Small Wars Journal

The Two Faces of Terror: Why the West Loses

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 1:04pm

The Two Faces of Terror: Why the West Loses

G. Murphy Donovan

                                “Our values (sic) will prevail, never giving in to terror,”

-- Theresa May

The fight against Islamic terror has two faces today, public relations and strategic hokum. The recent meeting of the ministers of the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS in Washington illustrates these phenomena. Whilst the foreign ministers of “68 nations” were wining, dining, and thumping their chests inside the Beltway, another soldier of Islam successfully struck the British parliament in London. Whatever the purpose of the Washington soiree, it was undone in London by a single Muslim martyr with better motivation and better credentials than any infidel foreign minister. Indeed, the slaughter on Westminster Bridge, enjoyed global press coverage above the fold for a week.

In contrast, the very title of the so-called anti-ISIS coalition is a study in rhetorical obfuscation. The GCDI is neither global, nor much of a coalition, nor is it likely to stem the spread of Islamism or terror. Of the 68 nations that came for crudités and cocktails, few ever do anything about terror, jihadists, the Islamic State, or global Islamism.

Atrocity in London was displaced by atrocity in Syria overnight. The alleged Syrian “gas attack against children” took Islamic terror off the front page. Before you could say qui bono, Assad and Russia were again summarily lynched by a press narrative, followed quickly by cruise missile strikes against Shayrat Air Base. After 59 cruise missiles ($60 million US) hit their mark, the Syrian airfield was launching MIG sorties the next day.

Whenever thinking about religious terror becomes too painful, somehow a convenient secular bogyman seems to reappear. Vladimir Putin is now the default setting for conspiracy theory everywhere.  

The real fighting coalition on the ground in the Levant has, at best, six national players, three of which are marginalized by American policy. Neither Syria, nor Russia is invited to party in Washington. Kurdistan fighters are real enough, yet they are sure to be thrown to Turkish wolves as soon as their proxy utility is exhausted by CIA and the Pentagon.

Kurds should not have any illusions about friends in NATO. The only country that argues to recognize Kurdistan is Israel. The Israeli justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, alone has publically called for an independent Kurdistan. 

Minister Shaked

Thus, the three (Syrian, Russian, and Kurd) most effective military contingents on the ground are hobbled by strategic myopia in Washington. Syria has survived, with Russian support, decades of Washington sponsored sedition. Next door, Baghdad has become a Shia/Iran client state courtesy of regime change folly in Iraq. Kurdistan, the most civilized nation in the Ummah, is caught between genocidal Turks, perfidious Shia/Sunni religious fanatics, and feckless Americans.

Clearly, Trump era strategic bluster is little different than Obama era posturing. Political rhetoric, conferences, and faux coalitions are still thought to be substitutes for coherent strategy. War at home and abroad is now a cat fight in cyber space where the weapons of choice are invective, fake news, or propaganda. The default setting for political invective is Russia or Vladimir Putin.  

As terror struck again in a European capital, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was channeling John Kerry, bragging about “significant progress” against ISIS and claiming that terrorists are finding it “harder to get in and harder to get out.” Get in and out of “where” we know not.

Surely Tillerson isn’t talking about continental Europe or the British Isles. Europe, thanks to EU open borders, is importing unvetted Muslims by the millions and in turn exporting home-grown jihadists by the thousands.

It seems that yet another American administration can’t distinguish between tactics and strategy either. Yes, words matter. Yes, diplomacy matters. Yes, propaganda matters. Alas, none of these tactics are a substitute for a coherent global vision, consistent policy, real allies, and a winning military strategy.

The best illustration of tactical agility and strategic coherence, alas, is now found in jihadist coalitions. The recent rebranding of Sunni Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria provides an example.

On the one hand, Al-Nusra is a long-time affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Levant. You may recall that al-Qaeda was once run by Osama bin Laden who orchestrated the most successful terrorist urban attack in modern history. The New York atrocity was manned and sponsored by Saudi Arabia, yet to be brought before the American bar.

Nevertheless, after 9/11, the al-Nusra franchise cultivated triste immunities with anti-Assad, deep state, American operatives in Syria. Indeed, after the Muamar Gadhafi kill, Libyan weapons were distributed by the CIA Annex near Benghazi to Sunni “allies” like al-Nusra.  

Prior to the American sponsored assassination of Gadhafi, Libya was the wealthiest and best armed secular nation in Africa.

Gloating in Libya

In short, the lethal bits and pieces left in the wake of the American sponsored collapse of Libya were redistributed to Syria with the expectation that Assad and Syria might suffer the same fate as Hussein in Iraq and Gadhafi in Libya. Barack Obama called Libya a “shit story,” a rare candid assessment that now applies to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.  The erstwhile president failed to mention that terror and guano in North Africa was another CIA/US State Department import.

