THE NEXT ATTACK: THE FAILURE OF THE WAR ON TERROR AND A STRATEGY FOR GETTING IT RIGHT
By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon
Times Books, $26, 352 pages
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both prominent figures in Washington’s public policy community and authors of the best-selling “The Age of Sacred Terror,” believe that America is losing the war on terrorism.
Due to the Bush administration’s post-September 11 policies, they write, our strategic position is weakening; increasing numbers of Muslims are joining the radical Islamists in terrorist violence. Jihadist ideology has become the bloody banner for grievances around the world, “merging into a pervasive hatred of the United States, its allies, and the international order they uphold.” This hatred has loosened Muslim religious and social inhibitions on violence that it now justifies an attack on “infidels” such as the United States using weapons of mass destruction.
As a consequence of what Messrs. Benjamin and Simon (but not necessarily others) consider to be the Bush administration’s failure to understand that radical Islam is a transnational problem and the intervention in Iraq, which has turned that country into the “central theater of the jihadist struggle,” they argue that “Unwittingly, we are clearing the way for the next attack — and those that will come after.”
Messrs. Benjamin and Simon marshal considerable evidence to support their critique of America’s counterterrorism campaign since September 11. However, one could also argue (and the authors would not necessarily dispute this assertion) that many of the underlying problems that have produced the global Salafi jihadist insurgency are largely independent of U.S. foreign policy, regardless of which party is in power.
As the authors correctly explain, the Salafi branch of Islam, which is advocated by al Qaeda jihadists, is a populist revivalist movement that seeks to restore the seventh century Islamic umma (community of believers) to present-day Muslim societies. The individuals who are attracted to such revivalist Islamic movements are rebelling against the benefits of the modern world, especially any attempt to modernize Islamic societies (adopting constitutions based on the rule of secular law and pluralistic principles, for instance, with toleration for dissent and equality for women).
There are specific underlying conditions that propel the jihadist insurgency, such as perpetual rule by authoritarian regimes (whether republican or monarchical) in the Middle East and other Islamic regions that make it difficult for political opposition to compete electorally and, as in the case of Europe, problems in integrating Muslim minorities into society. However, to the jihadists the solution lies in implementing the Salafi program, not necessarily appeasement through political and socio-economic reforms in the affected societies.
In fact, the Iraqi case is proving that the jihadists are intent on sabotaging any efforts to modernize that society by creating representative political institutions. Effective counterterrorist strategies, therefore, must find ways to defeat the jihadist anti-modernist appeal while promoting all the appropriate measures required to modernize the affected societies and usher in governments capable of solving their own internal problems.
The authors predict that in the coming years the terrorist threat will be greater in Europe, where there is more support among that continent’s Muslim population for the jihadist cause, than in the United States. This still should set off red flags in the United States, because, as the authors explain, al Qaeda-type operatives — which are not necessarily directed by an al Qaeda “center” but are now spontaneously self-generating — are highly methodical and patient. All they need is a single but highly catastrophic attack on American soil to generate the publicity and damage they seek for their vengeance and rage.
The book has many strengths, but one may quibble with a few of its assertions. In their assessment of potential radicalization among American Muslims that could lead to future violence, the authors correctly point out that a greater proportion of American Muslims is more inhospitable to jihadism than their European counterparts. Others, however, argue that elements of jihadism are becoming increasingly widespread in American prisons, mosques and educational institutions.
The authors claim that “Few people in the West are studying Islamist Web sites for their insights into war-fighting techniques.” This reviewer is aware of numerous organizations, such as the SITE Institute, that monitor jihadist Web sites for such content.
The concluding chapter is extraneous because it focuses on the issue of Christian faith and war, claiming — but not really substantiating — a damaging influence of such faith on American national security decision-making. This also distracts from the authors’ overall critique of U.S. counterterrorism policy and the strategies required to make it more effective.
Joshua Sinai is program manager of Terrorism Studies at Logos Technologies.