Small Wars Journal

America’s New Strategic Reality: Irregular World War

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 9:18am

America’s New Strategic Reality: Irregular World War

Jeff M. Moore

Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA 22nd District), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation this past Sunday that ISIS posed a severe and pending threat to the United States. The FBI, on June 17th, told ABC News that it’s in the midst of attempting to disrupt ISIS operations in all 50 states, an historic first for domestic terror threats. This follows similar and recent warnings about ISIS from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and former CIA head Mike Morell. While all these warnings are prudent, none have provided the strategic context behind the threat environment, which is this: America is embroiled in an irregular world war with Islamist jihadists. If it doesn’t rise to the occasion and confront the threat more effectively, America runs the risk of international strategic decline.

This war is indeed global. Every region on earth is bearing the brunt of Islamist jihad terrorism and insurgency: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, etc. Even areas that haven’t seen jihadist attacks as of late like Latin America have at least seen Islamist jihadist intelligence, financing, and logistics activities.

As for “irregular war,” in basic terms, it means wars without front lines, fighters without uniforms, terrorism and political warfare as tactics, and counter-status quo political and/or religious goals. It is the opposite of a conventional battlefield such as WW II in Europe where uniformed Allied armies battled Nazi armies for key terrain on well-designated battlefields.

The Islamist jihadist threat has much in common with the Nazis in other areas, however.

Islamist jihadism is a radical, political-religious ideology defined by a Muslim Brotherhood founding father named Sayyid Qutb. In his book, Milestones, Qutb asserts that an ultra-conservative, political version of Islam should rule the world, and that Islamism cannot co-exist with democracy and capitalism. War on all non-Islamists, says Qutb, is a religious duty to clear the way for his version of a perfect, holy society. ISIS, al Qaeda, and like groups all over the world follow this philosophy. Even when they disagree over leadership issues such as the apparent ISIS-AQ spat, they still adhere to the same end goals.

Sound cartoonish? It's happened before. Adolph Hitler did it. His autobiography, Mein Kamph, laid out the core ideology of the Nazis. He inspired millions into battle and the genocide of over 10 million.

In this global irregular war, however, instead of a Hitler figurehead as the center of gravity, the driving force is an ideology – Islamist society under a Caliphate. And it’s now a deadly fad that’s caught on like wildfire.

Regarding military forces, instead of a single, unified army like Hitler’s SS troopers and Wehrmacht, the Islamist jihadists have four types of forces all over the globe.

First are the major terror and insurgent groups with global or regional caliphate goals like ISIS, AQ, and Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiyah.

Second are country-specific insurgencies such as Somalia’s al Shabaab, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Philippines’ Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Pakistan’s Taliban. These organizations fight for their own version of Islamist jihad, and some have pledged allegiance to ISIS or AQ over the years.

Third are the highly networked terror cells such as those that carried out the 2005 Tube bombings in London, the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and the ISIS-inspired militants that were planning attacks in Malaysia in April.

Fourth are the lone wolves, the individual jihadists such as Oklahoma man Alton Nolen who in September 2014 beheaded a female coworker, and Mohamed Mohamud who in 2010 aimed to bomb a Portland Christmas gathering. Scores of fighters like these seem to materialize all over the world on a monthly basis now.

And it’s not just the “West vs. Islamists,” either. There’s scores of Muslim countries involved in this fight, too. Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kazakhstan, the UAE, and Yemen are all fully engaged against Islamist jihadist fighters in some form or another.

What’s it all mean?

First, the Obama administration doesn’t understand the threat. National Security Advisor Susan Rice told a crowd at the Brookings Institution in February 2015, “Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War.”

She’s wrong.

ISIS and its cohorts, aside from their irregular nature, are just like the Nazis. They are driven by a radical cultural and politico-religious ideology. Their end goal is to subjugate others under this ideology. They use terrorism and gruesome violence as a tool as demonstrated by their mass executions to “cleanse” society of their enemies. They’re violently intolerant of “incompatible” social and cultural norms. Finally, they intimidate and murder their own kind. This is exactly what the Nazis did.

It's also important to note that AQ killed more Americans on U.S. soil on 9-11 than the Nazis ever did.

Second, if you don't understand the threat, you can’t plan defensive and offensive ways to mitigate it.

Third, since America’s foreign partners and allies see no leadership coming from Washington on this global irregular world war, they’re forced to go it alone.

