Foreign Policy Priorities:

The counterterrorism debate has shifted markedly in recent years in response to a spate of high-profile shootings in the United States and other Western countries, many of which were perpetrated by white supremacists. Protecting Americans from homegrown hate groups has become a priority for many policymakers. The growing number of mass shootings has led some to fault the country’s comparatively loose gun laws, which allow the possession of military-style weapons. Other candidates say that social media platforms, where incendiary content abounds, are partly to blame.

The view from the White House is quite different. President Donald J. Trump has routinely linked the terrorism threat to immigration and mental illness, and has argued that banning people from certain countries, deporting undocumented residents, and decreasing overall refugee numbers will protect America from criminals and terrorists.

Meanwhile, U.S. counterterrorism operations abroad have taken on new forms nearly two decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Under President Barack Obama, the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State led to the return of U.S. troops to Iraq and new missions in Syria in the midst of civil war there. At the same time, drone warfare has spread rapidly in places such as Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The ability to strike suspected terrorists from the air, often in places where the United States is not officially at war, has driven controversy over the limits of presidential war powers, the targeting of American citizens, and the civilian death toll. 

The Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has called for an end to “forever wars,” arguing that U.S. troop deployments have too often been counterproductive in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, Biden and other Democrats criticize Trump’s push to withdraw forces from various theaters as lacking a plan and leaving a vacuum that terrorist groups could once again fill.

More On Counterterrorism

United States

The United States is witnessing another year of record gun violence, raising domestic and international scrutiny of its comparatively loose gun laws and placing pressure on lawmakers to enact meaningful reforms.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

A new report from the Women and Foreign Policy program, launched this week, highlights the roles that women play in violent extremism—including as perpetrators, mitigators, and victims—and offers recommendations to better enlist their participation in efforts to combat radicalization.


The United States has been helping Somalia fight al-Shabab militants for more than a decade, but rights groups say increasing drone strikes are putting civilians at risk.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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