Members of Congress representing both parties—Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as well as Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX)—yesterday lauded the release of a new report that makes the case and outlines a framework for preventing violent extremism at its roots.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) addresses the audience at a press conference announcing the launch of the final report from Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, February 26, 2019.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) addresses the audience at a press conference announcing the launch of the final report from Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, February 26, 2019.

The report, which advocates that the United States and the international community work with local partners to strengthen vulnerable states and societies so that they can better defend themselves against extremism, was released by the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States.

Led by New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and former Representative Lee Hamilton, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, and composed of a bipartisan group of experts from the public and private sector, the Task Force was convened by USIP at the direction of Sen. Graham and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2017.

A Stubborn Enemy

In their 9/11 Commission Report, Gov. Kean and Rep. Hamilton made three central recommendations: Find the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks and hold them responsible, protect the homeland, and prevent the growth of extremism.

“The first two we did pretty darn well … the third one, not so well,” remarked Gov. Kean. “And this is what this Task Force is all about.”

In the 18 years since 9/11, the U.S. has spent nearly 5.9 trillion dollars and lost 10,000 lives fighting violent extremism through primarily military means; yet, said Senator Graham, “There are probably more extremists today than there were on 9/11.”

“Without security there is no hope, but security alone is not the goal,” he said. “You literally cannot kill your way into winning this battle against extremism.”

“Bullets and bombs alone cannot defeat an ideology,” echoed Rep. McCaul. “We need to deal with it at its core root problem—and that is despair, lack of hope, poverty. Destabilized nations, fragile states where there is no governance—that is where [extremists] go.”

A New Approach

“Prevention is not only part of the strategy,” argued Gov. Kean. “It should be the heart of the strategy.”

The Task Force, represented at the event by its members Gov. Kean, USIP Board of Directors Chair Stephen J. Hadley, USIP President Nancy Lindborg, Ethan Allen CEO and President Farooq Kathwari, and Ambassadors Karl Eikenberry and Paula Dobriansky, recommends in its report that the U.S. government:

  • Adopt a new policy framework that recognizes extremism as a primarily political and ideological problem;
  • Establish a Strategic Prevention Initiative to coordinate efforts to prevent extremism across agencies, and
  • Create a new Partnership Development Fund to rally the international community behind country-led efforts to prevent the underlying conditions of extremism.

Lindborg stressed the importance of international cooperation in achieving the report recommendations.

“What you see, particularly in some of these more fragile environments, is various donors coming in with different visions and requirements, and it creates a kind of chaos at the country level,” she pointed out. The global Partnership Development Fund will be critical “for the burden-sharing, but also for the coordination.”

The four congressmen are already working on legislative efforts to “take these insights and make them real,” as Sen. Coons explained. “We’re going from studying and understanding to enacting a framework to then funding what will be, I think, a groundbreaking initiative to promote the stabilization of fragile states.”

Moreover, “Addressing the root causes of extremism in fragile states gets us closer to a safer and more stable, prosperous world,” said Rep. Engel. “Together we’re going to prevail—because we have no other choice.”

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