- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

Throw a rock in D.C. and there is probably a 1 in 3 chance you will hit someone with a theory on how to win the war on terror. These range from the “kill ‘em all and let God sort them out” to the blame-America school of thought. Most of these strategists understand little of the enemy we face, the war we fight or how victory over the Islamists can be achieved.

We have had an authoritative source available for almost four year on the nature of this war and four keys to victory. This source is the book by Ayman al-Zawahri, “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” penned as advice to future jihadists when America was closing in on him in Tora Bora.

Though many have commented on the book, few if any are likely to have read it and probably fewer still understand its importance to our own cause.

To start, al-Zawahri in two sentences illustrates the fundamental core of civilization’s war against the Islamists. While discussing the works of a primary source of Islamist inspiration, he writes, “He [Sayyid Qutb] affirmed … that the battle between Islam and its enemies is primarily an ideological one. … It is also a battle over to whom authority and power should belong.” In effect, jihadists view this as a global war of ideologies with Western ideals of democracy, freedom, liberty and capitalism on one side and their ideology on the other.

Among other things, this offers insight into why governments and groups, many likely next on the target list, who oppose the United States have made common cause with the Islamists.

Even more important than this framework are the four keys provided by al-Zawahri for American victory. By noting the necessary components for successful jihadist organization or what Carl von Clausewitz might have termed their “centers of gravity,” al-Zawahri in effect offers America the outline of what our strategy must target for victory.

• First, as al-Zawahri says, “A jihadist movement needs an arena that would act like an incubator where its seeds would grow and where it can acquire practical experience in combat, politics, and organizational matters.” This is both a physical place such as training camps and a series of networks for indoctrination, recruitment financing and support.

Since September 11, 2001, the focus of the United States has been primarily on the first category of this point, and to a lesser extent the actual networks that connect all of the Islamist terrorist movements.

• Second, is what might be termed a purity of message or ideology. In this case al-Zawahri says “the Muslim youths in Afghanistan waged the war to liberate Muslim land under purely Islamic slogans, a very vital matter, for many of the liberation battles in our Muslim world had used composite slogans. … This produced a schism in the thinking of the Muslim young men between their Islamic jihadist ideology … and its practical implementation.” This is that all too important war of ideas on which the U.S. has so far failed to truly get a strategic grip.

• Third is clarity of mission — in other words, a defined enemy in both a physical and philosophical sense and a plan to attack it: “In Afghanistan the picture was perfectly clear: A Muslim nation carrying out jihad under the banner of Islam, versus a foreign enemy that was an infidel aggressor.”

This can be attacked by a political warfare waged on a unified front with nations, groups and individuals who are our allies. We must in effect undermine their own belief in their cause, but by using their own ideology and beliefs. Our enemies use this tactic against us in Iraq by trying to convince us the cost is not worth it and withdrawal will not bring grave consequences.

• Finally, al-Zawahri shows why they think they can win: “A further significant point was that the jihad battles in Afghanistan destroyed the myth of a [superpower] in the minds of the Muslim mujaheedin young men.” In other words, the United States, in addition to these other points must create a real deterrence: Through our combined forces from the military and police to the diplomatic and intelligence community, we must make jihadist success appear impossible.

In addition, this involves increasing the potential and real cost to those who would support the terrorists so they have no choice but to abandon the cause. After all the political, ideological, religious and financial leadership behind these groups are normally furthest from the actual battlefield.

What America needs now is moral clarity, which unfortunately must include a willingness to suffer casualties to defeat the terrorists. Though this represents a personal loss for many, it cannot paralyze us strategically. After all, in more than four years of fighting we have yet to lose as many Americans on the battlefield as we lost in four hours on our streets on September 11, 2001. If we are to win, we must be rededicated to physically and philosophically taking the fight to the enemy.

Christopher Brown works for Transitions to Democracy at the Hudson Institute.

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