“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” goes the famous 19th-century epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The same might be said about both the new and ongoing terrorist threats President-elect Joe Biden and his incoming administration faces as it attempts to fashion an effective counterterrorism strategy.
Four years ago, an analysis assessing these same dangers for newly elected President Donald J. Trump identified three main challenges:
- The fact that the Islamic State had fundamentally changed the global terrorist landscape during its brief incarnation as a self-proclaimed “State” and that, regardless of its then-imminent defeat, the threat it posed would not disappear;
- That al-Qa`ida, despite its prolonged quiescence, had taken advantage of the global coalition’s preoccupation with the Islamic State and was therefore quietly rebuilding and marshaling its resources to carry on the struggle against the United States; and,
- That America’s adversaries had deliberately enmeshed us in a debilitating war of attrition that we lacked an effective strategy to counter, much less defeat.1
That this assessment should have proven prescient and retained its relevance is testament to the highly parlous situation in which the United States again today finds itself—with the same international terrorism threats continuing unabated, but now joined by a salient and profoundly unsettling domestic dimension.