Tragically, regime change fiascos, in Africa and the Levant, produced nothing save chaos and mayhem. However, terror groups like Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and al-Nusra in Syria still thrive, friends with benefits if you will, playing naïve American Intelligence dupes like chumps.

The al Nusra name change is another bit of tactical dexterity lost on American strategists. The separation from al Qaeda created the space for al Nusra to be seen as an “ally” against Assad. Rebranding itself, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Conquest of the Syria Front) provides another opportunity for al-Sham to again be what it is not and put the arm on American regime change zealots. The meaning of “sham” in English is surely not lost on literate jihadists.

By targeting the Syrian regime, separated from al-Qaeda’s global focus, al-Sham is yet another local terror franchise eligible for US tax dollars and an exemption from US airstrikes.  

“On July 28, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr, announced that Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership had been instructed to “go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and what protects jihad." Al-Qaeda’s No. 1 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, added, that the brotherhood of Islam … is stronger than any organizational links.”

Stronger indeed! ISIS and al Qaeda machinations in the Middle East are consistent with Islamist doctrine worldwide.

Tactics and alliances might vary, but the strategy of “jihad” and the links within the “brotherhood of Islam” are global constants. Islam is not parsed by Muslims. Only infidels are naïve enough to believe that Islamist factions have significantly different core goals and objectives.

US State Department and American Intelligence data bases, in contrast, illustrate the timidity and incoherence of American policy. After decades of warfare, the Muslim Brotherhood (aka al Ikhwan), the Taliban, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force (Shia), and the Caucasus Emirate do not have terror designations, yet the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) are still on the official State Department sierra list.

Making matters worse, America often cultivates undesignated terrorists as “partners”. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are the most prominent examples. The Taliban in South Asia were formerly celebrated as “mujahedeen” allies while Chechen terrorists in the Caucasus are frequently romanticized as “freedom fighters.”

Any Muslim terrorist with anti-Russian credentials has the bone fides to merit American support and arms. Any Arab silent partner with oil seems to enjoy similar privileges. The Pentagon now scores 50 years of Muslim wars as a stalemate. “Stalemate” is a very charitable assessment of a conflict where neither the Department of Defense nor the White House sees global Islamic jihad as an existential threat.

If the Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS were real, to say nothing of effective, it would be the called a coalition to defeat Islamism, not ISIS. ISIS is just a single facet of a global Muslim threat that flourishes in dozens of branded militant organizations, in hundreds of terror cells, and under uncounted ideological covers. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but virtually all terrorists are Islamists.

The problem is religious imperialism, the soldiers are Muslims, their strategy is Islamism, and their goal is victory. Islam is now the ideological ‘blue screen of death.’  Passive aggressive Muslims, an arguable majority, make the kinetic minority possible. If only ten percent of Muslims are activists, the Jihad has 150 million shooters or proselytizers in the field as we speak.

There are four beliefs that distinguish Islamic leadership from their European/American counterparts. The Islamist is: willing to die for belief, willing to admit the reality of existential war, and willing to name Judeo/Christian states as their enemies. Jihadists are crystal clear about objectives.

The rationale for ignoring the threat or appeasing Islam can be reduced to a single simple minded argument: dramatic pushback from the West might make matters worse. Call it “demographobia,” fear of Muslim numbers; the belief that Muslims are so numerous (1.6 billion) that no nation dare offend Islam or Mohamed.

Putting aside the illogic of clairvoyance, if the truth be told, the real question should be; how bad does the Islamic problem have to get before the West draws real lines in the sand?

Yes, with new policy, things might get worse. Without new strategies, things will surely get worse.

Some potential game changers, policy options, might include the following top ten initiatives:

  • Move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
  • Abandon the “two-state” fantasy.
  • Recognize Kurdistan.
  • Reform NATO. Expel Turkey.
  • Revise Foggy Bottom’s official terror list. Add prominent Islamic state sponsors to the list.
  • Vet immigrants. Deport Islamist activists.
  • Abandon regime change and proxy wars as policies.
  • Redefine Islam as a political, vice religious institution.
  • Withdraw American troops from internecine Islamic religious wars.
  • Insist that the Ummah fund, fight, or resolve all Shia/Sunni sectarian disputes. (Shoot winners as required.)

The objective of global jihad is to replace the weak sisters of social democracy with sharia, Mohamed’s law. The only successful Islamist party in Western Europe today is on record about these objectives. The goal of the Islamist is not democracy, nor assimilation, nor multiculturalism. On the contrary, the goal of Islamists, simply put, is hegemonic Islam.  

Muslim zealots are winning today because they have better politicians, better generals, effective tactics, superior strategy, and crystal clear objectives.

Without some countervailing strategic response in the West, the diverse “globalist” future of Western Europe, especially, is beginning to look a lot like the Ummah – or the 7th Century.

Call it back to the future if you will. Insh’allah!

