Trump’s Misguided Approach to Fighting Terrorism

During President Trump’s election campaign, he continued to say that he was going to be tough on terrorism. However, when Trump said terrorism he really just meant foreign Islamic terrorism. This is evident from his repeated use of the term “radical Islam.” Although foreign terrorism kills several Americans every year, it doesn’t make sense to place so much emphasis on just Islamic terrorists when other issues, such as domestic terrorism and gun violence, can be just as harmful if not more harmful than foreign Islamic terrorism. Additionally, Trump’s current plans for fighting what he calls “radical Islam” are quite bad when you consider that his plans could actually lead to an increase in terrorism.

Foreign Terrorism vs. Homegrown Terrorism

Trump may think that terrorism comes mostly from Islamic countries, but that is simply not true. The truth is that there are more instances of home grown terrorism than foreign terrorism. Research has also shown that police departments are more worried about homegrown terrorists than foreign terrorists. However, with the San Bernardino attack that occurred in 2016, the total amount of Americans killed by Islamic inspired terrorists is close, but still lower, than the total amount of Americans killed by non-Islamic inspired terrorists.

Guns vs. Terrorism

The amount of people killed by guns is a lot higher than the amount of people killed by terrorists. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2013, over 33,000 Americans were killed by guns while 21 Americans were killed by terrorists. The CDC also said that for every American killed by terrorists more than 1,000 Americans were killed by guns.

Number of American Deaths Caused by Terrorism VS Gun Violence

How Trump Has Fought Terrorism So Far

During President Trump’s campaign he said, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” He also said that he would “go after the [terrorists] wives.” As president, he continued his fight against “radical Islam” by signing an executive order that instituted a travel ban on several Muslim majority countries. The travel ban involves stopping people from Muslim majority countries from seeking visas and traveling to the US.

Many of Trump’s actions, especially banning Muslims from entering the US, play into the hands of terrorists. In particular, instituting a travel ban on Muslims could increase feelings of hatred towards the West. It could also increase disenfranchisement in many Muslim majority countries since people in these countries would be provided with less economic opportunities as a result of the travel ban. This reduction in economic opportunities could lead to people being nearly forced to work for ISIS because they may have no other means to support their family. The travel ban could also mean that more people will be persecuted by ISIS and other extremist groups.  Overall, the travel ban would likely lead to increases in both disenfranchisement and hatred toward the West, two variables that lead to increases in terrorism.

What We Should Do

If you look at the statistics, then you can clearly see that it would be a far better idea to address gun violence and homegrown terrorism than foreign terrorism. If the US decides to continue to divert more and more resources into combating foreign terrorism, instead of homegrown terrorism and gun violence, then the US should at least address foreign terrorism in a logical manner. For example, the US could increase communication with foreign countries, increase intelligence sharing, and increase funding in counter terrorism research. As of now, the steps President Trump has taken to address foreign terrorism do not actually address the issue, they exasperate the problem.

Do Air Strikes Actually Stop Terrorism?

Last month, a Pentagon official confirmed that ISIS’ Minister of Information was killed in an air strike. Earlier this year, other ISIS leaders were also killed in air strikes, including regional leader Hafid Saeez Khan and ISIS’ former number two in command, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Although several alleged terrorists have been killed with air strikes, ISIS has still been functioning well and terrorism in the west has not shown any signs of slowing down. So are the air strikes really stopping terrorism?

The air strikes are hurting ISIS’ oil supply, but they may also be creating unintended problems, such as helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations in recruiting more members and increasing the amount of lone wolf terrorist attacks. There are several reasons these air strikes may be leading to these unintended consequences. One reason is that many terrorist organizations recruit people by claiming that the West hates Muslims. US air strikes on Muslims certainly does not refute this assumption and could actually promote this accusation. Additionally, being killed in an air strike could be perceived as martyrdom. This perception of martyrdom could send a distorted message to individuals that terrorists are actually activists fighting against western oppression and are dying for a great cause. In effect, motivating individuals to support ISIS and other extremist groups by either going to Syria or carrying out lone wolf terrorist attacks.

There’s also nearly no way air strikes could deter terrorist behavior. Similarly to there not being any evidence that a death penalty stops crime, creating deterrence by killing terrorists doesn’t even make sense, since many modern day terrorists are willing to commit suicide. If a terrorist is willing to commit suicide, then how would an air strike deter the individual from engaging in terrorist behavior. Additionally, some terrorists believe that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for carrying out terrorist attacks. If the individual truly believes that they will be rewarded for their terrorist behavior, then threatening to kill the person would not stop the person from committing terrorist acts.

So if air strikes don’t deter terrorism, lower morale, or stop ISIS’ ability to function, then what is the point of using the extra judicial tactic of air strikes? I don’t know. Maybe the US government believes that air strikes are a good tactic in the war against terrorism. But, I’m not sure if air strikes are really that effective, or even ethical.

Read more of Wes’ articles and research about terrorism, economics, and international relations at thepoliticist.org