To be sure, it’s a good thing when other countries ante up and fight the Islamist jihadists so America doesn't have to expend excessive blood and treasure. But it’s a bad thing when America won’t coordinate and lead a global irregular counterattack when it both could and should. America is the only country with the international clout, technology, and counter terror/counterinsurgency know how that can rally so many diverse partners against this Nazi-like threat reborn. Merging this prowess with partner nations’ local knowledge would make a powerful force multiplier.

What to do? In WW II, President Roosevelt met with his counterparts such as Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Charles de Gaulle through various conferences to plan policy for countering the Nazi onslaught. More than feel-good regional conferences packed with scores of diplomats and photo ops, these small groups of leaders decisively defined the threat and set end goals to defeat it. This would be appropriate now.

Also in WW II, America and the UK established a Combined Chiefs of Staff of their top military officers to coordinate the war. A similar command – beyond global Special Forces coordination – would be appropriate. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and like countries would be necessary participants. Aside from decisive military and covert action, top priority should be given to worldwide, counter politico-religious warfare.

But it all begins with defining the threat. If that doesn’t happen, the counterattack won’t begin, and we’ll just float along from crisis to crisis, applying half measures and saying we’re not at war when we certainly are. Tackling this global irregular threat takes international defense and security savvy, realpolitik capabilities, and seeing world as it is, not as politicians want it to be.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Moore, Ph.D., is the chief executive officer of Muir Analytics, which assesses insurgent and terror threats against corporations. Dr. Moore is author of two books: Spies for Nimitz: Joint Military Intelligence in the Pacific War, and The Thai Way of Counterinsurgency. He is also the purveyor of SecureHotel.US, a terror risk assessment product for hotels the world over.




Here's a link to a digital reference to Mao's writings on Guerilla warfare (sorry for the Marxist link… feel free to insert a less obnoxious source).…

Most readers, and certainly the vast majority of American strategic opponents, are well versed in the Maoist/Marxist insurgency methodology, which I personally think is more apropos than the National Socialist approach, at least in terms of evaluating what 'play book' our asymmetric opponents, from ISIS to Chinese cyber spooks, are going back to again and again.

The difference is important because the U.S. military has spent generations developing the tactics and methods for countering this strategy… if only we were 'allowed' to present the actions of "radical islamist" agitations and organizations as using a Religious, rather than an Economic, pretext and ideology.

A lot of comments touched on overall U.S. strategy as being in a state of contraction, which I think is more or less accurate, although I personally think this is actual POLICY, if not openly stated or claimed, by the Admin/WH. It's not as if the WH wasn't warned by… just about everyone in the IC and Defense establishment what would happen if the U.S. unilaterally withdrew and left a power vacuum: In the ME, in Europe, in Asia, and etc. Frankly, even raving Libertarians like myself find this particular Admin's risk aversion/evasion, hard to logically explain or understand.

Yet for our strategic opponents, this exact passivity, timidity, and predictability on the part of the Admin. presents innumerable golden opportunities from their perspectives. Not just militarily, or diplomatically, but economically and technologically as well… our opponents have practiced text book Mao: The enemy (i.e. the U.S.) retreats, advance. And etc. Mao's method works because it's simple, brutal, and uncompromising. Yet we have sat back over and over again and pretended our opponents are going to compromise… that they're NOT going to be brutal… that there's some trick or complex solution, when there isn't.

It's easy to focus on ISIS because they use modern media to broadcast their brutality. And frankly, it seems to me that at the White House, this Administration is scared. It's staffers, the NSC, even the President are SO CIVILIZED, they've been unmanned by the barbarity of the propaganda, and it's dictated their policy (which is ISIS's goal). It's fine and noble to HOPE the world will behave in a neat, just, and civilized manner… but it's utterly foolish to govern a Nation based on Hope rather than on practical reality. Our opponents tactics and strategy are WORKING… so why should they change a thing?

In this, the U.S. global retreat has created an opportunity that's similar to that which the Nazi's and others have regularly exploited in the past. On this site, no one should be surprised by this fact. Moreover, for those of us who patently disagree with the Admin's passivity and "Cut and Run" ism… it's worth pointing out that those determining policy in the Admin aren't stupid, merely cynical. Given this observation, it's rarely productive to try and logically debate policy with cynical people. lol.


A. Scott Crawford

Bill C.

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 1:04pm

In reply to by CBCalif


You wrote:

"Given this country’s economic needs, and our declining economic wealth, its governmental leaders need to once again, as in an earlier era, recognize that out foreign policy and associated efforts around the globe are best served by their promoting America’s economic interests, not when aimed at implementing (de facto forcing our vision of) democratic societies and cultures on peoples around the world."

