In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
Earlier this month, this column addressed the lack of grand strategy to combat terrorism from the Obama administration by stating that there are 10 issues that illustrate the need for such a strategy, now more than ever. The administration has continuously avoided the rhetoric and policies of the Global War on Terror, and American interests and lives have paid the price.
1) Democracy feeds terrorism. This is the supposed consternation that many raise about how democracy feeds the terrorists. This boils down to an argument that our very liberties allow the terrorist to exploit our societies, and we are thus at their mercy or must revert to authoritarian means. This canard is absurd, and always has been.
It might be true in some abstract form of democracy, where all liberties are actually freedoms with no government or societal restraint; but the United States is a constitutional republic. Those that seek the destruction of liberty are by definition the enemies of liberty, and the Constitution does not protect them. As the famous American Nuremberg magistrate, Justice Robert Jackson, famously said, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” There is no dichotomy. Republican liberty can be maintained and we can prosecute the War on Terror to the fullest. This view should be shared by all who believe in the grand tenets of western civilization. A recent conversation with a German diplomat shocked me when he seemed to attack this view by suggesting that the “rule of law can exist without democracy.” I did not want to teach basic American civics, but there can never be the legitimacy of law without democracy; it is an impossibility.
2) Iran is the number one threat. Iran is an immediate national security threat. It is not only a terror state (terrorizing its own populace), but also the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Qods Force-Hezbollah axis is active worldwide, maintaining cells in the United States and Western Europe, bombing synagogues in South America, undermining the governments of Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, and operating to seriously destabilize the government of Yemen, the importance of which was succinctly stated by Jonathan Paris of King’s College: “If Yemen is set on fire, the gulf will burn.”
One of the strange arguments that many make about the Iranians is that we lost some chance with them since they were fighting al-Qaida as well. Those in the counterterrorist field have known for years that Iran plays both sides against the middle. In the past, they have supported al-Qaida when they felt their interests have merited it, they have given some sanctuary in Iran, they have allowed transit of Iran, they back a Sunni extremist movement Hamas in Palestine and, as Amos Gilad of the Israeli Ministry of Defense stated, they “continue to support al-Qaida.” It does not mean they are in control of al-Qaida or the reverse, but it means what is commons sense: when Sunni extremism and Shiite extremism mesh, namely to fight the United States, Europe and Israel, they will work together and are thus a combined threat.
The debate about whether Iranian leaders are “rational” or “apocalyptic” may also be a false choice. They may be both, as stated plainly by the Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, Alex Mintz: “Iran may be willing to sacrifice, in a rational way, one to two million Iranians to eliminate Israel and control the Gulf.” This is made worse by many who argue that Iran’s supreme leader does not fully appreciate Israel’s second strike capability and may make assumptions about their ability to destroy Israel in one blow. All of this is exacerbated by Iran’s cozy relationship with the regime of Venezuela. Many national security experts report a story of a weekly aircraft that leaves Tehran and arrives in Caracas, where it is exempt from customs inspections. Iran’s quest for a Pax Iranica, stretching from the Levant to Persia, poses a threat from both the War on Terror and traditional state aggression.
3) Terror state organizations pose problems for international law. A number of terrorist organizations are essentially running quasi states; this is especially true in Gaza with Hamas and in Lebanon with Hezbollah. However, even though both are fed by the Iranian trough, they are not individuals or states. They are not criminals or soldiers. They are terrorists who are neither protected by the sovereignty of states nor the laws of war. The west has yet to come to terms with this new classification and is mired in classical definitions of international relations.
Twelve years after 9/11 we still vigorously debate whether or not Osama Bin Laden should have been captured or should have received a criminal trial. Terrorists are not criminals, they are not soldiers (as defined by the Geneva Convention) and they are not states, regardless of their appearance. The definition for terrorism is not “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” a phrase that is the refuge of scoundrels. Terrorists are those who are motivated by political goals and use violence to instill fear, primarily against non-combatants. If the west fails to fully understand this, and wallows in a false narcissistic debate about criminality versus the laws of war, the west is defeated before it begins.
4) The most basic human right in the War on Terror is to live. We in the west have obsessed over the rights of detainees and terrorists. We have forgotten that the real destroyers of human rights were the evildoers who have killed thousands of men, women and children. They have killed them in the Twin Towers, cafes and school buses. I was once struck by an impassioned speech by Professor Asa Kasher, Chair of the Ethics and Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, at a conference on counterterrorism. At one salient point he said, “For citizens to be able to enjoy all human rights, they need to be alive.”
5) International law, multilateral organizations and treaties work only when there is legitimacy. The inability of the west to successfully react to terrorism and its use of asymmetrical warfare has created another vacuum: that of international law. The United Nations is supposed to defend states from the exploitation of others, prevent harm to civilians and punish war crimes. However, the U.N. and international law in general fails to address the non-state actor. If legitimacy is lost due to legality, the legitimacy of protecting the innocent, then what happens to the usefulness of international law and agreements? If we willingly enter a quicksand of legality in order to avoid our legitimate responsibilities to defeat terrorism and extremism, we risk the entire house of civilization coming tumbling down.
