Former Pentagon Official Talks U.S. Counterterrorism Policy

Davey Sullivan ‘22

News Editor

On Monday, Feb. 10, The Alexander Hamilton Society at the College of Holy Cross hosted a talk by Dr. Michael Rubin, PhD titled “U.S. Counterterrorism Policy in the Middle East: How Much Engagement is Necessary?” in Rehm Library. Dr. Michael Rubin is currently a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank headquartered in Washington, DC. Previous to this experience, Dr. Rubin worked at the Pentagon in the office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as working at many universities both in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

Dr. Rubin spoke on many points about the nature of terrorism not only in the Middle East, but globally. One of the major issues that is faced on the global stage is that there is no globally accepted definition of terrorism. Many states decree that terrorism is bad, unless it is done under circumstances that the state happens to agree with. This poses a challenge of erradicating global terrorism when there is discord about what it means. Dr. Rubin asserted that a potential solution for this issue is for the U.S. to give counterterrorism assistance to countries only when a definition that the U.S. sets is agreed to. 

Photo by Kim Fetherston ’22
Former Pentagon official Dr. Michael Rubin speaks in Rehm Library.

Additionally, Dr. Rubin noted that there is another problem with dealing with terrorism on the global stage. He said that there are two ways of assessing terrorism: terrorism in grievance and terrorism for idelogy. They are very different and call for differing ways of dealing with them. Dealing with grievances is simpler; dealing with radicalized ideologies is difficult when the Qur’an is followed too literally, for example. 

Following the talk, Dr. Rubin took questions from the audience. The questions ranged from the ethical use of drones, to the U.S. Policy with Turkey, to the different ways that the Qur’an is interpreted. 

Dr. Rubin himself commented to the Spire about the major takeaway from his talk: “Only a fool thinks there is a magic formula that will resolve all the problems in the world, and therefore, when you look at any of these intractable problems, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong, because if there were solutions to these problems they would have been found.  Rather, when you consider when it’s in Congress, whether it’s in the State Department, whether it’s in the intelligence community, many of the people making decisions and grappling with this are in their 20s, so Holy Cross students should join the debate by writing, by arguing, or by eventually joining government think tanks or other academic institutions. It would be sad if students felt that they couldn’t have their voices heard and therefore they didn’t try.”

Dr. Clayton Cleveland, Assistant Professor of Political Science here at Holy Cross was in attendance at the talk. He commented to the Spire, “Holy Cross students should take away that countering terrorism and promoting the national interest involves understanding a complicated set of interrelated problems. Dr. Rubin showed us that there is not a magical silver bullet that can solve the problem of terrorism and that complicated problems require nuanced solutions. This suggests that Holy Cross students should read widely, discuss current and historical events and contexts with lots of people and prepare for the challenges facing our country by examining multiple approaches to the role of the U.S. involvement with the rest of the world.”

The Alexander Hamilton Society is a non-partisan student organization that promotes foreign policy initiatives through promoting events and discussion on campus. Katie Romaine, Chapter Secretary of the Alexander Hamilton Society at Holy Cross, commented to the Spire that the Alexander Hamilton Society will be having another speaker on campus later this semester.

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