President-elect Donald Trump’s visit to Ohio State University last week is to be commended. He won’t just be commander-in-chief. Inherent in the president’s responsibilities is the need to play comforter-in-chief when the nation needs healing. His meeting with the victims of the knife-wielding OSU attacker suggests that Trump understands his new office’s “soft power” to unite the nation at difficult times.
That same appreciation for soft power is critical for one of Trump’s newest Cabinet appointees: Marine Gen. John Kelly. The Trump transition team announced Wednesday that Kelly will head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the massive agency created after 9/11 to thwart attacks within our borders.
Trump’s Ohio visit underscored one of the most serious threats Kelly’s agency must contend with: the brazen online recruitment of young people by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other terrorist groups. The OSU attacker was a Somali refugee who “self-radicalized,” according to authorities. The recent sentencing of nine Minnesota Somali-Americans who fell prey to recruiters further illustrates the power of this online propaganda.
Combating recruiting requires multiple strategies. As Kelly takes over, he should reach out swiftly to Minnesotans in law enforcement, private nonprofits, religious leadership, and local and state government who are ramping up efforts to build a Somali-American community here resilient enough to withstand recruiters’ dangerous calls.
The state is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Somali-Americans. What leaders here will tell Kelly is that interdiction, such as stopping recruits at the airport, isn’t enough. A preventive approach must be part of this mix. Young people who have a bright future and feel connected to their new home are less likely to fall prey to recruiters.
Under the Obama administration, DHS had begun the arduous work of implementing what’s known in policy circles as “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE. This soft-power approach, which Kelly should support and strengthen, seeks to build a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, local government and law enforcement to aid at-risk communities. A recent report from a DHS advisory panel confirms what a Star Tribune editorial series has argued this year: that these partnerships are a critical part of the nation’s anti-terror strategy and that progress in building them is lagging.
DHS doesn’t even catalog the various CVE efforts underway across the country to identify what is working and where there are gaps. Nor is there a central office to coordinate offers by businesses that want to share expertise. The report confirms another key point in the series: These efforts are shockingly underfunded. The council recommended $100 million annually. So far, Congress has approved just $10 million for 2016.
Kelly ought to consider another important recommendation in the report. The advisory council, which included a retired Marine General and a National Football League executive, said tone matters. “We must speak with honor and respect about all communities within the United States,’’ the committee said. This is not a matter of being “politically correct” — a criticism recently lobbed at current policies by U.S. House Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas. It’s about making sure that semantic noise doesn’t drown out anti-jihad messages in at-risk communities.
Kelly, McCaul and other congressional leaders in key security posts should consider this editorial a standing invitation to visit Minnesota. The state has two Somali-Americans in high-profile public offices. A local nonprofit, Ka Joog, is pioneering after-school educational activities. Private philanthropy and employers are helping launch a new jobs center. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger have won accolades for their outreach. Minnesotans are already hard at work on this national-security challenge. Their CVE expertise ought to be heard and heeded.