This such depiction seems to suggest that:

a. Efforts made to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political and social lines, this should be seen as

b. Detracting from -- rather than as a necessary prerequisite for -- the promote America's economic interests today and going forward.

But should these matters (not only economic but also political and social transformation) not be seen, instead, as being more hand and glove related?

Thus, from the perspective of:

a. The transformation of outlying states and societies more along -- not only our economic but also our political and social lines -- as being essential to

b. The adequate provision of America's economic and other security interests; both now and in the future?

Herein to consider the contemporary view that states and societies that are more like us are also more likely to be more "open" to, and therefore more accessible re:, commerce and trade; than are their more "different" -- and, therefore, more difficult -- counterparts?


Sat, 06/27/2015 - 11:03am

America's Current Strategically Reality in the Middle East

Perhaps, from a strategic interests point of view, the questions to be asked and answered by America’s leaders would be, Is the U.S. carrying out and contemplating greater military involvement in the Middle East because of one, multiple, or all of the following:

1. It believes it is in the “West’s” best interests to absorb the costs (in dollars and lives) of the protracted effort required to forcefully establish, install, and maintain Democratic States across that region and thereby to replace the Dictatorial (secular or theocratic) States currently constituting the majority of political entities in that area; or

2. The U.S. is simply reacting (or perhaps overreacting) to the murder of individual American citizens in that part of the world and, therefore, it desires to remove (degrade and destroy) the party it currently views as the transgressor carrying out those barbaric act – ISIS; or is

3. The U.S. concerned about the threat that could be posed to Western Economies should one (secular or theocratic based) radical anti-Western nation take power in that area and control a significant portion of the World’s actively drilled and sold oil reserves.

Guiding that assessment, American leaders should realistically recognize that at the current point in time, regardless of how statistically low it appears, losing the percentage of our oil usage we import from the Middle East, or finding its prices are suddenly substantially increased, could significantly damage Western Economies. America depends on its (rare) trade surplus with Europe to (at least partially) offset its massive trade deficit with Asia, and that flow of American exports to Europe would diminish rapidly should Europe be cut off from, or have to pay much higher prices for oil from the Middle East. The European economy, should either of those actions occur, would be negatively impacted by a loss in jobs and incomes and an accompanying reduction in consumer demand. A consumer demand reduction that would translate into a reduction in American sales to Europe and a reduction, therefore, in American employment at a time when our economy needs every private industry job it can muster. Economic activity (sales and jobs) in this country generates the tax revenues which in part fund the military and the other necessary government programs on which an economy relies.

Obviously all three of the above factors have played some role (in varying degrees) in motivating American military involvement in the Middle East. In addition, so should the recognition that if either side in the ISIS / Jihadi Sunni versus the Iranian / Hezbollah contest of strength prevail, they could pose an equal threat to the West’s strategic economic interests in that region, i.e. by interrupting or introducing an erraticism in the flow of oil to Western European nations and the U.S. instead of maintaining the flow in needed volumes at the necessary times and at costs deemed reasonable. Therefore, perhaps the potentially significant threat to the West from the warring in the Middle East, often reflected on as acts of terrorist or successes of terror groups by the News, stems not simply from individual acts of terror carried out anywhere in the world, but instead from the potential any of the (directly involved) parties in that struggle have to damage our true strategic national interest in that area – the flow of oil westward – should one entity prevail over the other and establish some form of hegemony over a resource meaningful area of the Middle East.

Given this country’s economic needs, and our declining economic wealth, its governmental leaders need to once again, as in an earlier era, recognize that out foreign policy and associated efforts around the globe are best served by their promoting America’s economic interests, not when aimed at implementing (de facto forcing our vision of) democratic societies and cultures on peoples around the world. If the people in any nation or land are unhappy with their lot in life, it is up to them to rectify that problem through revolution or other forms of governmental change – and that is not a burden an outside nation or people can (or should) should endure.

How the U.S. insures that our strategic national (economic) interests in the Middle East are secured is a question of major importance to this nation and to Europe – at least until we find a replacement for 100 percent of the oil from that region needed to fuel our economies. From a strategic viewpoint the U.S. needs to insure that none of the contending nations or parties obtains direct or indirect control over more than the oil producing facilities and reserves contained in the own country and that we have in place the necessary local force levels from all three components of our military (and demonstrate a willingness to use them) to insure that the local parties to the conflict accept that we will do what it takes to secure our strategic national interests and to restrain any plans for aggrandizement they may possess that threatens our interests. The U.S. must also be willing to take the necessary military actions (absent invasion and protracted forced occupation of a given area) to insure that any side to the ongoing struggle in that area cannot prevail over the other, but not act in the manner that provides the side we are (realistically temporarily) supporting a level of military power that enables them to dominate their neighbors.

