GAO's Take on Countering Violent Extremism

By Dan Cadman on April 13, 2017

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week published a report that is neither very useful nor credible — "Countering Violent Extremism: Actions Needed to Define Strategy and Assess Progress of Federal Efforts". It mostly reads like bits of progressive shibboleths left over from the Obama administration.

The report represents the kind of abstract thinking we sometimes see from wonks and analysts who are outside the circle of responsibility for ending (or at least minimizing) extreme violence, and therefore talk in terms of metrics, etc.

I don't disagree that measuring results is important. I simply think that violent extremism is such a complex phenomenon, involving sociology, culture, religion, economics and, not least, immigration and assimilation, that developing a comprehensive strategy may be a nearly impossible task. Certainly it is when the nexus between immigration and violent Islamic extremism is ignored. How? By linguistic legerdemain: Simply describe acts by Islamic extremists in the United States as "domestic" acts of violence — see, for instance, the header on p. 7 of the report: "The U.S. Approach to Countering Domestic Violent Extremism" (emphasis added) — even when the connection to immigration and assimilation (or lack thereof), is inescapable.

This head-in-the-sand approach virtually guarantees that any such plan would be incapable of success. Minimizing, if not eliminating, acts of terror in the homeland requires government officials to acknowledge, first, that because an act of terror takes place on our soil, it is not ipso facto "domestic" (using that broad brush, then the attacks of 9/11 were "domestic"). Second, it also obliges the government, and society generally, to acknowledge that making unwise choices about which aliens we permit to live within our shores can have catastrophic results even at the second generation because the children find themselves between cultures, between societies, unable to cope, and some eventually turn to outlets that express their anger and frustration through acts of shocking violence.

Truly, the U.S. plan for countering violent extremism, at least as developed during the prior administration, was so sorely lacking in touchstones with reality that it ought to be discarded.

No amount of massaging to develop metrics can save it from the weight of its own incompetence. The GAO should have been forthright enough to say so.