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Counterterrorism and the New Administration

Resource type: News

Partnership for a Secure America |

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by Christopher Preble

I was planning to take this space to plug Cato’s forthcoming conference “ Shaping the Obama Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy,” but we’ve had such an overwhelming response that we’ve had to turn registrants away. But what the heck, I’ll plug it anyway since the event will be broadcast live over the Internet, and available for all to see.

I’m not surprised by the enormous interest. We have an absolutely amazing program, the top people in the fields of counterterrorism and homeland security. Mia Bloom, Steve Coll, Paddy Hillyard, Robert Hutchings, Robert Pape, Paul Pillar, Bruce Schneier, Paul Slovic, Steve Simon, the list goes on and on.Check out the full agenda here.

The tremendous interest is also a function of the conference’s unique perspective, which emphasizes a strategic approach to counterterrorism, as opposed to our current approach which is based on fear. Fear drives an ad hoc approach, one that is reactive, threat-based, and overly reliant on the military.

A key part of a more sensible, strategic approach involves communications. Talking about terrrorism in a sensible, rational way diminishes the terrorists’ ability to achieve their ends. Some of this perspective is reflected in a fascinating discussion going on right now at Cato Unbound. Lead author William Burns, who is also a speaker at our conference, has outlined his thoughts and will be joined by Bernard Finel, John Mueller, and Camille Pecastaing.

From my perspective, the message boils down to this: a strong, confident, resilient society like the the United States need not cower in fear before the likes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, petty murderers and thugs, who dare only show their faces in carefully choreographed video tapes recorded in secret locations. We have to regain our footing, restore our faith in our ability to deal with the challenge of terrorism, and not alter our way of life, and our most cherished values, in the process.

There is a fine line between vigilance and complacency, but we all must be mindful of the tradeoffs. This conference, part of a three-year project funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, with additional support from the Open Society Institute, hopes to call attention to these tradeoffs, and hopefully move the country in a new direction that strikes a better balance between hope and fear.

Those of you who were not lucky enough to secure a coveted space in person are invited to join us online, next Monday and Tuesday, and to follow the project in the months ahead.

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