Logically, therefore, U.S. should realistically temper its direct involvement at the tactical level to those activities which will produce cost effective results in that region needed to protect its strategic national interests in that area, and little (or no) more. The last thing this country needs is to again invade and occupy some land, therein to conduct a protracted effort against resisting elements of that population that will cost us hundreds of billions or over a trillion dollars. In other words, the U.S. should recognize that acting as the crusader for establishing Western style democracies across the Middle East is a fool’s errand, and one wherein the costs will far exceed any possible or actual benefits. Spending trillions on a strategic fool’s errand is (in of itself) destructive to the American economy, accordingly, not an operational path down which we should ever travel again. As a matter of policy, the U.S. should never again invade and occupy another country, and by doing so allow our forces to be drawn into a protracted war, which will insure that we eventually depart having strategically failed, despite our asserting the strategic losers claim of having been tactically successful. Instead, we should make use of multiple groups in that region by training and equipping their forces and by providing them the support they need to succeed, but only to a point. Our aim should not be to replace one source of threat to our interests with another source, but instead to either maintain a balance between the contending parties such that neither (or none) prevail over the other or to somehow enable all to exhaust themselves (to thereby degrade their capabilities) enabling them to be so minimized as to be effectively impotent or to thereby be the cause of their own self-destruction – perhaps with some outside temporary assistance.

America is facing a new strategic reality in the world as compared to that of World War II, as versus the Cold War, and as versus our Nation’s policies implemented in a reaction (or some would say an over-reaction) to the terrorist actions on 9/11 and afterwards. Segments of that threat will never exceed that of a nuisance level despite their headline grabbing appeal to a headline story seeking news reporting profession and their exaggerated impact providing seeming value to politicians of both sides of the political spectrum as speaking aides when asserting their political views. On the other hand, aspects of the conflict between Jihadists and other radical groups and theocratic dictatorships in the Middle East could morph into a direct threat to the economic well being and / or stability of the West, and thus they need to be addressed, their potential threat limited and contained, and that result must be achieved in a cost effective manner. That should be the West’s strategic goal in the Middle East – not achieving a a very costly and probably unattainable decisive victory over the parties and nations to that local struggle which is threatening to our strategic national interests.


Sat, 06/27/2015 - 10:40am

Certainly there is a commonality with fascist ideology today and that prevalent in the Axis countries in the 1930s and 40s. However I would have thought the huge industrial economies that willingly supported the wartime fascist agenda is so enormous that to extrapolate the implicit threat from fascism then, and the threat from fascism now, is meaningless.

There are many examples that question any similarity but let’s take a 6 month period between June 1941 and December 1941. The Axis forces launched an offensive against the Red Army with 4 million men on a 2900 km front. In a mere six months the fascists suffered 800K casualties but inflicted 4 million casualties on their Russian opponents. In doing so they lost 2500 armored vehicles and a similar number of aircraft but destroyed more than 20,000 Soviet armored vehicles and more than 20,000 Soviet aircraft.

Switch to 2015 and over the last 14 years the West has lost perhaps 100 aircraft (less than 20% to hostile fire) and suffered less than 100K casualties.

I appreciate the author recognizes the difference in scale and is attempting to draw attention to the potential danger, but from a grand strategy POV nearly the entire population of Germany and Japan willfully supported the fascist doctrine and all that it entailed.

The suggestion that the current crop of fascist fruitcake and their Broadway Joe leaders enjoy a political, economic and military mandate similar to that enjoyed Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito is IMO akin to suggesting the entire population of the US are currently active members of the Klu Klux Klan.



Consider the following definition of our new strategic reality:

"Major events like September 11th, the US invasion of Iraq, and the global financial crisis disrupted the Western-driven globalization process and revitalized a state-centric political model of the world. Although the US chose an economic-centered globalization strategy and relied on international political institutions in the 1990s, national sovereignty became the new norm and the global system shifted from globalist rationale to geopolitical realism. Fear, war, the threat of war, provocation, territory, regional influence and military build-ups weakened international institutions as nation-states countered each other to re-assume power."

