President Barack Obama is replacing the "global war on terror" with a new strategy focused more narrowly on al-Qaida and relying more on a broader effort to engage the Muslim world, a top aide said Thursday.
John Brennan, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, said al-Qaida remains a "persistent and evolving threat" to the United States and is being aggressively targeted by the new administration.
"But describing our efforts as a 'global war' only plays into the warped narrative that al-Qaida propagates," Brennan said in comments prepared for delivery to a think tank here.
"It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world," he said.
Obama is bringing to the issue "a fundamentally new and more effective approach" by attacking the longer-term problem of Muslim extremism through diplomacy and political and economic strategies.
"Indeed, the counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan apply equally to the broader fight against extremism: We cannot shoot ourselves out of this challenge," he said.
"We can take out all the terrorists we want — their leadership and their foot soldiers. But if we fail to confront the broader political, economic, and social conditions in which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline, another attack coming downstream," he said.
Brennan outlined ambitious goals for promoting economic and political development in poor, conflict-ridden regions of the world as well diplomatic efforts to restore U.S. standing among Muslims.
His speech came on the anniversary of a 2001 U.S. intelligence warning, which President George W. Bush famously ignored, saying that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was plotting attacks on the United States.
"President Obama is under no illusions about the imminence and severity of this threat," Brennan said. "Indeed, he has repeatedly and forcefully challenged those who suggest that this threat has passed."
Brennan invoked his own credentials as a longtime CIA officer who served as the agency's station chief in Saudi Arabia to defend Obama against critics who have questioned his commitment to the fight against terrorism.
"Over the past six months we have presented President Obama with a number of actions and initiatives against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
"Not only has he approved these operations, he has encouraged us to be even more aggressive, even more proactive, and even more innovative, to seek out new ways and new opportunities for taking down these terrorists before they can kill more innocent men, women, and children," he said.
Al-Qaida and its affiliates are "under tremendous pressure," Brennan said.
"After years of US counterterrorism operations, and in partnership with other nations, al-Qaida has been seriously damaged and forced to replace many of its top-tier leadership with less experienced and less capable individuals," he said.
"Nevertheless, al-Qaida has proven to be adaptive and highly resilient and remains the most serious terrorist threat we face as a nation," he said.
"The group's intent to carry out attacks against the United States and U.S. interests around the world — with weapons of mass destruction if possible — remains undiminished, and another attack on the US homeland remains the top priority for the al-Qaida senior leadership," he said.
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