About the Author(s)

The author is a former USAF Intelligence officer, Vietnam veteran, a graduate of Iona College (BA), the University of Southern California (MS), the Defense Intelligence College, and the Air War College. He is a former Senior USAF Research Fellow at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica and the former Director of Research and Russian (nee Soviet) Studies, ACS Intelligence, HQ USAF, serving under General James Clapper. Colonel Donovan has served at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Central intelligence Agency.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 5:25am

This is one of the coming issues..that is not even on the radar screen....

Important: Russia threatens military interventions into CSTO countries (incl Belarus & Armenia) in case of popular uprisings

Here Putin outright declared we will intervene in any color today's Russian news....

One now has to be concerned about the overall stability of Russia....

Bill M.

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 1:43pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Politely you're wrong on this, and it reflects outdated and overly narrow thinking promoted by the likes of Graham Allison. The whole idea of an existential threat as our only focus has been misguided from day one. Of course, we can't ignore that possibility since we were the ones who pushed the mutual assured destruction deterrence strategy. Other existential threats that we pay lip service to, but fail to address include: the evolution of antibiotic resistant diseases (via an act of God, or via bio terrorism), and potentially the effects from global warming (water security being the most pressing issue). Going out on a limb with this one, but another potential existential threat to our country is political disintegration. The great threat from within, we have seen the enemy, and it is us. Our politics becomes so polarized, the country divides into multiple smaller countries to regain some degree of stability and economic viability. Sounds far fetched, but it the historic trend of Empires. We may be seeing this playing out today in the UK, with Scotland and Ireland once again considering leaving the UK. In Italy, a country formed by joining multiple city-states, is also on the verge fracturing. I'm sure there are other existential threats, and very few of them will be prevented prevented by a great missile defense system, yet we need that also.

Back to the more probable, threats to our enduring national interests (not necessarily existential to our way of life). In broad terms, those interests are: security (which you point out above), prosperity, international order, and values. You are absolutely correct that "terrorism" as a tactic is a specific security concern, and unless the specific actor obtains WMD, it is not that big of deal in the larger scheme of things. Crashing a plane into the WTC counts as a WME. That only addresses the tactical threat, if these events generate a tail wind that lead to movements that further divide society that is also a strategic threat.

What we face today is more of a global insurgency seeking to destroy the international order and align the new order along the lines of Sharia Law (as interpreted by the pricks who call themselves Jihadists). They are not constrained by political considerations like the leftist terrorist groups and the separatists movements of the 60s and 70s. The Islamists seek to collapse vulnerable nation states, which in turn often leads to a domino effect (the dominos are actually falling, so hard to debate this one) to establish the caliphate. Concurrently, they seek to weaken the West by generating over reaction and unsustainable responses (gets to your national debt threat). They have been successful in that regard. We're too caught up in today, and forget the recent past, where UBL articulated his strategy quite clearly. That has not gone away.

What changed besides the ideology? Social media and 24/7 news media have exponentially expanded the psychological impact of terrorism on the world stage. Each attack, no matter how minor is repeated several times a day, and then discussed on the Sunday talk shows. This continues for days on end, and politicians seek to make money by accusing the other side of being weak on terror. This response simply gives the these acts more power. Politicians don't seem to care about the negative strategic impact of their rants, all they care about is undermining the other political party. Terrorism is less an issue than opposing the Republicans or Democrats. This is self-imposed risk to our national interests due to stupidity and political greed, but it is real risk nonetheless.

Other risks to our national interests associated with VEOs are the large areas of instability these movements have created, and the second order effects that come out of these regions. One such effect is the displaced person (DP) problem on a scale unknown before according to the UN. The DPs in Europe are often falsely associated with ISIS, so they're often marginalized, making them more receptive to form tribes that are receptive to VEO ideology. The few that are actually active ISIS members who conduct attacks in Western Europe contribute to the rise of nationalism that is spreading through Europe. This presents risks to regional stability and the global economy. When people are scared, they often seek comfort by returning to an imagined past to solve new problems. We won't solve old problems by returning to old political models, but we may not figure that out until we have severely hurt ourselves.

VEOs are certainly part of this problem, and they converge with other issues like Russia, as the Russians magnify the effect with their massive propaganda machine. You identified the break down of globalization as a threat against national interests (it is, it is associated with prosperity, international order, values, and ultimately our security), and at the end of the day the origin of AQ and modern Islamist movements was clearly a rejection of globalization.

You also identified the spread of WMD can easily (and it continues to get easier) into the hands of VEOs who have a clear intent to attack the West. Granted, not all terrorism is a significant threat to our national interests, but states are supposed to protect their people. Strategic or not, all terrorists present a security problem for states that must be managed. Beyond that, the threat is different today for a multitude of reasons (the media only being one of them). We need to identify what elements of it are a threat to our strategic interests and address those more effectively than we do now. Failure to address their ability to organize political and subvert other political systems and laws is perhaps a greater risk than the physical attacks at the strategic level. If we're not careful we'll find ourselves in checkmate.