"There is now an unfettered international political instability crisis as a result of stalled engines of globalization all stemming from this neglect of the “political” dimension in the international system. The decline of liberal international foundations did not occur because people no longer desired them, but because of the lack of a strong ideological commitment from the world’s declining superpower and partners. The consequences of rising authoritarian states present crisis conditions for international liberalism and stability. They are also now in direct proportion to the decline of the Western political influence. Thus, as the West weakens, other challengers will present and push their perception of what they desire the global system to become."…

Herein, do we agree with this key passage in the second paragraph above:

"The decline of liberal international foundations did not occur because people no longer desired them, but because of the lack of a strong ideological commitment from the world’s declining superpower and partners."

Or do we believe, instead, that:

a. There was prior to 9/11, etc. -- and still is in other countries -- no great and/or resounding desire for the western way of life, the western way of governance and western values, attitudes and beliefs; such as to cause the populations of these outlying countries to fight and die to achieve same. And that, accordingly,

b. Our problem lies in our alternative (and false) conception, to wit: that the populations of outlying states and societies HAD prior to 9/11, etc. -- and with proper support and motivation will regain -- a overwhelming desire for our way of life, our way of governance, etc.; such that they will be (as they were before 9/11) prepared to fight and die to achieve same.

If my depiction of the situation (see "a" above) is more correct, then how do we address this central matter re: "our new strategic reality?"


Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:55am

The thesis of the article is if America doesn’t rise to the occasion and confront the Islamist jihadist threat more effectively, America runs the risk of international strategic decline. The author cites as evidence various similarities between the Nazis and the Islamist jihadist threat to thereby conclude the jihadis pose an existential threat to the nation.

First off, it’s important not to conflate strategic decline with an existential threat. Strategic decline from America’s lofty position in today’s world order is likely inevitable. Furthermore, America’s response to the jihadist threat to this point has, if anything, hastened its decline as the country has taken on more and more debt to finance continuous war, as well as the “wartime” restrictions and invasions that have been placed on America’s citizens and now look permanent, which erode the foundation and ideals that made the country so great for so long. One might argue these costs were worth the gains achieved, but evidence is sparse of successful terror interdictions on American soil.

America’s strategic decline can turn into an existential threat if and only if ISIS and the jihadis somehow win the battle of ideas, which can only occur if America does not stay true to itself and its ideals, i.e., if it abandons what made it so attractive to its citizens and the world for centuries. Sadly, this is clearly occurring: (see domestic spying, police militarization, Patriot Act, indefinite detention, secret courts, TSA, torture, indefinite war). 9/11 and isolated terror attacks, as awful as they are for the victims and their loved ones, simply do not amount to threats of an existential nature justifying a response involving untold billions of dollars and a destruction of American citizens’ civil liberties. Let’s keep in mind, an American is about 9 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist and 4 times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist. The real threat lies in alienating the personal and institutional trust Americans have. America would do well to return to its preference to be left alone from the world, rather than its current mania to control everything.

Unfortunately, America, being a wealthy, patriotic, and technological superior country tends to view problems as resolvable through the application of military force. However, even the destruction of ISIS would do little to ameliorate the underlying conditions which brought about its rise. Moreover, America’s performance so far confronting the jihadist threat gives little evidence indicating future success. One only has to look around the Middle East today to learn that for all of America’s intervention, the region is now as chaotic as ever. Droning the isolated terrorist has not resulted in any meaningful positive change in the region. A previous comment citing Bacevich is well taken. America’s power has limits.

In short, let us not underestimate the costs this continuous conflict entails, nor overestimate America’s ability to bring about any meaningful positive change in the Middle East.


Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:29am

Unfortunately, I agree with Susan Rice, it is not an existential threat.

I say "unfortunately" not out of political or partisan bias, but because the lack of an existential threat reduces the priority of effort.

In the intelligence community, it is common to define threat as capability + intent. There is no question about the intent of the threat. However, the threat's capability to remove our nation from existence is not credible. There will be no Caliphate in DC. It is even debatable if the threat can reduce America's status, influence or power (hard or soft) in the world. I would argue that only we can do that through our own actions and decisions.

Therefore, we won't see the WWII like efforts to defeat an enemy that had the intent and the capability to place a flag over the United States. Instead, we will see "economy of force" through partnerships and combat operations by committee chasing amorphous and ill-defined political ends. Not because of lack of understanding of the threat, but because of a calculated analysis of the risk of the threat versus the cost.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 6:09am

Interesting but the global jihadi fight has been ongoing from at least the early 1970s---first as the PLO vs the Israeli conflict and out of that conflict spun nearly four decades of fighting in some form or another with an ever increasing radicalization simply because there was no "success" by the various fighting groups--that has radically changed just in the last five years to what we are now seeing globally.

