WaPo: ‘Counterinsurgency Campaign’ Against ‘Right-Wing Extremists’ Could Backfire


The Washington Post published an op-ed on Monday discussing the idea of launching a war-on-terror style campaign against domestic right-wing extremists and listing reasons why such a move may do more harm than good.

The essay, penned by journalist Khaled Diab, begins by quoting the reaction of Robert Grenier, a former CIA officer who once served as director of counterterrorism, to the early January Capitol riot. 

Grenier positively presented the war on terror as a template for action against domestic targets. He wrote in the New York Times:

We may be witnessing the dawn of a sustained wave of violent insurgency within our own country, perpetrated by our own countrymen. Three weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable that the United States might be a candidate for a comprehensive counterinsurgency program. But that is where we are.

Grenier also told NPR that “Just as I saw in the Middle East that the air went out of violent demonstrations when [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein . . . seemed to be defeated, I think the same situation applies here.” 

Diab then calls out the U.S. for “destructively” chasing the “phantom” of violent Islamism globally, while — until recently — ignoring the “greater threat” of “homegrown White and Christian extremism.” He writes:

After two decades of the United States futilely and destructively chasing the phantom of violent Islamism across the globe, it is welcome to see Americans finally waking up to the greater threat to their security and well-being posed by homegrown White and Christian extremism — which I, like others, have been warning about for many years.

However, Diab finds the notion of deploying “catastrophic” overseas practices domestically to be an error:

But the idea that the practices the United States has pursued in the Middle East for 20 years should now be deployed domestically fills me with a chilling sense of unease and trepidation. The United States could be on the brink of committing similar catastrophic errors at home as it did abroad.

Diab presents several reasons for his opposition to the use of counterinsurgency tactics, the first being that a domestic war-on-terror would be extremely expensive and inevitably lead to more violence and human rights abuses.

“U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq cost trillions of dollars, which could have been far more productively invested in nation-building at home, and it cost those countries untold thousands of civilian lives, unleashed endless conflict, and accelerated or deepened state collapse,” he wrote. 

“It also led to broad human rights abuses — epitomized by the Guantánamo Bay detention camp — and the massive growth of the surveillance state.”

Diab also suggests that the use of militarized tactics at home could likely be counterproductive.

“[T]he U.S. invasion and subsequent counterinsurgency operations in Iraq fueled the rise of violent jihadism in a country that had previously not known it,” he wrote. 

“If the United States were to use similarly militarized tactics at home, even if toned down compared with the heavy firepower mobilized abroad, it could turn an already bad situation into an outright catastrophe.”

Though admitting that the U.S. is not currently in the midst of an actual insurgency, Diab believes that could easily change in an instant.

“America is sitting on a ticking bomb: perceived conservative grievances, a white supremacist movement with a serious inferiority and persecution complex, and right-wing gun owners with enough firepower to invade a medium-size country, including increasingly radical gun groups and militias,” he writes.

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