Our most effective approach to this approach, and other emerging threats in the gray zone presented by state actors, would be focusing left of bang to help states become more resilient. However, I suspect we'll continue acting like puppets on a string that is controlled by ISIS and AQ and simply react. We'll react and react to towards no discernible end. We'll continue to scour the skies with UAVs looking for bad guys to kill, damn the collateral damage, and claim a victory every time we do so. In the mean time we'll ignore the "fact" that the scope of the problem is growing larger.

The bottom line is it is the convergence of threats, to include terrorism, that make the collective a strategic risk to our interests. A simple threat based strategy will fail, it already has.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 4:08pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Violent Islamic Extremism is not a real threat to our national interests. Things that are a real threat to our national interests:

Resurgent Russian/European Nationalism - the Breakdown of Golbalism
China militarizing Islands that are not legally in their territory.
North Korea having Nuclear Weapons and Missiles to hit targets like Tokyo with.
The spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Our National Debt.

Now, there are Regional Security interests
Russia in the Ukraine
Syrian Civil War
ISIS in Iraq
The general Iran vs SA/Sunni vs Shia regional proxy wars (like Yemen)

Below that there are some specific security concerns,
Criminal Cartels
Terrorist groups
Competition for resources

Don't enlarge what is, at best, a regional threat into a national threat. You certainly can turn political Islam into a national threat, but that is by choice, not by necessity.

Bill M.

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 3:23pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

True, more Americans are killed by cartel violence than terrorists. Ike warned us about the Industrial-Military Complex, but someone needs to wave the red flag about the counterterrorism complex and excessive expansion of certain units, the militarization of the police, and a myopic focus on a politically hyped threat that left us blind to greater strategic threats.

Where exactly has the West lost to terrorists? We have lost to insurgents, who frequently employ terrorist tactics (most, if not all successful insurgent groups do), but those losses did not overly put us at strategic risk. We incorrectly define the problem when we define it as terrorism, we'll no more defeat terrorism than we will defeat pick pockets or bank robbers. At best we can make life harder on them by increasing security measures and civil resilience (both require effective governance).

We need to re-label the threat appropriately (define the problem), identify what national interest(s) it is threatening, and develop a strategy to protect (or advance) our interests. UBL was right, he could tell someone to set off an IED in the middle of no where, wave a black flag, and then sit back and watch the West bleed out it resources in an outsized response. This is a road to no where.

Violent Islamic Extremism is a real threat to our national interests, I'm not down playing it, I'm criticizing our approach that is overly focused on tactical targeting, and simply labeling the problem terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic used by these groups, it is not theor only tactic, and if we don't look at their political organization skills, their education (propaganda programs), and other methods beyond stage craft terrorism events we'll continue to spin in place. However, the West isn't losing, and even suggesting that gives these radicals hope they're having success. At best they're defeating inept governments in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 5:58am

I will take the conversation back to the 60s and the slogan..."one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist' was valid then just as it is today.

ALL and I literally mean ALL terrorists and yes even religious slanted ALL tend after a long number of years to either disappear and or mellow out...

So it was with the various Palestinian groups of which some still exist the the German Baader Meinhof...Juni 2 and RAF to the Red Brigades to ETA and into the Italian/Austrian separatist problem and on and on .....

We could go back into history and even find in the 20/30s examples of Sunni/Shia jihadist attacks but they were not called that then....

Heck even the Israeli's were terrorists in the eyes of the Brits in the 40/50s in Palestine......

THEN we could go onto the "wars of national liberation" that bled over sometimes into Europe....waged virtually "everywhere" in those days...

In the end none of them ever impacted and or changed any existing nation state in Europe or changed the US....

AND the math...most of those killed by current day jihadists of both Islamic sects are Muslim's...followed by Christians/others in the ME....AND all those recent attacks in Europe do not match the killed and injured numbers from the 60/70/80s various terrorist groups and their attacks.....

As spectacular as they might appear in our modern real time media.....

They still do not match highjacked airliners being blown up in the desert in front of rolling cameras....of the terrorist attack on Israeli Olympic team members in Munich Germany..OR a disabled American being shot and thrown overboard in the Med on his cruise..OR do have we such a short memory....??

I am old enough to remember the name "Jackal" and his escapades in an OPEC meeting bringing fear into the nightly news...

In some way the "Jackal" was the earlier version of the modern day jihadists....think about it....

AND BTW...I have never seen a single recorded Sharia Court functioning in the modern nation states of the finally drop that utter myth...


Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:27am

In reply to by Azor


My attack on your statement was in response to your attack on Warlock's observation that Japan, Italy, and Germany all had experience with Democracy. We were not starting from scratch. That was my point.

