Rebecca Schantz / The Dartmouth
Drawing on his foreign policy expertise, Benjamin spoke about past, present and future terror threats to the United States.
President Barack Obama's administration is pursuing different counterterrorism policies than those in place when he first took office, and counterterrorism policies are dynamic, Benjamin said.
"The most dangerous threats have actually receded and the new ones that are emerging may yet become more dangerous," he said. "We certainly should not be complacent about them, but right now I think we're in a considerably better place than we were four years ago."
The Obama administration is currently focusing on providing foreign assistance to prevent terrorism as a possible strategic alternative to military intervention or intelligence operations. In order to ensure future success in counterterrorism efforts, public and bipartisan agreement on policy emphasizing foreign assistance is necessary. While the executive branch agrees with this strategy, Congress and the public are still not completely on board and further discussion is needed, Benjamin said.
"Terrorism, I think as most of you understand, is not going away," Benjamin said. "The question really is whether we can manage it so that it is contained and so that those catastrophic high-end threats that we most fear are not possible to those who try to harm us."
Under Clinton, Benjamin investigated Iran's involvement in a plan to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C. While foreign diplomats and media outlets initially believed Iran's involvement to be unlikely, uncovered evidence and a confession from the alleged assassin proved otherwise.
Benjamin also advised Clinton during the Arab Spring. Continued engagement, strategic patience and focus on long-term objectives are key in dealing with the region, despite setbacks as horrifying as the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Diplomatic engagement is an important tool in the process, which should go beyond just military intervention and intelligence work, he said.
"We greeted the revolutionary events of the last two years with belief that the turn to democracy and accountable government would ultimately deflate extremism and marginalize its advocates, and while there are plenty of people who believe it is not likely to happen, I still strongly believe that logic remains valid and we need to see these transformations through," he said.
The current instability in Syria, which borders Israel and Turkey and is in close proximity to Europe, poses an especially potent threat, Benjamin said.
Benjamin was well-informed on security issues and conveyed his expertise in the lecture, Josh Tupler '16 said.
"I was particularly impressed by his specific knowledge of policy implementation and real-world strategies to combat terrorism," Tupler said.
Although he found the lecture interesting, Justin Roshak '15 said he was disappointed at how little Benjamin could say about some of the issues he addressed. But despite his lack of detail, Benjamin made counterterrorism, a complicated subject, understandable, Roshak said.
Benjamin hopes students gained "more curiosity, more interest in the subject and just a sense of the general issues, so food for further thought," he said in an interview.
Benjamin began his post as head of the Dickey Center on Jan. 1, and was selected for the position last May, replacing former director Kenneth Yalowitz.
He said he has enjoyed being part of the Dartmouth community.
"People are incredibly friendly," Benjamin said. "They seem to be quite interested in what I've been doing. Everyone wants to help and people are quite positive about what the Dickey Center is already, so it's great to know that I've got a great base to work on."
Benjamin's lecture was titled "Fighting Terror: New Challenges and Evolving Strategies in the Second Obama Term."