Fighting Terrorism from Afar
Newsweek|September 03, 2021
Can Joe Biden’s ‘over-the-horizon’ strategy in Afghanistan keep America safe? Defense experts are skeptical
BILL POWELL

WITHIN THE BIDEN WHITE HOUSE, AND IN corners of the U.S. military and intelligence bureaucracy, it is the phrase of the moment: “over the horizon.”

The expression refers to efforts to counter terrorism from afar, without troops on the ground, and it has been in the defense lexicon dating back to the Cold War. The appeal is obvious: When dealing with threats like Al-Qaeda or like-minded terrorist groups, why bother with dangerous, forward deployed missions in unstable places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or North Africa, when you can launch a Tomahawk missile from somewhere in the Arabian Sea and be done with it? “Over the horizon,” to Joe Biden, means the end of “endless wars.” You can hit the enemy from above, and from far away. Thus, we can bug out of Afghanistan and not worry about it.

Biden has used the phrase before in reference to Afghanistan; so have Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley. The latest iteration came during the president’s August 16 speech following the fall of the Afghan capital of Kabul to the Taliban. Trying to reassure the nation that pulling U.S. forces out of the country would not interfere with the critical objective of preventing a terrorist attack on American soil, Biden said, “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.”

The problem: While the strategy is politically popular among a war-weary public, in defense and intelligence circles in Washington, and among U.S. allies, “over the horizon” is a deeply controversial— and mostly unpopular—concept.

To understand why, think back to the 1990s. After Al-Qaeda’s twin attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, then-President Bill Clinton ordered the launch of Tomahawk missile strikes into Afghanistan and Sudan, trying to hit the terrorist group’s training bases and take out Osama Bin Laden. The target was missed, taking out a pharmaceutical factory in the process. Back then, points out Bradley Bowman, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and now senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, “over the horizon” became a pejorative. It was the definition of what smart counterterrorism wasn’t.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEWSWEEKView All

What Have We Learned?

We will never forget 9/11. But a more interesting question at the 20th anniversary is, what should we remember—or more...

10+ mins read
Newsweek
September 17, 2021

Lost in the Shouting

In the school board battles across the country over race, the voices of Black parents talking about what their kids actually experience are often drowned out

9 mins read
Newsweek
September 17, 2021

From Out of Violence

Three U.S. Paralympians talk about perseverance and triumph

6 mins read
Newsweek
September 17, 2021

How to Be a Work Rebel

Got a contrarian streak in you? Harvard’s Francesca Gino shares the right way to be an unconventional leader

3 mins read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

The Archives

REWIND

1 min read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

Was ‘Chaos-istan' Inevitable?

How Biden's influence during the Obama administration had long-lasting effects

8 mins read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

Biden's Benghazi Moment

How the deadly Kabul AIRPORT ATTACK and bungled Afghanistan pullout could HAUNT HIS PRESIDENCY–and cost him the midterms.

8 mins read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

Are Vaccine Mandates Justifiable?

Some call them reasonable public health measures, while others say they are an un-American invasion of privacy

6 mins read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

The Kids Are Alright

SCIENTISTS HAVE FOUND A SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE CURE FOR THE POST-PANDEMIC BLUES — FOR CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS

10+ mins read
Newsweek
September 03, 2021

Fighting Terrorism from Afar

Can Joe Biden’s ‘over-the-horizon’ strategy in Afghanistan keep America safe? Defense experts are skeptical

6 mins read
Newsweek
September 03, 2021
RELATED STORIES

RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNERSHIP IS A LIE

How to convince Americans that firearms won’t make them safer

10 mins read
The Atlantic
October 2021

PLAN Z FOR IMMIGRATION

“A moral failing and a national shame.”

6 mins read
The Atlantic
October 2021

WHEN TO STOP Parenting

DR. ICHAK ADIZES explores some aspects of parenting, in particular when to let go of the role, and how to develop mutual trust and respect between parents and children. He also extrapolates his ideas to succession planning in organizations, so as to enable growth and continuous improvement.

2 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
September 2021

El ataque terrorista que cambió el mundo

Este mes se cumplen 20 años del mayor atentado terrorista en la historia de Estados Unidos, que sacudió por completo la idea de seguridad global.

6 mins read
Muy Interesante México
Septiembre 2021

Mistakes Were Made: 9/11 At 20

We should also acknowledge that a pervasive question after 9/11—“Why do they hate us?”—was the wrong question.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
August 30 - September 12, 2021

International Perspectives

Compositions from across the globe feature major design principles that captivate viewers and communicate inspirations.

9 mins read
American Art Collector
August 2021

Ashton Robinson Cook - Meteorologist

Ashton Robinson Cook always knows when a tornado, hurricane, or winter storm is coming. It’s his job to know. As a meteorologist, he analyzes weather data to figure out where and when storms are likely to hit. Typical weather forecasting tools can look only up to a week ahead. But Cook has developed software called WeatherDeep that can make predictions up to two months in advance. Cook was the first African American man to earn a PhD in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma and also earned the 2017 American Association of State Climatologists (AASC) Dissertation Award for his research on tornadoes.

3 mins read
Muse Science Magazine for Kids
July/August 2021

NEFARIOUS JAMES

RESPECT & HONOR STARTS AT HOME

3 mins read
Born To Ride Southeast Magazine
August 2021

DO WE REALLY NEED NEW ANTI-ASIAN HATE CRIME LAWS?

A HOLISTIC LOOK AT THE DATA SHATTERS THE NARRATIVE ABOUT BIAS-BASED VIOLENCE.

10+ mins read
Reason magazine
October 2021

EVERYTHING IS INFRASTRUCTURE NOW

HOW SPENDING GOT OUT OF CONTROL AND WORDS LOST THEIR MEANING

10+ mins read
Reason magazine
October 2021