As for the other countries, every one of them had decades, if not centuries of experience with Republican government, or was a colony of a country that had centuries of Republican experience.

However, your question of culture is interesting. It is just outside the scope of this discussion.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 7:51pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


There was nothing “patently false” about my assertions.

The fact is that Germany and Japan each had rather tumultuous 14-year experiences with democracy and liberalism, before the older and more powerful illiberal forces retook control. As for Italy, the tendencies of a handful of its city-states are not comparable to liberal democracy in a strong nation-state, and its sixty-year period of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy left much to be desired compared to its liberal and democratic peers at the time. None of these nations had ever had strong, liberal democratic states prior to their reconstruction by the United States and its allies in the aftermath of World War II. By comparison, the English, Americans, Dutch, Swedes, and Swiss - and to a lesser extent the Belgians, Danes, Norwegians and various British dominions – had strong and certainly stronger liberal democratic traditions. You may notice that I fail to include France or Poland, because despite the genuine attempts at liberal democracy and the advanced ideas emanating from these countries, forces both internal and external were successful in undermining liberal democracy there.

You use the Great Depression as an excuse for the rise of Fascism – and it was a contributing factor – but the prime mover was culture. As far as the impact of the Great Depression is concerned, the most severely impacted countries were the United States, Canada, Poland, Australia and Germany, yet despite authoritarian nationalism in Poland, the Fascist revolution was only in Germany. What real excuses do Italy and Japan have in this regard? Or Spain? Why did the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Netherlands and Iceland avoid totalitarianism from within?


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 4:23pm

In reply to by Azor

AZAR - You stated "As for Germany, Italy and Japan, they could not have been said to have strong liberal democratic traditions in 1945." That is patently false.

Italy, through its various city-states, like Florence and Venice, where the shining examples of liberal republicanism throughout the late middle ages and into the modern time when Italy was finally reunited as a country.

Japan, the Meji Restoration in the 1860s led to a period of modernization that resulted in a modern industrial state by 1912. "The Meiji reforms brought great changes both within Japan and in Japan's place in world affairs. Japan strengthened itself enough to remain a sovereign nation in the face of Western colonizing powers and indeed became a colonizing power itself. During the Taishô period (1912-1926), Japanese citizens began to ask for more voice in the government and for more social freedoms. During this time, Japanese society and the Japanese political system were significantly more open than they were either before or after. The period has often been called the period of "Taishô democracy."

Germany had the Weimar Republic.

What led to all these countries falling to fascism was the economic collapse of the great depression.

They all had the seeds of republicanism and experience with individual rights and civic responsibilities necessary for successful democratization.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 4:21pm

In reply to by Azor

Withstand...not at all. Which simply underscores the difficulty of creating those conditions in Africa, the Middle East, or much of Central America and the Caribbean basin, where those ideas aren't as inbred. But also why in 1945, the populations in the defeated Axis powers didn't have to be taught those concepts from scratch.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 12:37pm

In reply to by Warlock

Agreed. However, would those elements have been able to withstand the elements of anarchy and totalitarianism without U.S. support? France, Greece and Italy faced serious risks from domestic Communists.

Comparing the progression of the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and to Syria, it is evident that pro-liberal and pro-democratic elements were present throughout each of these countries' upheavals, and yet they were strongest in Tunisia, were crushed in Egypt, and are under siege in Libya and Syria.

As for Germany, Italy and Japan, they could not have been said to have strong liberal democratic traditions in 1945.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 9:22am

In reply to by Azor

To be fair, the "strong, liberal, democratic, prosperous and allied states in the ruins of Europe and East Asia" weren't created from scratch. Those countries already had social and political traditions incorporating most, if not all of those elements (even pre-war Japan). Those same elements don't necessarily exist in other regions.


Tue, 04/11/2017 - 9:23am

In reply to by Azor



Tue, 04/11/2017 - 2:45am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

It seems as though we are arguing past one another.

Clearly, no idea is every destroyed, no matter how discredited it is. The American experience with freedom of expression has proven that the oldest and worst of ideas continue to find new believers.

Capturing the institutions of a powerful state or states is both the ambition of all ideologies and the highest level of attainment possible.

Take the Confederate State of America, National Socialist Germany and Imperial Japan. None were defeated by any discrediting of their intellectual foundations. Rather, they were defeated when enough of their fighting populations were killed, captured or otherwise incapacitated: the “30% solution”. The ideologies of these states that preceded them continue to survive their demise in various forms, but pose no significant contemporary threat in terms of inter-state war or intra-state political violence.

Suffice it to say: attrition works.

Attrition defeated the Confederacy, Germany and Japan. Attrition also defeated Imperial Russia in 1917 and nearly defeated Soviet Russia during World War II. Attrition was a crucial element to the assumption and consolidation of power of every ruling Communist party. The United States and the West did not employ attrition against the Soviet Union or China, and containment lasted over forty-five years, during which there was Soviet subversion of Western countries and moments were conventional war was highly probable.

