Tactical Candor and Strategic Illusions

by G. Murphy Donovan (July 2012)

lights” at the end of the Southeast Asia tunnel in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

euphemism is used to pretend we are not at war.

observers. Apparently, the decades old investment of lives and treasure in South Asia was for naught.

fell to a religious party (2002), the event was pretty much ignored in NATO circles. When American troops reversed the sectarian poles in Iraq (2011), from Sunni to Shia, that seismic change hardly caused a ripple. And now after a series of viral regime changes in Arabia, the most important nations of the Arab world are tilting towards irredentist Islamic models.

collapse of the entire Soviet system were not unrelated to Russian foreign policy blunders in places like Afghanistan.

Caveats and Relevant History

This is not a discussion about theology or religious beliefs. There will be no quotes here from the Koran or the Hadith. If Muslims can not agree on church history or dogma, outsiders would hardly be useful referees. Infidels do not have a dog in any fight about the interpretation of scripture in any case.

Mormon wars of the 19th Century are the closest recent military/political precedent.

Said, Joseph Esposito, Sayyid Qutb, Tariq Ramadan, and Yusef Qaradawi.

Berman, and the late Christophor Hitchens. Huntington is the author of The Clash of Civilizations, a provocative theory about culture clash whose title speaks for the argument.

History (1989) was quickly embraced as bedrock political science. Social democracy was thought to be the logical outcome of 20th Century military and political dialectics.

What is Islamism?

Paradigm Alpha gurus on both sides of the American political spectrum are reluctant to associate Islam, or most Muslims, with terrorism or the ongoing irregular warfare in the Ummah. Indeed, such associations have been proscribed on White House stationary. Government sponsored researchers were quick to take the cue and many have underwritten an asserted, politically correct, view of terrorism as isolated criminal enterprises with local motives. The government sponsored RAND Corporation study and report, How Terorrist Groups End, is a prominent, if not notorious, example. The subtext of recent RAND research, and not a few PEW surveys, is that Islamist sentiment is not much of a problem.

support the primacy of religious law. Support for terror may be less than support for Sharia</em>; but, if the terror number is only 30%, potential belligerents number 500 million. Calling terror a crime allows the lazy analyst, with an agenda, to dismiss any wider political implications of Islamism.

Assumptions about Islamism

Assumptions about Islamic militancy, Muslim imperialism to some, have been as troublesome as attempts to define the threat. When assumptions are miscast, then beliefs are fatally flawed. Beliefs about Muslims in general and Islamism in particular, seem to be predicated on three flawed assumptions, or asserted conclusions:

  • Israel is the root of Muslim angst,
  • moderates,”
  • the Islamic world is the moral equivalent of any other culture.

Blame Israel?

The blame Israel hypothesis reasons from a limited set of particulars to an implausible general conclusion. The Palestine question is, in fact, a regional problem that is commonly used as a rationale for all manner of global mischief. Were it not, Israel might be flying airliners into skyscrapers to make their case also.

And the erosion of support for Tel Aviv, the blame Israel idiom, in Europe and America may serve as a disincentive for settlement and a stimulus for more terror. What kind of message do jihadists get from an American president who visits several Ummah capitals to reassure Muslims, but studiously avoids Israel? And why do Muslims need to be patronized by America about a threat that originates almost exclusively in global Muslim communities?

attitudes towards Jews and Israel are overwhelmingly (90% +) hostile. And the targets are Jews not Zionists – as if jihadists would know the difference. Depredations in places like Bali, Mumbai, Beslan, and French schoolyards have little or nothing to do with Palestinian real estate.

mosques, or Islamic centers, worldwide.

A Moderate Muslim Majority?

And as evidence, if good data were available, the totality of Muslims with hostile or belligerent intentions might be irrelevant. The modern historical record on this matter is clear. Given sanctuary, a motivated minority often prevails. In short, ideology and zeal may triumph, no matter the numbers.

And recall, an exiled ideological fanatic such as Ayatollah Khomeini, like Lenin, is often made possible by European indulgence. Or in America today, a Turkish imam with a global reach, once exiled by Ankara, finds refuge in the woods of Pennsylvania. Ideological tolerance, or apathy, is often more significant than numbers or demographics.

revolutions is also distributing hate, terror, and intolerance. Syria, the Sudan, Bahrain, Somalia, and Yemen, if not most of Arab Africa, are object lessons in progress.

