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Orlando Shooting and Its Implications for US Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Jun 30 , 2016
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

On June 12, an American-born gunman named Omar Mateen, whose parents are Afghan immigrants, killed 49 people and injured 53 others at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It has become the most serious mass killing the United States suffered since the 9/11 incident. The gunman declared allegiance to the militant group Islamic State, which indicates the attack was an act of terrorism. President Obama condemned it as “the brutal murder — a horrific massacre”, “an act of terror and an act of hate” and defined it as an example of “homegrown extremism”.

Faced with repeated homegrown terrorist attacks, the United States needs a comprehensive security strategy to deal with it.

First, in terms of security in society, the US government should realize the importance of strict gun control. It is an impossible mission to completely ban guns in the US. It is feasible, however, to take some concrete measures to control gun’s sales, such as more rigorous security background checks on buyers, including their mental status, and bans on the sale of assault rifles.

Second and more critically, the US needs to break through the limitations of partisan politics, coordinate a stance on gun control policies and take decisive actions. In the case of Orlando shooting, it highlighted the partisan differences in American politics once again. The Democrats called for stricter gun control measures and tried to pass legislation in Congress, while the Republicans still opposed. In fact, because of the strong opposition from Republicans, President Obama felt he had no choice but to issue an executive order on gun-control policy earlier this year. From this perspective, the partisan polarization has paralyzed American politics, which makes controversial issues such as gun control and immigration policy reform difficult to make progress solving.

Third, the United States needs to strengthen social integration and promote the unity of different religions and ethnic groups. In the mass shooting cases in San Bernardino, Calif. last year and in Orlando recently, the attackers are influenced and driven by extremist ideology. Moreover, they are all Muslims, which prompts the American public to construct a linkage between the terrorism and the Muslims. Although President Obama handled the relationship very carefully and refused to use the words like “Islamic extremism” or “radical Islam” in his speech, some politicians have been continuously agitating about the threat of “radical Islam” for political purpose. After the shooting, Trump made a speech said that Obama “disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘Radical Islam’” and “should step down”. If Hillary Clinton did not say the two words, she “should get out of this race for the Presidency.” He also called for a ban on immigrants from any area of the world with a history of terrorist attacks against the United States, especially Muslim immigrants. Trump said in a speech in New Hampshire that “admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to vet them” could be “a better, bigger, more horrible version than the legendary Trojan Horse ever was”. In addition, Trump also called for mosque surveillance.

As the presumptive Republican nominee, Trump’s words could make the US-Islamic countries relations very tense, and possibly lead to the panic in the US Muslim community, causing a certain degree of social separation. It is worth mentioning that Hillary Clinton retreated from her position when facing pressure from her Republican rival. She said on CNN that “Whether you call it radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either.” Thus, these terrorist attacks also show the social integration and cultural assimilation, which is indispensable for a sustainable national security strategy, have become the urgent and arduous tasks in the United States.

Finally, the US should make adjustments in its counter-terrorism strategies and policies. On the one hand, the United States should further improve its capabilities in gathering, analyzing and processing intelligence, strengthening coordination and cooperation between the intelligence teams and security services. On the day of his rampage, Omar Mateen posted messages on Facebook pledging allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State and vowing that there would be more attacks in the coming days by the group in the United States. Unfortunately, the information did not arouse much attention. In fact, Omar Mateen had been investigated by the FBI twice, in 2013 and 2014. For a person like him, when he published the threatening remarks the US intelligence and security services should have been alert and taken appropriate monitoring measures.

On the other hand, the United States needs to make its anti-terrorism strategy objectives clearer. That is to say, the US should not hold double standards in the fight against terrorism, which sets up the obstacles for international cooperation against terrorism. It should not pursue regime-change policy in the name of anti-terrorism, which could lead to disorder and instability in the affected regions. As a result, it has created the conditions for extremism and terrorism. If so, the United States counter-terrorism strategy would face a dilemma of one rival being defeated and another one rising. It can be proved by history: US have clearly contributed to the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Obviously, the grim situation of terrorism facing the United States can attributed to many factors, such as the diffusion of international terrorists and the diverse propaganda ways of extremist ideology. But it is also closely related to the overall counter-terrorism strategies pursued by the United States. The US should have a clear understanding on this point.

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