However, I will agree with you that there must be a carrot to accompany the stick, or an off-ramp. While death and destruction will dull the allure of the Caliphate, its potential recruits need an alternative other than grinding poverty and powerlessness, otherwise the Caliphate will be worth dying for. One vision of utopia must be exchange for another, but it is doubtful whether the secular authoritarianism of the variety practiced in Algeria and Egypt, replete with corruption and brutality, can provide such a vision. Probably, only a state predicated upon democracy and freedom, and possessing sufficient economic opportunity, can do so. Again, in the wake of World War II, the United States took on a mission to develop strong, liberal, democratic, prosperous and allied states in the ruins of Europe and East Asia. That less-than-military mission has been a success, but it continues over seventy years later. Short of such a commitment to Iraq, Libya and Syria, local tyrants, containment and attrition are our only tools.


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 8:48pm

In reply to by Azor

First, White Supremism, Fascism, and Communism were never defeated. The institutions that promoted Fascism were defeated. White Supremacist lost support, and Communism failed. None were defeated, and certainly none were defeated by force.

Second, I said nothing about a "better idea." What I said is that the old ideas can be discredited. The Reason the Bible and the Torah are no long a threat is because they have been discredited as the basis of governmental systems. There are very few people in the Christian or Jewish world who believe that God grants a single human the sole power of dominion over the earth, and that person then has total control over all living things. Perhaps Vatican City, but other than that ... The point is, the idea of that type of governance was not defeated, it lost credibility. That is not to say that some tried to hold on to that ideal to the bitter end, and that lead to bloodshed and revolution. But the bloodshed and revolution occurred after the idea lost its power. It was the shift in thinking that lead to the revolution. There was not a revolution and then suddenly people realized that maybe the old way was wrong. If you destroy ISIS, or al Qaeda, or al Nusra, they will just return under another name. If you discredit the idea of a Salafist Caliphate, then you prevent others from following in the footsteps.

I certainly don't believe that we are going to defeat ISIS with kindness, but I also don't believe that the conventional ideas of killing political leaders (playing whack-a-mole) or destroying their ability to fight will change anything. As long as the idea remains credible in the minds of the followers, you will have war. Only once the idea losses credibility with the war cease.


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 5:12pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Lt. Col.,

I disagree with you that we can effectively "discredit" the Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadis (e.g. Daesh) on the one hand, and the Wahhabi-Jihadis (e.g. Al Qaeda) on the other.

From a historical perspective, the horrendous ideologies of white supremacism, Fascism, German supremacism and Communism, were not defeated by "better ideas". They were either defeated militarily or lost the will to use force. The willingness and/or ability to use force is always the prerequisite for revisionist ideologies, whether in the revolutionary stage, the consolidation stage or the establishment stage.

I agree with you, however, that our struggle is not with Islam or Muslims on the whole. I don't particularly care for Islam, but our goal should be to render the Quran as harmless as the Torah or the Bible's Old Testament. Mein Kampf is available to interested readers and yet it has not conjured up a first rate goose-stepping military machine.

But both forms of Jihad, whether primarily directed at fellow Muslims or alternately at non-Muslims, are very alluring. How can going to school, getting a good job and struggling to meet a significant other compare to being a just warrior with the power of life and death over others, who is rewarded with captive women and wealth. You had might as well ask a NKVD man whether he would prefer life as an average civilian in the U.S. He would doubtless turn it down, even though it would be the wiser choice in the long-term.

The idea of a "Jewish State" is problematic, unless one's only frame of reference is the Muslim world. What of non-practicing Jews whose Jewishness is ethnic rather than religious? What if Israelis decide to be merely a state where the practice of Judaism and people of Jewish descent are equal and ostensibly free from oppression?

At present, it seems as though Israel's vision of the future is one of "Bantustans" for the non-Israeli Arabs. At the same time, no Arab state wants to claim the "Palestinians" for their own, whereas Israel accepts all Jews.


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 2:32pm

In reply to by Azor

I doubt there is any common ground between my views and those of COL Donovan. He oversimplifies the world. Even before I started doing research back in 2005 when it became clear things weren't going well in Iraq and Afghanistan was my view as black and white as his.

Religion and ideology have much in common from a political point of view, but human history and modern law treat them differently. Besides, as you point out no religion is homogeneous. Not all Sunni's are Wahhabists. Not all Wahhabists are Salafists. As you move further away from the central religion, each of these sects take on a more ideological slant. From that perspective, I believe you fight them the same way you fight an ideology, by discrediting it. To lump all Muslims together as COL Donovan does is not only simplistic, it is denying reality and destroying any chance you have of victory.