When IS declares itself the Emirate for a large Muslim portion of Russia--that was just not talk when one realizes that by 2025-2030 the Muslim population within Russia will out number ethnic Russians.

Remember American troops have been dying in the ME for a long time just not since Iraq.

If we look at the beginnings of the internal PLO and Israeli dispute Hezbollah appeared in Lebanon at the height of the Lebanese infighting and have never left--then we see on the Shia side the calling for the Islamic Revolution by Khomeini with the Embassy takeover and Iran has never looked back and still is a major supporter of global Islamic terrorism directed against the US.

I would argue that we have now a clear understanding of the Iranian and IS UW--the core question remains do we have a national strategy to address it??--answer is a clear and resounding no we do not thus we simply muddle along from event to event while the ME is in a massive state of flux at a level never seen before--due to a lot of American foreign policy decisions and indecisions.

Tap dancing is not a strategy.

The author raises some interesting points in his proposition that we are “embroiled in an irregular world war with Islamist Jihadists.” While many of their on-going struggles appear to be localized, they are occurring in a growing number of locales, to which they repeatedly attempt to add more – sometimes successfully as in Libya – once we again pave the way for them, and sometimes not as successful as in Chechnya. The latter is perhaps takes a broader view of the wars being waged by Islamic Jihadists, but it occurred from a common faith based element seeking control over a given territory through violent conflict. Oddly enough, it is a struggle with its own internal struggles (a form of Civil War) between its ethnic-religious sects or allied groups attempting to take control of a core base area, e.g the Iranian Shiites and their Arab Allies versus the Sunnis of ISIS on one hand or the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and other nations on another hand. And, then there are the Turks attempting to figure out how to benefit from this, but without a leader willing to risk military action – which could prove embarrassing performance wise given the short term draftee soldiers making up that army and after so many of its better officers were arrested and imprisoned.

It is difficult at best to compare this ever growing Islamic threat to that of Hitler, the Nazis, and the Germans of the pre-World War II era because from the perspective of historical hindsight most view World War II Germany as having that once operationally efficient and effective Armed Forces on Land, Sea , and Air – at least for a while – 2 or 3 years and being an industrialized nation. But we forget that the World and the Germans shrugged off the Munich Beer Hall Putsch attempt as meaningless and Mein Kampf as ravings – underestimating the ability of the core members of that group to effect unimagined results.

The current U.S. President (at least) seems not to grasp the scope of the problem with which he (this nation) is dealing, appears to have no meaningful or cohesive strategy to deal with the conflicts spreading across the Islamic World, but on the other hand he has made the efforts that (at least) to date are keeping the contending parties (ISIS) away from those locations from where the West obtains its oil. While he seems to essentially ignore ISIS advances otherwise, perhaps having that struggle continue between the ISIS forces on one side and the Iranian-Hezbollah forces allied with other Shiite factions such as in Syria on the other side isn’t truly a negative, at least to the extent it draws both sides into a costly protracted conflict. After all, from a Western prospective there can be no winner in that contest. It is one of those situations where having both sides exhaust themselves and loose would be the best outcome. Success by either side would pose a threat of some magnitude to the West. Unfortunately, that will bring a rather significant amount of suffering to the common peoples of those lands, but unless (as with the Kurds) they are able and willing to defend themselves, their immediate future is bleak.

Second, Obama appears to be (almost) laser focused on signing a deal with Iranians limiting their nuclear program – which common sense dictates will, even if signed, in the end fail. Once the Iranians have the sanctions lifted, have refreshed their economic position, and returned to the world of international commerce the Iranian leadership will complete the process of building nuclear weapons. After all, a nation doesn’t build underground facilities to keep research labs safe from attack – that proposition is ridiculous, and they don’t acquire long range missiles and that technology for parades. On the other hand, possession of Atomic Weapons simply do not provide a Nation with an offensive capability or provide a basis for effective threat intimidation.

Of course, the previous Bush administration in many respects followed a policy and developed and implemented a strategy that cleared the ground and set up the political military environment that enabled organizations such as ISIS to be birthed and grow into mature and effective groups, and passed on the problems with Iran to the next Administration – just as Obama will pass on an enlarged number of international problems to the next President and their administration.

