DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're looking to 2017 this week. And this morning, we turn to President-elect Donald Trump and what his strategy to confront terrorism may look like. Trump has said he will destroy ISIS, but that he wants to keep the details secret so as not to tip off the enemy. He has also said he's determined to take on the ideology of radical Islam. J.M. Berger, a fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, says that language worries him.
J M BERGER: Everything that we've heard from this administration and all the appointments he's made so far really point to sort of expanding the idea that the ideology of terrorism is the ideology of Islam and that's extremely counterproductive.
GREENE: Specifically, Berger says he's worried about the allies Trump may seek, like Russia's president Vladimir Putin. He says he could even see a day when Trump might be tempted to work with Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and I asked Berger about that.
Is there an argument that in desperate times, when many in the United States and Europe are seeing these awful attacks, that it's worth taking the risk to work with, you know, some potentially unsavory leaders in trying to defeat terrorists?
BERGER: Well, I mean, that - the ends versus means argument implies that you're going to reach the end by using the means and I don't think that's the case here. I think the Assad regime is responsible for a great deal of the influx of people and resources into global terrorism that we've seen over the last five, six years.
GREENE: I just think of, you know, these lone wolf attacks, they seem so easy. I mean, you don't need a gun or a bomb. You - as we saw in Berlin, you just need a truck. And there's been Orlando, there's been in San Bernardino, Calif., there was Nice in France. People in Western countries are afraid and many Americans seem to like Trump's tough talk. I mean, if you're saying his strategy is dangerous, what is the alternative that might reduce the frequency of these attacks?
BERGER: There are a lot of ways that we've been trying to approach this problem. I mean, the sad fact is is that in a world where a truck can become a weapon of mass destruction, there's not a huge amount you can do to stop that from happening sometimes. And partly what we've seen is that ISIS has been particularly effective in inspiring these kinds of attacks. What we've seen in Europe is that ISIS will use a terrorist cell to carry out an attack that resembles the profile of a lone wolf-style attack and then we'll see other people follow that. So that organizational attack, that networked attack inspires people to carry out attacks on their own in a more independent way.
GREENE: So if these attacks keep happening even if ISIS is losing territory, did Donald Trump have a point in saying that President Obama has not been a success and has been largely a failure in confronting ISIS?
BERGER: I don't think the Obama administration has - can claim a success in fighting ISIS or in fighting terrorism more broadly. If you ask me do I have the - like the genius idea that would have done it better than what they have done so far, I don't have it. What I fear is that the incoming administration is going to pour gasoline onto this fire. And it's also not just jihadist terrorism that's an issue here. What we've seen is that in the United States, domestic extremists have been greatly energized by the presidential campaign and a lot of the rhetoric that's coming out of here. And, you know, when we look at how the media environment works, if you have domestic extremists who are like anti-Muslim extremists who lash out, you're going to see reverberation on that.
GREENE: You know, a lot of Donald Trump's critics complain that he was painting an incredibly dark view of the world today. I mean, I'm just listening to you talk about that we might have to accept ISIS continuing to carry out attacks even if they're losing territory. Domestic terrorism might increase after this presidential campaign. You're saying that the Obama administration was not a success in fighting ISIS and that there might not be a way to end these attacks anytime soon. I mean, you seem to be painting a pretty - a dark world.
BERGER: Yes and no. I mean, my view of the world and prospects for the year ahead is much darker than it was a few months ago. I think that, you know, an important element of this is, how do we handle these attacks? You know, and this is cold comfort to a lot of people, but in the scale of things that are likely to kill you, terrorism is still very low. And, you know, what I think that the Obama administration has done successfully is sort of keep these attacks in perspective. And what I worry about is that the new administration may not do so. And the president of the United States has great power to set the terms under which we talk about these things. And if we set those terms in dystopian, alarming frames, then we're going to have to live in a dystopian, alarming world.
GREENE: Do you see an end to - in the fight against terrorism any time soon?
BERGER: If you're asking me whether I think people will be good, work out all their problems any time soon, no. I think that terrorism is, you know, a fact of life in this society in which we live. I think that if you look at the example of a group like the Ku Klux Klan, it's far from its peak but it's still out there. It still has recruits. It's still connected to attempts to violence. It's enjoying somewhat of a resurgence today. These ideas don't go away completely, but, you know, the question is whether we're going to let them dominate our public discourse.
GREENE: OK. J.M. Berger is a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague and also co-author of the book "ISIS: The State Of Terror." We really appreciate the time.
BERGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.