- - Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Apologies to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who this week claimed we are in a “narrative war” with the Islamic State, or ISIS, but here’s the only narrative that the current crop of jihadists will understand: “When I am president of the United States, I will be eager and able to unleash on you history’s biggest, baddest collection of warriors, and should you choose to oppose them on the battlefield, they will kill you and break your stuff. Guaranteed.”

History, not fantasy nor wishful thinking, proves it works.

This is because it’s the only thing that has ever prevailed against violent jihadi armies. It was not an eloquent narrative that Charles Martel employed at Tours to repel the estimated 80,000 jihadists who were beheading, raping, crucifying and enslaving their way into Western Europe in 732 A.D. It was not a brilliant oratory that sunk the jihadi fleet at Lepanto in 1571 A.D., and in 1683 A.D. it certainly wasn’t an eminently logical argument that crushed in two days the nearly 300,000 jihadists who had for two months besieged Vienna as the last obstacle between them and their planned ultimate objective, Rome.

Had these existential jihadi threats not been crushed on the battlefield, there would have been no time left and no one remaining in Europe who could have delivered any narrative at all.

Still, it’s understandable that modern humanity would prefer a soft power solution in a war with jihadists. The problem is it still doesn’t work on the battlefield. Ask the British. For 15 years, they and their Egyptian and Sudanese allies struggled to counter the deadly charisma of Muhammed Ahmad, the self-proclaimed mahdi of the caliphate he established in the Sudan in 1881 A.D. London’s token boots on the ground and lengthy light touch ended abruptly in 1896 with the arrival of British Gen. Horatio Kitchener, who immediately began building combat power. Two years, later he attacked and obliterated the mahdist force of 70,000 at their capitol of Obdurman.

The expectation that any softer narrative, no matter how reasonable, might break the current jihadists’ will to wage war is hogwash. This is because their objective, the rule of God supreme on an Earth devoid of unbelievers, is a function of faith, not reason.

If this were not so, there would be an issue in dispute, a political issue, that one side could concede to the other to end this war. This is the Western way of war, and Western minds raised on the concept that war is politics by extreme measure are challenged when there is no identifiable political issue in dispute.

So here’s the test for the enlightened crowd: If you are in possession of a secret concession that the West can make to the satisfaction of jihadi leaders, please tell the rest of us, because we would like to end this war.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist.

Still, we can prevail in this war, just as many of the West’s wars with jihadists have been won over the centuries. But in the 21st century, it won’t be won without a U.S. president willing to do the following:

• Short term: Make the case that victory over ISIS is a high-value objective and then commit overwhelming combat power to destroy ISIS as an organization. Any organization can be destroyed, and ISIS is no different. Kill this enemy, break his stuff, seize his terrain and apologize to no one. We conducted nearly 1,000 sorties per day during the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today in the war against ISIS, we conduct on average 19 per day. We can certainly bring much more to bear. We can get this part over with, but we will have to be honest about our enemy and the war he is waging. If he is not losing, he is winning, so hand him spectacular battlefield defeats. Show him and his supporters he is losing. That is the indisputable, necessary condition for any long-term effort to undermine the foundational jihadi ideology.

• Long term: Commit all four elements of our national power — diplomatic, informational, military and economic — to a persistent effort to undermine jihadi ideology. Here is where a narrative in the traditional sense has a role, but here the most effective voices will be those of our moderate Muslim friends. They are the vast majority of Muslims who are not at war with us, and their voices are essential to the debates within Islam. Vigorously support them, promote them and where necessary, secure them. Doing so is in our national interest. Remain tenacious in the face of those of weaker knees who will say it is impossible to defeat an ideology, as if that is reason not to oppose it. Ask them if we have defeated racism at home. The answer is no, of course, but we continue to oppose it nevertheless, because doing so is the right thing to do. Ask them if we defeated communism. The answer is yes, because we worked tirelessly to lay bare its internal shortcomings, which hastened its collapse from within. A similar dynamic holds true here for the ideology of modern jihadism.

When the smoke clears, the winning narrative, the one likely to destroy ISIS and set the conditions for the defeat of its jihadi ideology, will sound little like what we are hearing from the White House today.

Ernie Audino, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, is a senior military fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.



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