Study Challenges Bush Counterterrorism Strategy

The Bush administration's 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism may rely too heavily on the benefits of democratization while ignoring some of the key factors driving terrorist violence, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

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The Bush administration's 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism may rely too heavily on the benefits of democratization while ignoring some of the key factors driving terrorist violence, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The report, published yesterday, questions the administration's central strategic assumption that democratization by itself can help combat terrorism in the long term.

"Viewed in the context of the mixed success of fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistence of autocratic regimes among U.S. allies in the Middle East, the credibility and effectiveness of this strategic thrust may merit scrutiny," according to the report, written by Raphael Perl, a senior terrorism expert at CRS. "Democratization, under certain circumstances, may actually undermine U.S. security interests and exacerbate the terrorism problem."

The report points to recent election victories by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. On a separate point, the CRS report suggests that the Bush administration's strategy fails to take into account the effects of the conflict in Iraq on fueling terrorism. It notes that 45 percent of all terrorist attacks worldwide occurred in Iraq, accounting for 65 percent of all terrorism-related deaths around the world. Yet the strategy does not address questions like how to limit Iraq's role as a rallying point among extremists.

The White House strategy also differs dramatically from the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism in how it analyzes the factors that drive terrorism. Each lists four underlying factors, but only one—entrenched grievances like corruption and injustice—appears in both places. The White House document does not specifically echo the NIE's references to stagnant economic, political, and social conditions or the "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment" in much of the Muslim world.

—Kevin Whitelaw