Most declarations about Muslim moderation, or the space between Islam and politics, in the Ummah are projections or asserted conclusions, nothing more. Where there are no good measurements, there is no good science.

Moral Equivalency?

Moral equivalency is the third rail of international politics. And the modern incarnation of Islam has been granted equality by default. Here again we have a kind of unilateral disarmament in the world of progressive ideals. Surely none of the civil or human rights abuses extant in the Muslim world today would be tolerated in any western democracy.

browning</a>;” but the quest of, and quarrel within Islam is religious and political, not racial or ethnic. 

Turkey and Egypt, erstwhile allies, represent special hazards where elections might be confused with democracy. Kamal Attaturk and Gamal Abdel Nasser separated church from state by force. And now religion comes back to Turkish and Egyptian politics through peaceful elections. No election is ever synonymous with democracy or progress.

consanguinity, slavery, religious intolerance, misogyny, child abuse, and lethal homophobia; just to name a few of the more obvious aberrations. We might also recall that Daniel Pearl, a Jewish American journalist, was literally decimated; cut into ten pieces.

As a general proposition, Islam is only moderate where it is a minority. Where Islam is a majority, religious and many other varieties of moderation are often the first casualties. Multi-culture does not become monoculture without absolutism and coercion.

Many observers rationalize the political and social pathologies of the Muslim world as the products of poverty, ignorance, or exploitation. The usual causes cited by Paradigm Alpha subscribers (and opportunistic Islamists) are: colonialism, secularism, capitalism, and cultural imperialism. If PEW surveys are correct, most Muslims agree, blaming backwardness on outsiders. The victim trope is cultivated by Islamic clerics and politicians for obvious reasons, but the analytical spin in the West has darker roots.

Surely, considerations like energy, debt, and migration patterns are relevant. Of these, demographic vectors like immigration and birth rates seem to be the most threatening. Terrorism gets more press, but military tactics do not represent the totality of the threat. The underlying factors, fears if you will, of the Islamist threat are political, cultural, and religious. And pathological policies or Muslim behaviors, justified in the name of all three, are the very evidence that undermines any argument for moral equivalence.

What is to be Done?

Sayyid Qutb, ideological godfather of the Muslim brotherhood. The union of new money and ancient religious passion was facilitated by the European colonial retreat. An explanation for the modern bloom of Muslim irredentism may be simple: Islamism was the best organized and best financed alternative to fill the post-colonial, post-fascist, political vacuum.  

Sufis and modern Kurds are numerically small examples. But, the vector of global Islamic politics is anything but secular, democratic, or progressive.

Egypt, or Afghanistan to name just three), the vector of Islamic politics and the paucity of human rights is painfully obvious.

at risk – on the theocratic block, if you will.

bin Laden, an Arab export to Afghanistan, may have been as much of an outsider as NATO. He was also too polite to point out that the al Qaeda leader found refuge in Pakistan, our erstwhile ally, not Afghanistan. Nor did Davis mention that the original clandestine war, Charley Wilson’s War against the Soviets, helped to bring the Taliban to power in the first place. The enemy in South Asia, and elsewhere, has always been the Taliban and like-minded religious parties.  

get in the way of study, analysis, or new truth. Such may be the case with Islamism; where truth is a received wisdom. The Alpha Paradigm may be another example. We think we know all we need to know about Islam and activist Muslims. Not much, but enough it seems; enough to stop any further questions.

So what now?

Ummah anyway. Large permanent diplomatic “missions” and permanent military bases are honey pots that corrupt our “allies” and simplify the jihadist targeting problem.

League and the 57 some odd nations of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. For the most part, terror, with political or religious motives, originates in the Muslim world. The responsibility for solving that problem lies within the Ummah. NATO can not save Islam from itself. If the Islamists prevail in any Muslim state and hostilities are directed outward, so be it. Thus might the allied target set be simplified!

No nation can afford to be delusional, incompetent, and broke at the same time for very long.

The author is a Vietnam veteran, a former Intelligence officer and Director of Research and Russian (nee Soviet) Studies, USAF Intelligence, at Bolling AFB when DNI James Clapper was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, HQ USAF.

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