By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Al Qaeda was just the beginning of violent international jihad against Western civilization. At first it was all just baseless threats from a committed violent Islamic extremist offshoot of a former war. It took American politicians a decade of multiple attacks, embassy bombings in Kenya, Tanzania, an attack on the U.S.S. Cole and 9/11 to fully commit against al Qaeda’s destruction (now called “al Qaeda central”). The surprise later was in the difficulty of destroying, let alone, degrading even the core leadership which is still on-going. Even after the ring leader and so many chief lieutenants were destroyed, operations against the leadership within hostile territories are extremely difficult. Yet al Qaeda has many more affiliates now than they did before with global sympathizers in Western states and most of those who are called al Qaeda but swear to the revolution of violent Islamic purification and the eradication of the Western corruptive influence, but they are not al Qaeda from 9/11 at all. Instead they are all just part of the ever evolving international jihadist revolution that continues to be overlooked and unchecked.
Tomorrow the President will unveil his plan to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State but unless he targets the international violent jihadist revolution, he will make the same mistake as the two previous administrations before him. Not only will he need more partners, but he will need a revolutionary strategic information department fully dedicated to this mission. Hearts and mind and human terrain; preventing recruits, political influence and inciting counter-Jihad throughout the Muslim world must be the ultimate priority.
Al Qaeda were the visionaries. They could only dream of a regional caliphate. Where they succeeded at attacking the U.S. for having troops on Muslim soil and aiding Israel, they failed in replacing the Saudi royal family and setting up a Sunni theocracy in Central Asia. The Taliban was one manifestation but without symbolic Islamic cultural and historic significance.
On the other hand, the Islamic State has established political and operational control over large swaths of prime symbolic Islamic real-estate where actual caliphates once flourished under Ali, or the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs; and they did it within just a few years, taking advantage of weak states and warring Islamic sectarianism which they helped to strategically instigate in conflict.
Waiting around with pinpoint airstrikes should remind us all of the Clinton Administration’s attempts to fire cruise missiles into suspected terrorist camps within Afghanistan. To be sure there were many other efforts on the ground and many are well documented. But the basic analogous fact is that even with advanced technology today, the Islamic State can withstand a tactical assault. Even a multipronged military operation that utilizes friendly forces and their ‘boots on the ground’ will not be nearly enough. Nor will there be any hope in waiting around for a hundred or more years until the so called caliphate collapses. If history is any indication, another will spring up.
Violent Islamic extremism is on the rise. The sooner we recognize the enemy to the women of the region, the potential freedom and opportunity and to our own civilization, then the next step is to attack the broad enemy, with the Islamic State and al Qaeda-related affiliates simultaneously, across informational, diplomatic, intelligence, military, law enforcement, economic and financial means. No national resource can be spared and nothing short of a determined front can alter the perilous shape of the region and the growing violent Islamic extremism.
A change of tactics will require spending money on programs of moral supremacy. U.S. funds must go directly to programs that are in our interest and values. No more ‘enemy of my enemy’ calculus. It does not and will never work. The only way to change the state of Central Asia in hyper-drive is to coordinate a multinational effort of like-minded states using total information warfare as a root over the period of several decades. Other measures, political and economic will also be in play but secondary and tertiary. Military force should be less visible but with greater precision and impact in coordination with diplomacy, intelligence and information operations.
There will also be plenty of humanitarian operations. The U.S. must not only appear to be the hero, it must become, with its partners, the hero. This means championing and tackling the massive humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq and potentially arming civilian populations rather than tyrannical governments that will never have our loyalty or values.
What does total intelligence and information warfare really look like? A few strategies that Washington has ignored for too long and let the enemy dominate this perception space:
Control “all” the airwaves. If not possible, manipulate them to your advantage until the former is accomplished. If not possible, target enemy’s credibility. Degrade enemy image showing real and live atrocities that are clearly anti-Islamic; even for al Qaeda sympathizers. Show betrayals. Introduce the half-truth. The region could be prepped to fight against all forms of theocratic tyranny and the enemy of any free civilization.
Exploit all media channels and social venues. Infiltrate the cities and the Mosques with human, device and surveillance platforms. Taint the waters. Literally hack the minds of the enemy. Disrupt the brain waves. Penetrate their decision making. Alter their DNA. Pacify the enemy. Make them all wear pink shorts; inject the mass murderers overtime with estrogen-like drugs; for example. Let them turn on each other or convert them from within. Surly intelligence operations have seen crazier ideas. Brains versus bombs.
A more extreme version to destroy the Islamic State: set Syria ablaze and save the women and children and the men that fall in line. This strategy would require the end of Syria and absolute chaos, order to restore order by international mandate and regional actor participation. Effectively, this might save more lives than the ‘slow death’ at present. The means themselves might even be justified. Take down the tyrant and the terrorist.
Any one of these strategic themes has benefits and costs and could be written up taking many more pages. The idea is to think in ways beyond the U.S. military and 19th century diplomatic allegiance formations. Both are good but too ordinary, ineffective and costly as devoted primary resources. America must take pride in doing the job right this time and pursuing the long war that must cover many more fronts to be victorious.