As for Israel, that was me baiting the audience. I do think that, if Israel wants to implement a one state solution, they are going to have to either separate out Jews from non-Jews and give the Jews greater political rights and power, or lose their status as a Jewish State. The tyranny of demographics will force their hand.


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 11:56am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Wouldn't you have some common ground with him over regarding the Gulf Arab states as more hindrance than help?

As for the U.S. Constitution, it did not prevent the U.S. from going to war against German, Italian and Japanese ethnic supremacism nor from challenging Communism, even though the First Amendment permits Americans to goose-step in S.S. uniforms and advocate for a dictatorship of the proletariat instead of the current form of government.

To my mind, religion is no different than ideology and should receive legal treatment as such.

What Col. Donovan is advocating is a realignment of the U.S. in the Middle East away from the "Sunni Front" to the "Shia Front". To his credit, Obama did desire to avoid embroiling the U.S. in Islam's Thirty Years War, but to his discredit, he had difficulty crafting a narrative to explain why the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and Syria might see sectarian cleansing by the Shias and ethnic cleansing by the Kurds as more threatening than the Salafi Jihadis.

So, Israel is a "theocracy"?


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 10:35am

Just for shits and giggles, I will offer this - what Mr. Donovan is advocating, a religious war, is Unconstitutional. Unless you are willing to scrape the 1st Amendment, the U.S. Government cannot take sides in religious disputes. We can attack groups like ISIS. We can attack theocracies like Iran (or Israel). But we cannot attack a religion.


Mon, 04/10/2017 - 4:18pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Gen. Smith is a typical post-Cold War commander who believed in the “end of history”, to quote Fukuyama.

The Soviet Empire in East-Central Europe was predicated upon the deployment of Soviet occupation forces, a KGB presence and Soviet-backed governments. The occupation even began with mass murder, torture and deportation in all of the occupied countries. When various peoples tried to throw off their shackles in 1953, 1956 and 1968, the Soviets crushed them brutally.

Why did unarmed protesters accomplish in 1989-1991 what armed and unarmed dissidents failed to achieve in the Soviet Union during 1929-1933, and in both the Soviet Union and its new empire from 1944-1953?

The men with the guns were no longer prepared to shoot. Arguably, had the Czechs and Slovaks stood their ground with massive civil disobedience, they could have broken Soviet power in 1968. The men with the guns that Stalin relied upon from 1930 to 1953 were all brutalized personalities: brutalized by the Czar, World War I, the Civil War and even by Stalin himself. These men had no qualms about killing. Stalin seemed aware of the importance of inflicting brutality on those whom you would have inflict brutality on others. At regular and all too frequent intervals, he unleashed yet another wave of brutality in order to preserve the discipline that he had established with the corpses of over 15 million people. Yet Stalin inspired love as well as fear, and those performing the “Genickschussanlage” on the enemy of the day, could believe that they were doing so to usher in an age of gleaming skyscrapers, belching factories and full employment; and, at least they were administering the terror not receiving it. By 1968, the Soviet leadership neither inspired the dread it once did, not could it even inspire love. As with all declines, however, the period between the beginning of the beginning of the end, and the end itself, is roughly half the story. The Soviets and their auxiliaries basically bribed their peoples with improved standards of living, and when they could no longer deliver on those, the end was clear.

Typically, Red Terror has involved murdering 4% to 10% of the people one wishes to rule; conversely, White Terror is more in the range of 1% or less. After the death of Stalin, no serious attempt was made to cull the Communist populations of the disloyal or less-than-loyal, except perhaps in Hungary.

Bill C.

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 10:43am

First: If we are to understand that the goal of the Islamists is "hegemonic Islam," then we must also understand that the goal of the U.S./the West, quite obviously, is "hegemonic market-democracy."

In these such confrontations, perhaps we should look to General Sir Rupert Smith for guidance:


I believe that in recent decades we have lived through a shift in the paradigm of war. What has happened is that in the past, in what I call "industrial war", you sought to win a trial of strength and thereby break the will of your opponent, to finally dictate the result, the political outcome you wished to achieve.

In our new paradigm, which I call "war amongst the people", you seek to change the intentions or capture the will of your opponent and the people amongst which you operate, to win the clash of wills and thereby win the trial of strength. The essential difference is that military force is no longer used to decide the political dispute, but rather to create a condition in which a strategic result is achieved. ...

In this confrontation you are trying to win them (the population) from your opponent to a greater or lesser degree in order to isolate the opponent. If you want an example, this is what the West did to the Warsaw Pact to win the Cold War, which was a confrontation; it never became a conflict. It was the revolt of the people of the Warsaw Pact satellite states, and then the revolt of the people of Russia against their government, that marked the end of the Cold War, not a military adventure at all. So it can be done." (Item in parenthasis is mine.)