Viewed from the overall perspective, the author is correct. The problem we as Americans (or perhaps Westerners in general) have in observing the global nature of this struggle is that our view of a global conflict is conditioned by the nature of the (decreasing) industrialized and high tech society in which we live and the fact that over the past century global wars, including the Cold War, have required an industrial base and been rather conventional in scope. It is difficult for us to visualize occurrences outside that intellectual box, or to develop solutions to problems that are not guided by the conventional wisdom we have been taught (or perhaps indoctrinated in) over the decades. However, for those of us of a conventional mindset, we should fear not for lack of future activity. The current President is also passing on to the next President potential or actual struggles with a resurgent and advancing Russia, an expanding China – into the South China Sea area for starters, an imperialistic Iran attempting to recreate a Shiite based Persian Empire using troops from its Client State such as those from Hezbollah, and (an Empire) aspiring Turkey (at least under Erdogan I) waiting in the wings for a path along which he can march without risk – and recreate the Ottoman Empire.

It seems we can all get out piece of the pie of conflict or conflict prevention, presuming the next President is internationally awake and willing to make the investment in combating (so to speak) the ever growing threats and (sometimes chosen) opponents awaiting our presence in risky environments around the globe, and maybe at home.

Rburos is right. The author lists 5 ways ISIS is similar to the Nazis, then makes the leap that therefore they're an existential threat. Very weak logic. I usually expect better on this site. Although he does have a good grasp on the history of Islamic extremism, the insights in this article are superficial at best.

I suggest it's more accurate to say we face a global series of insurgencies rather than an irregular world war.

While ISIS and the jihadis are clearly fascist in ideology (MILESTONES is a classic work of fascism)and functioning, they're not (yet?) an existential threat. While they would undoubtedly love to be one, they don't have the resource base that Nazi Germany did.


Thu, 06/25/2015 - 10:37am

In reply to by Mark Pyruz

Thank you for your reply, and allow me a respectful retort.

First, Godwin's law refers to when an argument drones on and someone eventually invokes the Nazis as a default to try and win the argument. That doesn't apply here. Please note that Ms. Rice invoked the Nazis from the out start. If your military and political leaders assert a threat is not like the Nazis, or Imperial Japan, or al Qaeda, or the Neo-Nazis, we the people certainly have the right to professionally counter, which I did with five examples.

Second, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was a 400+ page psyop of a book written by Jew-haters and used by the Nazis. Even remotely linking my article to this hate speech is exceedingly lacking.

"The Protocols" preach hate. I don’t.

"The Protocols" indict an entire religion. I don’t.

Please read the piece again and see that I specifically write that Muslim nations are under attack as well and that we should be working with them hand in hand. This is the complete opposite of the intentions of the authors of "The Protocols."

I’ve worked with Muslims and consider some of them my brothers.

Finally, I find it extraordinarily ironic that you harpoon me (with Godwin's law) for using a Nazi argument, and then you turn around and use a Nazi instrument ("The Protocols") to further your case.


Thu, 06/25/2015 - 8:39am

In reply to by rburos

For a person who rants against what he thinks is, “sweeping hyperbole” and “over generalization,” you sure throw out a lot of sweeping hyperbole and over generalization.

Please follow along…

1. Your assertion: “The author claimed that jihadis are an existential threat but made no attempt to explain how or why.”

What I wrote: I gave five (5) very clear reasons that you somehow completely missed. For your edification, here they are again in rigid, “a, b, c order” from text block 17:

Referring to both the Nazis and the Islamist jihadists:
a) “They are driven by a radical cultural and politico-religious ideology.”
b) “Their end goal is to subjugate others under this ideology.”
c) “They use terrorism and gruesome violence as a tool as demonstrated by their mass executions to ‘cleanse’ society of their enemies.”
d) “They’re violently intolerant of ‘incompatible’ social and cultural norms.”
e) “Finally, they intimidate and murder their own kind.”

“…This is exactly what the Nazis did…” Perhaps you think the Nazis did none of this and groups like ISIS and Boko do none of this. Their victims might beg to differ – if they were alive.

2. Your assertion: “I guess the author would like us to declare war on every single jihadi organization…”

What I wrote: No such thing. Please stop guessing. I gave no specific strategy (concrete ends, ways, and means) or specific concept of operations to be applied against any organization.

I did, however, provide, a) the general foundations of a possible policy, b) a rough semblance of a concept of allied command and control, and c) one specific way/method of countering the threat – counter politico-religious warfare, which is soft power, not kinetic. This article was more about identifying the threat than developing a full on policy and strategy.

