The U.S. military made impressive gains on the battlefield and covertly in countering Islamist terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the military and government at large so far have failed to strike the religiously motivated ideology behind al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.
That’s the conclusion of a new book, “Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies From Communism to Islamism, by a group of specialists urging the U.S. government to apply the lessons of the Cold War defeat of the Soviet Union to Islamist terrorism.
One of the authors, irregular warfare specialist Sebastian L. Gorka, stated that the United States in the past 10 years successfully degraded al Qaeda’s ability to inflict harm on the United States. However, he writes,”al Qaeda has become even more powerful in the domain of ideological warfare and other indirect forms of attack.”
The problem for the U.S. government is “political correctness” toward Islam that has the prevented accurate identification of the enemy’s threat doctrine. For example, the Obama administration’s insistence on calling the Fort Hood, Texas, terrorist attack by Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan “workplace violence” is crippling efforts to strike at the ideology Mr. Gorka calls “global jihadism” – defined as both the violent and nonviolent theory and practice of imposing Islamic supremacy globally.
“Although we have proven our capacity in the last 10 years kinetically to engage our enemy at the operational and tactical level with unsurpassed effectiveness, we have not even begun to take the war to al Qaeda at the strategic level of counter-ideology, to attack it at its heart – the ideology of global jihad,” he states.
Mr. Gorka notes that during the Cold War, it took several decades to fully understand the Soviet threat before U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan in 1946 wrote his “Long Telegram” from Moscow, where he was serving as deputy chief of mission. The missive became the strategy of containment and led to the eventual downfall of the communist empire in 1991.
Similarly, Islamic jihadism presents a similar totalitarian threat and must be countered ideologically. First, the nature of the terrorist threat must be clearly understood and then defeated with Cold War-style information and ideological warfare.
The administration has added to the confusion by refusing to identify the Islamic nature of the current war on terrorism.
Patrick Sookhdeo, another author and co-editor of the book, stated, “The truth, unpalatable though it may be, is that Islamists and Islamist terrorists are authentically Islamic, emphasizing specific texts and offering literalist interpretations of their sources.”
Some Western governments and analysts have sought to delegitimize terrorists by incorrectly denying their Islamic roots, he said.
John Lenczowski, a White House National Security Council specialist on Russia during the Reagan administration, outlined in detail how Ronald Reagan approved and implemented a program of “political-ideological warfare” that identified the illegitimacy of the Soviet system as a strategic vulnerability that was successfully exploited to defeat the Soviet regime. It included a combination of covert and overt support for pro-freedom and pro-democracy movements and people.
The final Soviet collapse, Mr. Lenczowski writes, came from “a confluence of internal crises that were aggravated by the many ‘straws’ placed on the Soviet ‘camel’s back’ by the Reagan administration.”
Similarly, the authors argue that Islamist supremacy can be defeated ideologically through programs that reveal the ideology of jihadist groups like al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood to be copies of earlier totalitarian and fascist ideologies.
The book was published by the McLean-based Westminster Institute and is available at www.westminster-institute.org.
Islamists protest in Egypt
Thousands of Egyptian Islamists turned out on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that current President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, impose stricter interpretation of Shariah or Islamic law in the country’s constitution.
The protesters also sought the release from a U.S. prison of Egyptian terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh” who is serving a life term for his role in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Egypt’s government has asked the Obama administration to release Abdel-Rahman, and according to Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, administration officials have asked U.S. law enforcement officials about a possible release. Publicly, administration spokesmen have said there are no plans for freeing the sheikh.
According to press reports, fighting broke out among Egyptian protesters that involved pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists who shouted at the protesters and denounced the Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi.
Asia Pivot: Walking and Chewing
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s trip this week to Asia was largely overshadowed by the sex scandal that engulfed CIA Director David H. Petraeus and also delayed the promotion of Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Concerns over the coming fiscal crisis and a possible $660 billion defense budget cut also dominated debate in Washington this week and distracted attention from the Pentagon’s new shift to Asia.
Still, Mr. Panetta said the new defense strategy is “very important,” and he outlined the Pentagon’s so-called pivot to Asia in a meeting with reporters aboard his Air Force jet on the way to Australia for a ministerial meeting.
Asked whether the shift of forces and alliances to Asia would undermine security efforts in the Middle East, the defense secretary said:
“Look, the United States is the strongest military power in the world, and we remain the strongest military power in the world. And that means that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, which means that we have to cover the threats that exist in the world, not just in the Asia-Pacific region, but throughout the world. And that’s what we’re doing.”
In Asia, Mr. Panetta outlined the steps being taken to bolster forces in the region that defense officials say is covertly aimed at countering China’s new high-tech weaponry but publicly described as advancing general peace and security.
“I want to stress for all of you that the rebalancing to this region is a very important part of the new defense strategy that we announced, and that the effort to rebalance is real,” Mr. Panetta said.
“It’s going to be long term. I mean part of this is long-term strategy and in which we’ll continue to work at this. But we’ve also made some very tangible progress at rebalancing just in this past year.”
The new steps include sending of some 2,000 Marines to Darwin, Australia; sending up to four new littoral combat ships to Singapore; and continuing the Bush administration policy of shifting Navy forces to the Pacific so that 60 percent of warships are in the area.
Other steps include deploying V-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft and F-22 jets to Japan and increasing cooperation with South Korea on space and cyberspace. There are also plans to increase U.S. military presence in Philippines and to establish closer defense cooperation with India.
Mr. Panetta said the pivot to Asia is not solely about “moving more ships or aircraft or troops to the region.”
“We want to deepen and modernize our existing partnerships and alliances, and we want to build regional institutions, particularly working with ASEAN,” he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
As reported in this column last week, Mr. Panetta’s future as defense secretary in the second Obama administration is a hot topic since President Obama’s re-election.
Mr. Panetta provided reporters traveling with him to Asia a “two-handed” answer to the question of whether he will continue on in the second Obama administration.
One the one hand, Mr. Panetta said “it’s no secret that, at some point, I’d like to get back to California. It’s my home, and we have our institute.”
On the other hand, he added: “But there are a lot of challenges right now with regards to defense issues in Washington – sequestration, budget issues, issues related to planning on Afghanistan – and I think the president and I are working very closely to make sure that we meet those defense challenges.”
Mr. Panetta said his current goal is to deal with those issues.
Pressed on whether he intends to stay four more years, the defense secretary stated: “Who the hell knows?”