A long-delayed State Department assessment of Joe Biden's disastrous first year as president, which by law should have been released by April 30, 2022, finally came out quietly in the evening of Feb. 27, 2023, egregiously tardy and not worth the wait.
One can sympathize with the authors of The Country Reports on Terrorism 2021. After all, how to explain such policy calamities as the restoration of U.S. payments to the vile Palestinian Authority, the willful blindness of appeasing Iran in the hopes of reviving the failed JCPOA, and especially the fiasco of the Afghanistan withdrawal?
It's clear that the delay was not caused by a search for competent fiction writers to explain the missteps in glowing terms (Ben Rhodes must be busy). Rather, the disasters are mostly ignored and the Biden-Democrat obsession with domestic enemies is shoe-horned into places it does not belong.
The document begins with a foreword that hails, "a new era of counterterrorism, one increasingly rooted in diplomacy, partner capacity building, and prevention, and recognizing successful counterterrorism efforts require use of the full range of counterterrorism tools and a whole-of government and whole-of-society counterterrorism approach."
This boilerplate is followed with a curious boast that in 2021, "The United States released its first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which includes a focus on transnational Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism (REMVE)."
The Country Reports on Terrorism, a product of the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism, is not supposed to report on the United States but rather on foreign nations. But the Biden administration, which for two years has prioritized domestic terrorism over international terrorism and sometimes conflated the two, is now trying to make U.S. domestic policy a foreign matter. It does so by announcing a "partnership with the United Kingdom and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), launch[ing] the first-ever criminal justice practitioner's guide on countering REMVE." Likewise, "partnering with Norway, [the U.S.] also launched a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) effort to develop a GCTF REMVE Toolkit for policymakers and practitioners that will build on the IIJ's REMVE guide."
Just Like Old Times
The section titled "Israel, West Bank, Gaza" shows that the State Department is back to its fantasies about the trustworthy and righteous Palestinian Authority and demonstrating its overt hostility to Israel.
Among the curious praise for the former, the CRT asserts that, "PA security forces and the IDF continued counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts in parts of the West Bank, where U.S.-designated FTOs such as Hamas, PIJ, and the PFLP operated. PA security forces constrained the ability of those organizations to conduct attacks, including arresting Hamas members." This is false. The PA only constrains Hamas, PIJ, and the PFLP from attacking the PA – and it barely does that.
The document strains credulity when it claims that, "PA security forces continue to proactively arrest individuals planning attacks against Israeli targets or those suspected of supporting terrorist organizations, and continue to arrest Palestinians wanted for weapons smuggling or illegal weapons possession."
Malarkey, as Joe Biden might say. It does exactly the opposite, inciting murder, fomenting violence, and then paying those who carry out the violence. Even its educational system is designed to incite violence against Israelis.
Whereas the Palestinian Authority is whitewashed in the report, Israel is condemned. For instance, it cites unnamed "Israeli human rights organizations and media reports" to assert that "Israeli settlers living in the West Bank committed a variety of physical attacks, property damage, and 'nationalistic' crimes against Palestinians." Calling these alleged crimes "nationalistic" demonstrates the State Department's deference to Palestinian nationalism and hostility to Israeli nationalism.
Even the brief bit of praise for Israel drives home the Biden agenda: "Israeli National Police and the Ministry of Defense announced a series of measures, including reform of the police unit responsible for handling far-right violent extremism in the West Bank." Apparently no one at the State Department thought it odd that the Bureau of Counterterrorism now prioritizes "Israeli settler terrorism" in a land teeming with terrorist groups – Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the PLO, Hamas, the PFLP, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Tanzim, Force 17 (need I continue?).
Citing the ever-reliable "UN monitors," the report counts "496 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, including 370 attacks that resulted in property damage, and 126 attacks that resulted in casualties, three of which were fatal." There are three paragraphs describing so called Israeli "settler attacks" against Palestinians but only a single sentence on the 4,000+ missiles that Hamas fired at Israel in May 2021, and no mention of the incredible restraint that Israel showed in "Operation Guardian of the Walls."
