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Alexander Hamilton Society to host debate on anti-terrorism policy

Matthew Kroenig is set to debate terrorism policy at Ohio State on Jan. 19. Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Kroenig

The Alexander Hamilton Society will host its inaugural Spring Semester event on Thursday in the form of a policy debate about how to combat terrorism both at home and abroad.

The debate will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Moritz College of Law and feature the stances of Matthew Kroenig, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Department of Government and School of Foreign Service, and Jason Keiber, an assistant professor in the departments of history and political science at Otterbein University. Peter Mansoor, a professor in the OSU Department of History, will moderate.

Martin Lopez, a fourth-year in political science and the president of the Alexander Hamilton Society, said the speakers were chosen with careful consideration of their backgrounds and the perspectives they could offer.

“It’s important to provide these different points of view because, frankly, on a college campus you don’t get a more center-right perspective often or, not even that, but something different than the general, homogenized viewpoint or viewpoints,” Lopez said. “So in Dr. Kroenig and Dr. Keiber, we think they will have different points of view on terrorism, and that was an important thing to provide the campus and the student audience for.”

Kroenig said he will be taking the position that the United States should move toward deterring terrorist attacks from even occurring rather than hunting down individual terrorists and terrorist organizations.

“I think that there are things that the U.S. is doing, but plenty more that the U.S. could be doing to basically shape the incentive structure that operates on terrorists and terrorist groups to try and discourage them from carrying out attacks in the first place,” Kroenig said. “Obviously, it’s much easier to deal with terrorism if you can convince people it’s not worth it rather than try to physically stop and respond to every attack.”

Keiber, meanwhile, will be arguing that the U.S. needs to examine the underlying reasons that individuals and groups engage in terrorism in the first place.

“There are deeper reasons why people decide to get together and choose to engage in terrorism campaigns,” Keiber said in an email. “The U.S. needs to do a better job of understanding these reasons — which might include poor economic opportunities and sclerotic, ineffective governments — and look for opportunities to help address these conditions. Pursuing these other more pacific pathways would be a welcome change in the Middle East in particular.”

While their positions initially appear similar, operating from the idea that deterring terrorism is the ideal approach, Keiber and Kroenig differ in their opinions on lethal military force.

“I think that there are many things that can be done to deter people from going down this route (of terrorism), and I think, most importantly, is actually defeating the Islamic State and taking territory in the Middle East,” Kroenig said.

He explained that individuals are inclined to join ISIS because of its appearance of strength. In making it appear weak, Kroenig said he believes the U.S. can prevent attacks, particularly from lone actors inspired by the group’s propaganda.

“The Islamic State is seen as successful, and so it’s the Islamic State now that is inspiring people to conduct these attacks and so I think that defeating the Islamic State, making it clear that the Islamic State is losing, that it’s going to lose, may be the single most important thing that the United States can do,” Kroenig said.

Keiber, while stating that he isn’t against using military strength against the organization, said he thinks there are better approaches to the problem.

“The U.S. has a favorite tool in its toolbox — lethal military force. I am skeptical that this is sufficient to address the problem of organized international terrorism,” Keiber said. “I am fine with using military power to degrade (ISIS’s) capabilities. But I would still maintain that the U.S. should pursue a parallel strategy of looking at the underlying conditions that make ISIS seem like an attractive proposition for some.”

The debate comes following the Nov. 28 attack on the OSU campus by Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a third-year in logistics management, which at this time has not been confirmed as an act of terrorism by the FBI. The FBI has, however, said that Artan might have been inspired by ISIS, or the now-deceased al Qaeda-linked terrorist Anwar al Awlaki.

Lopez said the event was planned well before the attack, but that the speakers will remain conscientious of the heightened emotions surrounding the topic.

“My condolences to the victims of the terrible attack, it’s a tragedy, and I often think about these events in strategic terms, but for people directly affected it’s a much more personal and emotional issue,” Kroenig said.

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