3. Your assertion: “Al-Baghdadi is pretty smart, but he's not even close to being Hitler.”

What I wrote: …Specifically, and in plain English in text block 7, that the movement had NO Hitler figurehead. I never mentioned Al-Baghdadi, either. I very clearly wrote, “In this global irregular war, however, instead of a Hitler figurehead as the center of gravity, the driving force is an ideology – Islamist society under a Caliphate.”

I did, however, parallel Sayyid Qutb’s book regarding motivating people to violence with Hitler’s "Mein Kamph" and it motivating people to violence. Perhaps you confused “Al-Baghdadi” with “Qutb” and somehow got all that mixed up with “Hitler.”

4. Your assertion: “…that little ribbon of land stretching from Syria to Baghdad that ISIS controls is nowhere close to being Germany—I would say it's actually kind of offensive to even imply as such.”

What I wrote: Nothing of the sort. I didn't mention Syria once. That’s something you mentally inserted into my text. Please read the article again and do a word check to prove to yourself that I never mentioned Syria. This might ease the "actually kind of" offense that you have, for some reason, conjured up on your own.

5. Your assertion: “I wouldn't accept a paper like this from my undergrads.”

My reply: Since you erred factually so many times in your “review” of this piece, and since you have inserted arguments and specific terms into my article that I never used, you seem not to have not read it at all, or something else has occurred that leaves wide room for fascinating speculation.

Bottom line, if I was one of your undergrads, I’d be very, very worried.


Wed, 06/24/2015 - 5:56pm

In reply to by Mark Pyruz

Surprised to find such a sweeping case of hyperbole and over-generalization. The author claimed that jihadis are an existential threat but made no attempt to explain how or why. I guess the author would like us to declare war on every single jihadi organization, which is kind of weird since we just don't have the capability even if we did have the will.

Al-Baghdadi is pretty smart, but he's not even close to being Hitler. And that little ribbon of land stretching from Syria to Baghdad that ISIS controls is nowhere close to being Germany--I would say it's actually kind of offensive to even imply as such.

After reading the article I am in no way clear on the author's understanding of the jihadi threat, nor about how the current administration has it wrong. I wouldn't accept a paper like this from my undergrads.

Mark Pyruz

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 4:00pm

With respect, the author so generalizes and makes such sweeping connections, that his perspective almost reads like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

He also invokes Godwin’s Law.

I would suggest that while ISIL, JAN, Boko Haram and the like share certain commonalities, they should be dealt with through existing U.S. military regional commands.

I would also suggest that the perspective provided by COL Bacevich offers a more instructive approach, in citing past actions and failures, and why American military escalation is not the answer to these conflicts.


Thu, 06/25/2015 - 8:42am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

...I agree...we don't "do" WW II type coordination these days, but it seems one obvious avenue we might use, nevertheless. Thanks for reinforcing my conclusion, as you say. Good and professional commentary...

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 12:59pm

Very good article. I like counter-politico-religious warfare.

Just a comment that I hope reinforces your conclusion. We do not "do" alliances like we did in WWII. The G7 or G20 or NATO (nor any of the international organization to which we belong) are not the same as having what I believe were very substantive meetings between heads of state where they really seemed (from my limited knowledge) to chart the way ahead and make big bold decisions and provided strategic direction to their military and national security apparatus rather than just appear to rubber stamp ceremoniously pre-coordinated decisions worked out by the staffs - I of course understand why this is in today's world and why all the background preparation must occur but what I see as a big difference between now and then is that in WWII national leaders really did lead, they were decisive (because they had to be as it was a world war) while today's leaders manage, and staff things, and organize things and some operate from a (naive) worldview that we can make people like us and when they do all will be well (apologies for the rant).


Thu, 06/25/2015 - 8:48am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill, Great observation - you nailed it. I wish I'd written it. It's the strategic overview of my piece. Thanks for capping it. It is indeed like Cold War part III. Thanks for your professional input.

Bill C.

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 12:06pm

America's new strategic reality would seem to be:

That we will not be able to achieve our overriding/overarching political objective of a world (1) organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic and social lines and (2) under United States leadership without (3) the use of force.

Herein, our soft power (the ability of our way of life, our way of governance and our values, attitudes and beliefs to our attract others over to our side without coercion) having failed us.

Thus, our consideration today of such ideas as "political warfare," to wit: a (a) hard power measure which (b) uses coercion as a means to achieve one's aims and goals.

Adding irregular warfare to this mix (as the author above indicates that we must), then might we characterize "America's new strategic reality" today as the new Cold War (or simply Cold War Part II)?