- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2006

How do we win the conflict against radical Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters? Who are these groups, what is their ideology and operational code? What are the metrics to measure the effectiveness of our response? These are some of the questions that Brian Michael Jenkins attempts to answer in his important book, “Unconquerable Nation.”

Mr. Jenkins is one of America’s veteran experts on counterterrorism, having established the country’s first major terrorism studies program at the RAND think tank in 1972.

Observing the changes in terrorism since the 1970s, Mr. Jenkins points out that in those early days terrorist conflicts were primarily regional problems, with attacks causing relatively few casualties. At that time, the U.S. homeland was not threatened.

Today, however, groups such as al Qaeda are cellular and decentralized, operate on the ground and on the Internet, target their adversaries transnationally and seek to have “a lot of people watching and a lot of people dead.”

The book’s main contribution is Mr. Jenkins’ formulation of a counterterrorism strategy to destroy what he terms the “jihadist enterprise.” This enterprise is not a single organization (e.g., al Qaeda) but a worldwide “marketplace” of jihadists in which these groupings either spontaneously, or under the direction of al Qaeda’s operatives, organize to achieve what they conceive to be their path of “glory.” Thus, different measures are required to respond to each segment of the jihadi marketplace.

Although he does not explicitly enumerate them, eight strategic principles can be discerned. These include conserving resources for a long war, waging an effective political warfare campaign, breaking the cycle of jihadism, maintaining international cooperation, pre-empting attempts by terrorists to launch attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, retaliating “in kind” against any state that provides WMD to a terrorist group, rebuilding Afghanistan and, in Iraq, finding a way to reduce “insurgent, sectarian and predatory criminal violence to a level that permits social and political progress.”

This last principle would benefit from additional detail, since it is not clear how the desired solution can be achieved.

Among the eight principles, the “real battle” is ideological, with political warfare a crucial component in America’s arsenal. Mr. Jenkins writes, “It is not enough to outgun the jihadists. We must destroy their appeal, halt their recruiting. It is not enough to kill or apprehend individual members. Al Qaeda’s jihadist ideology must be delegitimized and discredited.”

Mr. Jenkins acknowledges the need to “understand the sentiments of the Islamic world, their antipathies toward us and toward the terrorist fanatics who threaten them as well.” But what is more important, he argues, is to engage them in a political warfare campaign that “comprises aggressive tactics aimed at the fringes of the population, where personal discontent and spiritual devotion turn to violent expression.”

It is here where political warfare aims to address the entire “jihadist cycle, from entry to exit,” by impeding recruitment into terrorism, inducing defections and getting detainees to renounce jihad.

But how does one win the political warfare struggle against the jihadists? Mr. Jenkins offers several examples to advance his argument. In Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Singapore, Islamic scholars are being used to challenge imprisoned al Qaeda operatives in a theological debate, hoping that such dialogue will lead them to renounce violence.

However, the success of these measures is, at best, mixed. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, the authorities may succeed in preventing attacks against their countries by some of these home-grown militants, but have failed to prevent them from joining insurgents to fight “infidels” in Iraq and elsewhere.

Mr. Jenkins criticizes the U.S. counterterrorism campaign for paying insufficient attention to political warfare. Not a single al Qaeda detainee has been publicly “turned” while in American custody, he charges.

He questions why the interaction with the detainees is “limited to confinement and interrogation, which produces only resistance and radicalization? Would it not be better to try to enlist at least some of them as spokesmen against al Qaeda’s brand of jihad, having them tell their stories to would-be jihadists — explaining their initial illusions, their eventual disillusion, their decision to cooperate with those who see jihad exclusively as war?”

To strengthen the American homeland’s defense against terrorism, Mr. Jenkins recommends a two-pronged strategy. The capabilities of local police forces need to be enhanced to monitor potential terrorists, since they are ideally positioned to identify suspicious activities in their own communities. The second component is a realistic assessment of the terrorist adversary’s actual attack capabilities and intentions to attack the U.S. homeland.

Mr. Jenkins’ sound advice is well articulated in this compelling book and enhances our understanding of what constitutes effective counterterrorism strategy.

Joshua Sinai is a program manager for counterterrorism studies at the Analysis Corp.


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