By Phoebe Doscher, Assistant News Editor
Professor Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University & Council on Foreign Relations gave a talk through the Eisenhower Institute Discussions series on the evolving terrorist threat landscape on Tuesday, April 2 in Mara Auditorium.
Eisenhower Institute Undergraduate Fellows Olivia Lanctot ‘19 and Elizabeth Miller ‘19 gave opening remarks and moderated the discussion following the lecture. During the lecture, Hoffman, winner of the United States Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, discussed counterterrorism strategy as well as the lasting threat of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Hoffman prompted the audience with a modern connection to the imminent threat of terrorism; he mentioned the March 15, 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings, an act of far-right white nationalist terrorism. He wrote an article on the topic, and encouraged the audience to read it on Council of Foreign Relations site.
Hoffman subsequently transitioned into discussion on the challenges and consequences of the threat of terrorism, including lessened focus on national security by recently resigned Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. Hoffman showed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s rendering of the terrorist threat on the United States and spread of terrorism group branches like ISIS to countries around the world.
“Terrorism is as much an idea as it is about territory,” Hoffman riffed about the growing branches of al-Qaeda and ISIS and the stubborn resiliency of the groups. Due to technological advances, the groups find nuanced ways to grow their base, proving the fact that “terrorism doesn’t occur into a vacuum. It also feeds on occurrences in society.”
According to Hoffman, ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was at the helm of ISIS’s resiliency and made the proper adjustments to strategy to ensure its longevity. The speaker made another modern-day connection, citing the suicide bombing attack in May 2017 at an Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, United Kingdom and the 2017 Barcelona, Spain attacks when a van barreled into pedestrians. Hoffman himself was especially disturbed by the Manchester attacks, which appeared random rather than framed against national events like the Olympics or a domestic election. He also mentioned that the Barcelona attacks were a second plan after a first bombing attempt failed, which shows ISIS’s alarming, strong desire for retaliation.
Foreign fighters were the next topic of discussion in the lecture, including statistics of the amount killed and imprisoned. Hoffman noted the challenge of tracking movements of an atypical foreign fighter with potentially dangerous intentions. He linked the strength of al-Qaeda to the increasing amount of foreign fighters around the globe as well as the newfound strength following the succession plan and strategy implemented when commander al-Zawahiri took over in 2011.
The next topic in Hoffman’s lecture centered around threats to commercial aviation from both al-Qaeda and ISIS. A series of bombings on commercial airlines from a span of September 2004 to October 2015 resulted in a ban on laptops, tablets, and cellphones from eight Middle East countries.
Hoffman closed his lecture with skeptical remarks regarding the intentions and strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to prevent the War on Terrorism. When the International Security Assistance Force ended in 2014, Hoffman claimed that NATO’s training efforts were “piecemeal and sporadic.” Few NATO member states, additionally, meet the 2% spending limit of GDP on defense, not fully utilizing the resource.
Hoffman’s final comment to the audience was about the U.S. policy of outsourcing security in a time of constantly swinging politics and thoughts for the future on the country’s allies and the Taliban control of Afghanistan.
The lecture concluded with a question and answer session; the audience was given the chance to write questions on notecards and contribute to the discussion.