment during consideration of H.R. 5658, which passed by a vote of 384 to 23.

“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.

The Smith Amendment:

  • Requires the President to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy by the end of 2009; 
  • Increases Congressional oversight by requiring the Administration to report to Congress on the State and Defense Departments’ respective roles in strategic communication and public diplomacy; and 
  • Requires the Administration to assess and report back to Congress on the Defense Science Board’s recommendation that the U.S. establish an independent, non-profit organization to support the U.S. government’s strategic communication efforts.

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 offered his 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 H.R. 5658 before the Smith Amendment becomes law.