Twenty-one months after being elected president, Donald Trump finally issued a “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” on Thursday. It’s the U.S. government’s first overarching public counterterrorism strategy since President Obama’s in 2011, which was preceded by George W. Bush’s in 2006. (I worked as the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2015 to 2017, in addition to other national-security advisory roles in the Obama administration.) Most notable about the document is one key inclusion—a continuing emphasis on foreign partnerships—and a whole set of exclusions, such as Trump’s travel ban and his promise to erect a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Together, the inclusion and those exclusions speak to the seriousness of the civil servants, military-service members, diplomats, and others who continue working to keep Americans safe. All told, the counterterrorism professionals—whose views are largely reflected in this strategy—have maintained their focus, even as the Trump White House continues to indulge in unhelpful rhetoric and even counterproductive, politically driven policies.
First, that notable inclusion: a continued emphasis on foreign partnerships with countries like Iraq and Afghanistan as the key to sustainable counterterrorism. The document, while heralding “an America First approach to counterterrorism,” also proclaims on its very first page that, at least when it comes to counterterrorism, “America first does not mean America alone.” This may be somewhat Trumpian rhetoric, but it’s fundamentally an acknowledgment of continuity—not just with the Obama administration, but also with the latter years of the George W. Bush administration.