The State Department faults Israel alone for any violence between Israelis and Palestinians, claiming that "Israeli security personnel often did not prevent settler attacks and rarely detained or charged perpetrators of settler violence," yet it barely mentions the PA's pay-to-slay program and the Biden administration's reneging on the Taylor Force Act by continuing to fund the killers of Israelis and Americans.
Curiously, the "Middle East and North Africa" section does not have a sub-section devoted to Iran (unlike Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, West Bank, and Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen). However, Iranian-funded terrorism is covered in the foreword and in the second chapter on "State Sponsors of Terrorism" alongside Cuba, North Korea, and Syria where the Islamic Republic is depicted as the prime source of terrorism throughout the world. So why then did the Biden administration spend most of 2021 sending Robert Malley on a fool's errand to revive the feckless JCPOA?
Surely the most anticipated part of the document is the assessment of the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there is neither explanation nor assessment, merely a dry and lifeless recitation of some facts and indications of more bad decisions in the future.
For instance, the report states three times, (protesting too much?) that, "The United States has not made a decision to recognize the Taliban or another entity as the Government of Afghanistan but has pressed the Taliban to uphold their counterterrorism commitments under the 2020 U.S.-Taliban Agreement (the 'Doha Agreement')." I take this as a sign that the Biden administration plans to recognize the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan.
The report emphasizes that "No country expressly took a decision to recognize the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan," but this too is disingenuous. Qatar has recognized the Taliban since the Obama presidency and even gave it offices from which to conduct negotiations with the United States. And at least nine other nations, according to the Voice of America, have already "allowed the Taliban to appoint staff to and manage Afghan diplomatic missions in their respective territories ... includ[ing] Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan."
On the same day the CRT was released, Iran handed the Afghanistan embassy in Tehran to the Taliban.
Among the considerable Taliban whitewashing efforts is applause for having "repeatedly committed publicly to meet their Doha Agreement commitments to prevent any group or individual from using Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies."
It doesn't have to mention that the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was living in Kabul when he was killed by a Ginsu-missile because that happened in 2022, but this act of both omission and commission flies in the face of what everyone at the Bureau of Counterterrorism knows. In fact, in the State Department's Aug. 1, 2022 press release announcing Zawahiri's death, Antony Blinken noted that, "By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qa'ida in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries."
It will be interesting to see how the Bureau excuses the Taliban for hosting Zawahiri in next year's report, which is due in two months. If the State Department delays continue to grow longer, that report might be out in time for the 2024 presidential election. Or maybe it won't.
Anyone expecting a mea culpa or even a modicum of introspection about the failed pull-out of Afghanistan will be disappointed. In fact, it is referred to as "the Taliban takeover" when it should be called "the Taliban handover."
There is a reference to "U.S.-led evacuation operations," during which "an ISIS-K suicide bomber attacked the Kabul airport, killing 13 U.S. servicemembers and more than 170 Afghan civilians," but of course there is no mention of the botched "over the horizon" drone attack response that killed only innocent people, or of the baffling decision to abandon Bagram Air Base in the dead of night, or of the billions of dollars of war materiel left behind for the taking.
The report notes that "there was no notable counterterrorism cooperation between the Taliban and international, multilateral, or regional organizations during the reporting period" as though that were an option, and it assures us that, unlike Biden's approach to the Palestinian Authority, "The United States discontinued funding of counterterrorism support following the Taliban takeover."
The State Department has a long sordid record of hostility to Israel and advocacy for Arab, and especially Palestinian, nationalism. Under John Kerry, it courted Iran like an unrequited lover. Not too long ago when Nathan Sales ran the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Mike Pompeo was Secretary of State, things were changing for the better. The fantasies of a peaceful Palestinian state living side-by-side Israel had subsided, and our Iranian policy had gone from naïve appeasement to maximum pressure. But now, with Christopher A. Landberg running the Bureau and Antony Blinken as Secretary, the State Department has reverted to its default anti-Israel bias, only worse with the unwelcome insertion of Biden's domestic agenda where it does not belong.
Like Joe Biden himself, The Country Reports on Terrorism 2021 is late, muddled, and confused. It exaggerates right-wing, domestic extremism in America and throughout the world, while turning a blind eye to more pressing dangers and capable foes. There must be celebrations in Tehran, Ramallah, and Kabul.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.