Trump Hypes a New ‘War on Terror’

Donald Trump has urged a new “war on terror” that brings back torture and seeks revenge on terrorists’ families, but another problem with the Republican nominee’s approach is his exaggeration of the danger, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Much of Donald Trump’s recent speech on terrorism left one to wonder how what he was proposing would differ from current practices he supposedly was criticizing.

Working on counterterrorism with other states including Russia, for example, sounds like what the Obama administration is doing now, including discussing with the Russians ways of combating terrorist groups in Syria. And it is hard to see how Trump’s “extreme vetting” would differ from the existing and already extensive review process for visa applications.

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Other parts of what Trump was proposing were just too vague for us to get a good idea of how they would be supposed to work. This is true of his proposal to suspend immigration from unnamed regions that either — depending on which sentence in the speech one looks at — are “some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism” or “where adequate screening cannot take place.”

If any such list of regions were broad enough to stop a terrorist group trying to infiltrate operators into the United States, it would be so broad as to end immigration into the United States altogether.

If there was any one theme that tended to unify what was in the speech about terrorism and that distinguishes it clearly from current policy, it was in explicitly invoking comparisons with the hot and cold wars of the Twentieth Century. In likening current counterterrorism to the Cold War, Trump even added a dose of McCarthyism with his proposal for a “Commission on Radical Islam” that would “expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.”

Setting aside this McCarthyite twist, the overall theme is one that — as with several…

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