Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka told an Israeli audience that America is losing the war on terrorism, even as it helps sweep ISIS out of Iraq and Syria.
In a keynote address Monday to the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, the former counter-terrorism advisor to President Donald Trump, who recently left the White House amid controversy, criticized the last three administrations, including Trump’s. All of them, he said, citing the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations by name, featured an “unnaturally buoyant emphasis on the kinetic aspects” of counter-terrorism while neglecting the “war of ideas.”
Thanks to America’s overwhelming technological capabilities, said Gorka, “If you’re a terrorist we’ll find you and kill you. But so what? What does this mean? Using body bags as a metric for victory was a bad idea in Vietnam, and it’s a bad idea now….If you kill one terrorist early in the week, by Friday you’ll have 50 volunteers to replace him.”
Instead, said Gorka, it’s far more effective “to identify the individuals who never pull a trigger but have 200,000 followers on Twitter, the one who’s telling others to pick up the gun. You neutralize that one person, and you’ve stopped the indoctrination of thousands of others.”
Gorka acknowledged that this was a “challenge because our nation is founded on the First Amendment. But it’s no longer enough to say we’re not going to take that jihadi’s video down, we’re just going to put it behind a screen.”
In his address, Gorka did not cite any particular ideas for countering jihadi ideology with Western ideas about democracy and religious, ethnic and ideological pluralism. Nor did he discuss the possible impact that Trump administration policies might have on this war of ideas, such as its effort to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
But he said that in the administration’s upcoming directives on national security and counter-terrorism, “I want to see robust ideas for counter-propaganda.”
The invitation to Gorka to appear before IDC’s prestigious annual conference on counter-terrorism had been controversial due in part to his past ties to and support for far-right anti-Semitic and racist forces in Hungary before he immigrated to America in 2008. His credentials as a credible expert on counter-terrorism have also come under repeated fire by figures in the field who have examined his dissertation and commented on his views. Gorka did not directly address these issues in his speech, which passed without incident.
Larry Cohler-Esses is the Forward’s senior investigative writer. He joined the staff in December 2008. Previously, he served as Editor-at-Large for the Jewish Week, an investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, and as a staff writer for the Jewish Week as well as the Washington Jewish Week. Larry has written extensively on the Arab-Jewish relations both in the United States and the Middle East. His articles have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists, the Religious Newswriters Association, the New York Press Association and the Rockower Awards for Jewish Journalism, among others. Larry Cohler-Esses can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.