6) The War on Terror is really a war on Islamic extremism, Islamic totalitarianism and salafism. We dance around terminology and ideas. We engage in mental and verbal gymnastics in order to avoid the actual terms of the war. The war is a war, not a police action and not the venue for negotiation. Anyone who studies jihadism knows this. Everyone knows that jihad, as the terrorists mean it, has nothing to do with personal struggle and everything to do with violence, death-dealing and martyrdom. It is a war that many in the media and academia tremble to discuss for fear of professional ostracism. A war where the jihadists openly state their contempt for the “religion of democracy” and proclaim that a “democratic Muslim is like someone calling themselves a Jewish Muslim.” A war where the jihadists view violence and martyrdom as a collective responsibility and obligation, where the only outcome is victory or annihilation.
7) The role of the Muslim Brotherhood is underestimated and hidden. With all the attention on al-Qaida, its affiliates and Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood operates in secret, but in a much vaster way. Blinded by the strategic largesse of al-Qaida and Hezbollah, the west has ignored or is scared into quietude about the Muslim Brotherhood. This salafist threat is active in over 70 countries and has taken over Gaza, and is an important player in Egypt, Algeria, Europe and the United States. They are a highly organized group that is not dependent on a single leader or personality; they preach a pan-Islamic return to the caliphate. They have successfully hidden their financing and activity by posing as charities, educational institutions, think tanks, ministries and social service providers. They were clearly behind the organized attacks concerning the Danish cartoons and the recent pro-Gaza demonstrations. Worse, they have successfully convinced many in the west that they have no political agenda, where in reality their only agenda is political, ranging in magnitude from the re-creation of the caliphate to establishing Muslim exclusive zones in Europe. Naturally, and most alarmingly, is the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt.
8) Western complacency and overconfidence. The trite assumption that the west will win, simply because it will, is rife. We won against fascism, Nazism, communism and militarism, so we must win against Islamic extremism. This, mixed with the inability to grasp the hatred for liberal democratic philosophy that the extremists have, creates the conditions for defeat. Dr. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, goes further by suggesting that this has placed the west in the impossible position of being unable to stand for its own interests in the war by focusing on the interests of the enemy. If something is not really a threat, why concern yourself with winning?
9) Terrorism is a world wide network. The only way to measure the War on Terror is to do so worldwide, whether it is Sunni extremist and Shiite extremist collaboration such as the 1996 Hezbollah/Qods/al-Qaida bombing of the American military residence, the Kohbar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the bizarre terror links with the Columbian FARC and the IRA, to the Iranians giving safe haven to some in al-Qaida while publicly announcing the detention of others. It is the same evil. The network of terror is broader than one group, or even so-called ideological divides. This has been the case for decades, with Marxist-Leninist revolutionary terrorists training in Libya and Lebanon (especially the Bekka Valley), to Uighur extremists training in Afghanistan. They are not a monolith, but they do drink at the same iniquitous fountains that train, arm, finance and support this horror of the 21st century.
10) The War on Terror is a war of civilization versus barbarism. I, in my book on the Bush Doctrine, and others have named it such. Dr. Sergey Kurginyan, president of the International Public Foundation Experimental Creative Center, Russian Federation, believes there is a dichotomy in the world between those who see the conflict as a war, where the barbarian must be annihilated for civilization to survive, and those who see it as a game, where ultimately there is a union between “counter modern” forces and the barbarian to form a postmodern world. This issue strikes at the very heart of the War on Terror. If it is a war, and I believe it is, then there will ultimately be winner and vanquished. There will ultimately be victory for the side of light that sees hope and progress through the lenses of democracy, human rights and civil society or those in the dark who see the blackness through violence, regress and totalitarianism.
There is no compromise with terrorists. True as this statement is, the fact remains that the counter-terror community, diplomats and politicians alike, have failed to provide a strategic framework to deal with these 10 issues. These 10 “metrics” can provide a pathway to judging victory and defeat, the discussion of which is conspicuously lacking in media and academic circles. Many seem willing to backtrack on the issue of democracy if “stability” can be purchased.
This belies the whole twelve years since 9/11 and the eight years of the Bush administration, which clearly stated that true stability can never be achieved without draining the swamp that stability was purchased from. The endless lectures about American naiveté, namely, that we believe only elections equal democracy, do nothing to enhance the debate. This mantra grows wearisome if not rehearsed. America had the answer for the War on Terror which began in earnest twelve years ago. The fundamental promoting of civil society and democracy serves as the only strategic answer for a problem so evil, the answer must be found in man’s ultimate good.