Next: To look at the recommendations being made by Colonel Donovan in his offering here -- this, so as to determine if his (Donovan's) recommendations make sense -- in the "war amongst the people" strategic context offered by General Sir Rupert Smith above:


Some potential game changers, policy options, might include the following top ten initiatives:

* Move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
* Abandon the “two-state” fantasy.
* Recognize Kurdistan.
* Reform NATO. Expel Turkey.
* Revise Foggy Bottom’s official terror list. Add prominent Islamic state sponsors to the list.
* Vet immigrants. Deport Islamist activists.
* Abandon regime change and proxy wars as policies.
* Redefine Islam as a political, vice religious institution.
* Withdraw American troops from internecine Islamic religious wars.
* Insist that the Ummah fund, fight, or resolve all Shia/Sunni sectarian disputes. (Shoot winners as required.)


Bottom Line Questions:

1. Do Colonel Donovan's recommendations above fall within/conform to the strategic guidance provided by General Sir Rupert Smith above? Or do they, to the contrary, (a) stand against his (Smith's) such recommendations and, thus, (b) tend to play directly into our enemy's hand?

2. Thus to ask, which of the individuals above -- COL Donovan or GEN Smith -- actually seems to understand the war (GEN Smith might say the confrontation) upon which we are embarked; not only in the Greater Middle East today, but elsewhere throughout the world also? (To wit, and re: our goal of "hegemonic market-democracy," a "war" for the "hearts and minds" of the entire non-Western/less-western world?)

Col. Donovan is yet another "contrarian" former intelligence officer or soldier to sharply denounce the recent U.S. airstrike on Shayrat Airbase.

During his discussion of the war between the West and Islamism, he makes no distinction between Sunni and Shia or between Wahhabi and Salafi. Nor are the Kurds monolithic, as the Iraqi ones are U.S. clients who have been de facto independent for decades, and the Syrian ones are former Soviet clients who are attempting to carve out a territory in both Turkey and Syria. He also conveniently ignores that Russia's solution to Islamism is part dirty war, part maniacal tyrant (Kadyrov).

As for who is killing Daesh, the 45,000 to 65,000 dead fighters caused by the U.S. air campaign seem to mean nothing compared to the Kremlin's invented statistics. Whereas the U.S. can claim a civilian casualty ratio of 5-10%, Russia's is actually higher than the 33% or so meted out by Assad. Yet Russia has improved upon 1st and 2nd Chechnya and Afghanistan, so the Syrian civilians murdered by Russian bombs at bakeries, schools, hospitals and markets can be thankful for that.

If Assad isn't the only actor in Syria with Sarin gas, then the others must be saving it for a special occasion, like when the Alawi families of Shabiha warlords are frolicking at the beaches of Latakia. One might wonder why they did not unleash the sweet goodnight of Sarin after Assad surrendered his in 2013-2014? Once Aleppo fell and Mosul was set to fall, what turning point were they waiting for, Col.?

Col. Donovan treats Hussein, Qaddafi and Assad as though they are or were permanent fixtures, not unlike how Dr. Kissinger treated the Soviet Union. Personal rule is invariably a risky business, as the less tyrannical leaders of Tunisia and Egypt discovered in 2011. Could an ailing Hussein or his sons have withstood the Arab Spring? For his part, Qaddafi was going to be ruling half of Libya at best, and Benghazi would have held out. I deplored that intervention, but more for reasons of migrant control and nuclear non-proliferation.

Overall, Islam is caught up in its own Thirty Years War, kicked off by the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Most of the killing is Muslims killing fellow Muslims, with Takfiri Jihad of Qutb and now Al Baghdadi seemingly more important than the united front against infidels promoted by the late Bin Laden.

Syria is already a failed state. Assad is kept in power by a coalition of Shia mercenaries led by Iranian intelligence officers, while his most loyal Alawi soldiers live as warlords and gangsters behind the frontlines. An Assad-Khamanei-Putin victory will not bring about any sort of stability, let alone secularism, now that Iran is determined to carve out a Shia "Green Crescent" in the region.

One antidote is re-establishing strong Arab nationalist states. But those are the same states that attacked Israel more than once, developed chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (Iraq, Libya, Syria), committed acts of terror against the West (Libya) and invaded other states (e.g. Lebanon, Iran, Kuwait, Chad). Another would be to completely destroy the societies in the region and rebuild them as strong Western allies, comparable to the treatment of Germany, Italy and Japan. Any takers for that? Otherwise, containment and attrition is the best we can do.

But throwing our lot in with Assad, Khamanei and Putin? To what end? To support the Shias over the Sunnis? To play offshore balancer?

Jeff Goodson

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 9:32pm

Well said, and it's about time.

My thinking is that if we integrate your 'top ten initiatives' with the policy recommendations of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her new book "The Challenge of Dawa; Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter it", we'd have the ouitline of a strategic "way forward" that goes after the religious ideological root of the problem (for once), and is both actionable and makes sense.

Let the debate begin.

Jeff Goodson