- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2018

Unveiling the new U.S. counterterrorism strategy on Thursday, President Trump’s top security aide outlined a dramatic break with the Obama administration of how America should confront the threat, explicitly framing terrorism as an ideological war within Islam.

National Security Adviser John R. Bolton said the 25-page document argues that terrorism now occurs on a “landscape more fluid and complex than ever,” but that the U.S. must confront first and foremost the ideology of “radical Islamist militants” and the threat in particular from Iran.

“‘This is not the Obama administration’ would be my message to Iran and anybody else,” Mr. Bolton said during conference call with reporters on the new analysis.

The counterterrorism strategy is the first update since the Obama administration’s 2011 plan, which came before the rise of Islamic State focused heavily on defeating al Qaeda.

Mr. Bolton offered a sobering appraisal of today’s more fluid and complex terrorist landscape, where extremist groups using encrypted communications and savvy social media skills to further their cause.

To pursue terrorists at their source, Mr. Bolton explained, meant isolating them from support networks. The strategy also notes the need for strong borders and secure ports of entry into the U.S.

In the 17 years since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has “succeeded in disrupting large-scale attacks in the homeland since 2001 but has not sufficiently mitigated the overall threat that terrorists pose,” Mr. Bolton said

The Trump updated strategy also does not shy away from some of the counterterrorism debate’s most controversial issues, particularly its use of the phrase “radical Islamist terrorism.”

Months in the making, the strategic update was fiercely debated during the tenure of Mr. Bolton’s predecessor as national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Like President Obama, Mr. McMaster and other top counterterrorism officials argued against singling out “Islamic” terrorism, so as not to condemn the entire religion of Islam or alienate Muslim-majority nations needed in the fight against al Qaeda and other groups. The final document settled on “radical Islamist terrorism.”

But Mr. Bolton noted that even Jordan’s King Abdullah describes terrorism as a “civil war” within Islam.

He added that the new strategy does not “focus on a single organization but will counter all terrorists with the ability and intent to harm the United States, its citizens and our interests.”

A fierce critic of Iran’s theocratic regime, Mr. Bolton also highlighted the threat from Tehran, which the State Department lists as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The new strategy is making its debut even as the Trump administration is reimposing economic sanctions on Iran after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord this spring.

“We look at all of the threatening ideologies that we facing, including not just Sunni ideologies, but the Islamic Revolution of 1979 emanating from Iran,” Mr. Bolton said.

As for the Islamic State, Mr. Bolton argued that despite losing all but 1 percent of the territory it previously held across Iraq and Syria, it remains a powerful threat to America.

In another break with the 2011 Obama counterterrorism blueprint, the new strategy omits all reference to climate change as a threat to U.S. national security or a destabilizing force in volatile regions such as the Middle East.

“I don’t think climate change is a cause of international terrorism,” Mr. Bolton told reporters.

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