Eighteen years after 9/11, USIP President and CEO Nancy Lindborg reflects on the continued spread of violent extremism and points to the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States as a blueprint for a new, preventive approach, saying, “I think we’ve all realized this is not a problem we can bomb our way out of.”

On Peace is a weekly podcast sponsored by USIP and Sirius XM POTUS Ch. 124. Each week, USIP experts tackle the latest foreign policy issues from around the world.


Tim Farley: The United States Institute of Peace was asked by Congress in 2018 to develop a comprehensive plan to address the causes of extremism in the world's most fragile states. That Taskforce on Extremism in Fragile States issued a final report earlier this year. Let's put all of this together with Nancy Lindborg. Nancy is the United States Institute of Peace president and CEO there, and is tweeting @nancylindborg. Nancy, welcome back. Thanks for being here today.

Nancy Lindborg: Good to be with you, Tim. Good morning.

Tim Farley: It sounds like in the fight against terror, and those who would like to do the United States harm, there is much work to be done.

Nancy Lindborg: There is. It's so somber to reflect on where we were 18 years ago. It was a terrible, terrible day, that I think none of us will forget where we were. And it took a long time to sort out what was happening. And through the years, we continued to lean really hard on necessary, but not sufficient means of addressing this, primarily counter-terrorism and kinetic, militarily means.

I think we've all realized that this is not a problem we can bomb our way out of. We've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 trillion and in fact, violent extremism has spread. I mean, think ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, that it's now in 19 of the most fragile states in the Middle East, Sahel and Horn of Africa.

So the homeland has been kept safe. Two of the most critical parts of the 9/11 Commission have been followed with great success and we have not experienced another major attack, but the prevention recommendation was not taken up. So for Congressman Hamilton and Governor Keane, the opportunity to really dig into moving on that part of their decade old recommendation was something they felt quite passionate about the urgency of doing.

Tim Farley: And the op-ed that appeared last year, which was that the time for the war on terror to be transformed into a global effort for peace and stability, and this whole idea is something that I know that the Global Fragility Act is about, talk about what that is and where it is in Congress right now.

Nancy Lindborg: Sure. So the report that came out in February really focused on three recommendations for how the U.S. should address this problem set, and the number one recommendation was that we needed to develop a shared understanding across the interagency of what exactly are the conditions that allow extremists to thrive and to better align our capabilities, our defense, our diplomacy and our development teams.

And to quote Senator Coons who says quite articulately that this is a complicated playing field that we're on, and you can't have defense playing football, diplomacy playing lacrosse and development playing soccer. You got to have one game going on. And if we do, we could be much more effective. And finally, we need to share the burden with international partners.

How to do that against a shared agenda of really focusing on the broken social compact between inept or illegitimate governments and their people, those recommendations have gone into something called the Global Fragility Act. In the House, that bill has already passed. In the Senate, it's waiting to have final approval.

There is actually a hearing today at 2:15 in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops. And a USAID Administrator Green and State Department Under Secretary Hale will both be testifying.

Tim Farley: How does one determine the players? I mean, this cast changes from villain to hero or somewhere in between fairly consistently and constantly. It's an ebb and flow of those we trust, those we don't. Allies in one battle might be opponents in another battle and one wonders about sort of consistent threats to the U.S. from outside the United States.

Nancy Lindborg: Well, that's exactly right, Tim, and that's why this recommendation of developing shared understanding and align our defense, diplomacy and development is so critical. Actually, USIP and Chatham House and Stanford University several years ago did a retrospective of our efforts in Afghanistan. And not surprisingly, what we learned is that through the years, our intelligence agencies were focused on fighting al-Qaeda, our defense was fighting Taliban and our development actors were over here trying to build a new state.

And often what they were doing undercut each other's efforts. And so we squander opportunities when we don't think about the totality of our effect and when we sacrifice longer-term critical outcomes for short-term urgent needs. Sometimes those trade-offs are critical and we have to move and prioritize on immediate security needs, but we need to be aware of, sometimes if we equip or partner with very repressive security forces, which has been the case, that research shows that repressive security forces can be a critical trigger for people opting into extreme ideologies. So having that better shared understanding and using the evidence and the lessons of the past 20 years gives us an opportunity to just think differently about how to achieve our longer term goals.

Tim Farley: To that point, and I know that politics is not what you like to get involved in, Nancy, but I just want to phrase this in a way that I can, that maybe you can give us some insight into, is whether or not the United States profile among the nations of the world is helpful at this point or a hindrance to the pursuit of those peaceful goals.

Nancy Lindborg: Well, I have spent a lot of time traveling in some very turbulent countries and I believe that what people really look to the United States for is that beacon that upholds the core values that are at the heart of our country. And that's what's critical to continue to adhere to, to provide that kind of encouragement and inspiration.

It will look differently in different parts of the world, and are there a lot of variables that go into it. But that's one of the constants. The constant view of what they want the U.S. to be, that I encounter over and over again.

Tim Farley: Well, the hearing is today and any sense, expectation about whether or not this legislation moves forward? Will it get through the Senate, do you think?

Nancy Lindborg: I certainly hope so. This is not a hearing that will result in any votes on the act. It's more an opportunity to hear how the State and USAID leadership thinks about the recommendations that are in the Global Fragility Act. It's moving its way through the process and I know that it has an incredibly strong bipartisan slate of supporters. At the top, people like Senator Graham, Senator Coons and a long list on either side of the aisle.

So there's a rare moment of consensus right now, and it also aligns with what many of our allies are starting to look at in the EU and the UK, multilaterals like the World Bank. I mean, everybody is realizing that we need to take a different, smarter approach to get ahead of this scourge of violent extremism. We just can't keep leaning on coming in after you've got a full blown crisis.

Tim Farley: Nancy, thank you for joining us today.

Nancy Lindborg: Thank you, Tim. Always a pleasure to talk with you.

Tim Farley: Nancy Lindborg, United States Institute of Peace president and CEO. The progress of the Global Fragility Act and 9/11 these many years later, lessons learned, actions needing to be taken—she is tweeting @nancylindborg. L-I-N-D-B-O-R-G.

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