Last year during the Presidential campaign I outlined my approach to winning the war against terrorism. I based it upon my experience- as governor of a state attacked on 9-11, as Chairman of a Congressional Commission to asses the danger of terrorist attack on our homeland, and as a counterintelligence agent in the Cold War. I believe that President Trump and his advisors should adopt these ideas.
We are fighting the longest war in America’s history. It is being waged against us by the terrorist networks and the nations that sponsor them such as Iran.
This war has been going on at least since the 1979 seizure of American diplomats in Tehran, Iran. It has continued through many other attacks, including the 1982 bombing of the Marines’ barracks in Beirut, Lebanon by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorists and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia and the airliner that crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It is a cliché to say that we cannot kill our way out of this war. That statement is correct as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. We must apply the weapons of war necessary to win any fight. But we also have to win another fight: the ideological war.
Radical Islam is an ideology to the same extent that Islam is a religion. Radical Islam is an integrated system of beliefs and religious laws upon which a form of government is intended to be based. It’s not like American conservatism or liberalism, but it is very much like Communism, Nazism and Shintoism, ideologies we have defeated in the past.
Like the Nazis, the radical Islamists play on the sense of persecution and cultural inferiority that many people in underdeveloped nations have because they are truly oppressed. And, like the Nazis, the Islamists have convinced their followers that the problems of their world are the fault of others. The Islamists blame every ill of their world on America, the West, the Jews and Israel.
Like the Soviets, the Islamists believe that their enslavement of the world is inevitable (though, unlike the Soviets, they believe it is God’s will that they must succeed). Radical Islam’s adherents, like the Nazis and the Communists before them, believe their victory is both inevitable and irreversible. That is a powerful ideology which we have yet to engage with the necessary weapons.
Our military – comprised of many of the best people our country has ever produced – is winning every fight it enters. But it can’t win the war only by bombing and shooting. Our politicians have to do their share by fighting the ideological war.
When he first became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2005, Marine Gen. Peter Pace demonstrated that he understood this better than any of our politicians. In his “guidance” to the Joint Staff, published soon after he took the job, Pace said, “Our enemies are violent extremists who would deny us, and all mankind, the freedom to choose our own destiny. Finding this distributed, loosely networked enemy is the greatest challenge we face. We must find and defeat them in an environment where information, perception, and how and what we communicate are every bit as critical as the application of traditional kinetic effects.”
Pace was precisely correct. What we say and write is just as important in this war as how well we shoot. Unless and until we defeat the ideology of radical Islam we cannot defeat the terrorists who use it to propel their war. We cannot win the kinetic war without winning the ideological war.
So how do we do it?
There are two predicates to winning the war against terrorism and the nations that sponsor it.
First, we must have the strong presidential leadership that can lift up the American people and bring them to understand that in this longest war the enemy will have some successes, even in future terrorist attacks on our homeland. But instead of living in fear of such attacks, we can do whatever is necessary to produce a victory over the terrorist networks and the nations that sponsor them.
Second, we must strengthen our intelligence capabilities – not only satellites but intelligence agents in hostile nations – who can provide the information essential to interdicting and deterring attacks on Americans at home and abroad. We should invest in new intelligence technologies in order to attain and maintain the upper hand against all our adversaries but especially against the natural advantage terrorists have in their ability to hide among otherwise peaceful people.
In doing that, we have to maintain our free society and not give carte blanch to domestic intelligence activities. Intelligence must be established to adequately protect us from terrorists who come across our borders and home-grown terrorists as well. But it must be limited by our laws and subjected to strict oversight.
In order to win this war we have to understand the grip radical Islam has on too many people in too many nations. It is the reason President Bush’s nation-building had to fail in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to look for, and encourage, those moderate Muslim leaders who want to reform their religion to reject the Radical Islamists’ ideology.
I was encouraged by the January 1 speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In that speech, al-Sisi called radical Islam to account. His central theme was the insanity of Islam trying to set itself apart from – and to conquer – the rest of the world. His words flew in the face of all the terrorist network leaders saying, “It is inconceivable that the wrong ideas that we sacralize (sic) should make the entire umma [Muslim community] a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction for the whole world. This is not possible.”
Al-Sisi thus condemned not Islam itself, but those who say that Islam’s sacred texts should be read to demand that it dominate the entire world, to set itself at war with all other religions.
We cannot embrace al-Sisi because of his oppressive domestic policies but we can work with him to change those policies and to encourage his ideological fight. We can, and must, seek to encourage other Muslim leaders at home and abroad to follow his example. Those Muslim leaders, including those in the United States, who want to resist the radical Islamists’ ideology must be encouraged to do so and helped as much as a non-Muslim nation can.
In a highly significant speech on July 20th of this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron described why this war is an ideological one and outlining his policies on how to fight it.
Cameron first stated the obvious: that radical Islam, the Islam of the terrorists, is an extremist doctrine and, he said, an ideology that is subversive to Western democracies. He said that the ideology is based on a sort of paranoia. It’s based on conspiracy theories that are a warped view of the world, such as Jews exercise malevolent power in the West seeking to destroy Islam, that 9-11 was inspired by Mossad to justify the invasion of Afghanistan and that the terrorist attacks on London’s buses and subways were tolerated by the British security services to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.
Cameron’s words are worth quoting because they outline the policies needed to win the ideological war:
First, any strategy to defeat extremism must confront, head on, the extreme ideology that underpins it. We must take its component parts to pieces – the cultish worldview, the conspiracy theories, and yes, the so-called glamorous parts of it as well.
In doing so, let’s not forget our strongest weapon: our own…values. We should expose their extremism for what it is – a belief system that glorifies violence and subjugates its people – not least Muslim people.
We should contrast their bigotry, aggression and theocracy with our values. We have, in our country, a very clear creed and we need to promote it much more confidently. Wherever we are from, whatever our background, whatever our religion, there are things we share together.
Cameron’s words are a guideline that all Western democracies should use to defend their laws, their cultures and to insist on the obvious fact that they are superior in every way to the ideology of Radical Islam. That is the path to victory in this long war.