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Trump Counterterrorism Plan Drops Obama Climate Change Focus

White House buries strategy under Pence’s tough China address

National security adviser John Bolton rolled out a new counterterrorism plan Thursday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National security adviser John Bolton rolled out a new counterterrorism plan Thursday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has approved a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy, but it drops the Obama administration’s treatment of climate change as a driver of violent Islamic extremist groups.

Asked if the Trump plan identifies climate change as a destabilizing force in the Middle East that fuels extremist groups, national security adviser John Bolton replied: “I don’t think climate change is a cause of international terrorism.”

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In a December 2016 speech about his administration’s strategy for countering violent extremist groups, President Barack Obama included climate change as an ingredient that helps lead to terrorism.

“In too many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, there has been a breakdown of order that’s been building for decades, and it’s unleashed forces that are going to take a generation to resolve,” Obama said.

“Long-term corruption has rotted too many nation-states from within. Governance is collapsing. Sectarian conflicts rage. A changing climate is increasing competition for food and water,” Obama added. “And false prophets are peddling a vision of Islam that is irreconcilable with tolerance and modernity and basic science.”

Bolton also said the strategy is different from the Obama administration’s in another way: It clearly declares the United States is fighting a radical extremist ideology. Bolton called the new plan the first updated “conceptual framework” on combating terrorist groups since 2011.

The national security adviser noted Jordan’s King Abdullah II has called the radical Islamic extremist threat a “civil war” within that religion. “We see the threat spreading to other countries … where they’re more likely to carry on their terrorist activities,” he said, referring to an expansion beyond places like Iraq and Syria.

He also touted the strategy’s call for a tougher stance on Iran.

However, rolling out the strategy Thursday found counterterrorism competing with White House messaging on China.

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Bolton appeared in the White House briefing room to discuss the plan just a few hours after Vice President Mike Pence delivered a tough speech on China, warning the Asian giant is meddling in U.S. elections and trying to upend “America’s democracy.”

The Trump White House has had a messaging strategy issue since day one, with the president himself often drowning out his staff’s intended narrative on any given day.

One senior administration official recently acknowledged that the White House has a habit of “stepping on our own message.”

Just this week Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she sees no evidence of Chinese election meddling only to have Pence two days later deliver a major policy address saying any Russian election interference “pales in comparison” to an ongoing Chinese effort.

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