What should U.S. policy be with respect to the growth of radical Sunni groups (Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, ISIS) and Shia extremism (sponsored by Iran, but including Iraq and Syria) was a major topic of discussion among a few experts. That group included two well known authors on terrorism and the Mid-East, 4 PhDs, 3 with extensive combat experience. The interesting aspect of this animated exchange was that the group largely concluded that the best course of action was, surprisingly….”Exercise restraint! Be cautious about intervention.”
That led in turn to two NSF sessions on the challenge from Islamic radicalism, the first in November analyzing the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, along with the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups. A second session focused on “what policy options does the U.S. and its allies/friends have and what should we do” followed last week.
The four presentations were so good we decided not to just publish a short summary of the talks and discussion. Instead, we are providing our readers with their presentations and (if used), their PowerPoint.
Steve Metcalf was the primary presenter, and he continues to advocate Restraint in our actions and policies. This brief narrative addresses additional issues covered last Thursday that were not discussed in his earlier paper, “Needed Now– A Different U.S. Course with ISIS” distributed to the NSF on October 7, 2015.
Do Recent Terror Events Call for
Forceful U.S. Intervention or Restraint?
- By Stephen R. Metcalf
Violent Jihad is spreading globally and a new tact is essential in dealing with it. Osama Bin Laden knew jihadist forces could not beat the US military in battle, so his stated strategy was to bankrupt America by initiating conflicts in multiple theaters to which he hoped the U.S. would respond. As one looks at the $4.5 trillion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan in the widely accepted 2013 Brown University study, “The Cost of War,” and the $40 billion annual spending rate against ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya, Bin Laden has been winning from the grave.
The growing U.S. federal outstanding debt of $19 trillion demands the U.S. quit chasing whack-a-mole jihadist conflicts and attempt to focus on the roots of violent jihad to try to eliminate its appeal. Our objectives should be to 1) strongly encourage (or coerce) Muslim states to provide greater economic opportunity for their citizens and 2) rally global support for an Islamic reformation that would reject violent jihad.
Economic Roots of Violent Jihad
Nations reflect a high degree of stability when strong middle classes exist. However, most Muslim nations have autocratic governments which spread the wealth of their nations amongst limited groups and have failed to build economies of breadth and depth. As a result their populations have limited opportunities and even less optimism, are dissatisfied with government, and are far easier prey for jihadist leaders offering what might seem like a better alternative. Smartphones and social media also permit citizens with few opportunities to see how much better those in developed nations live.
The growing dissatisfaction of Muslim populations has been reflected in four waves since 1980: the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the growth of violent jihadist groups, the Arab Spring and, finally, ISIS. However, in its need for oil, the developed world failed to even recognize the emerging problem, let alone encourage steps for Mid East governments to address it. Today many Muslim nations are woefully ill equipped to compete in a global economy. A vivid result is the large percentage of economic refugees joining war refugees attempting to reach Western Europe.
Error of Political Correctness
Pressure cannot be effectively brought to bear on Muslim governments to address violent jihad until Western governments back away from the current level of political correctness and acknowledge that violent jihad is rooted in Islam. The Quran is the catechism for Muslims – their religious rule book. While it has many verses of peace and nonviolence, it also includes verses of vile acts, forced propagation of Islam and enslavement. It is those verses that permit jihadist leaders to incite frustrated Muslims (for various reasons) to pursue the path of violent jihad in the service of Allah. Until there is agreement by Muslim governments, clerics and scholars that those passages do not represent Islam in the 21st Century, violent jihadist groups will continue to emerge with increasing frequency.
Tougher US Diplomacy
Similarly, the Obama Administration must use much tougher diplomacy in pushing Muslim governments to confront ISIS and other violent jihadist groups. Western nations are perceived by Muslims to be Christian. As a result, front line military participation by the West in Muslim lands feeds into the propaganda of jihadist groups that their fight is a 21st Century Crusade, which significantly enhances their recruiting effort. On the front line, Muslims need to face Muslims. On the other hand, how easily Muslim governments can rally their dissatisfied populations to fight jihadist groups is another question.
The 10 year expansion plan of ISIS encompasses all of North Africa and the Mid East and a good portion of Central Asia. There is little question that it poses an imminent threat to the governments of the nations of those regions. The reason they have not shown more concern is that they feel, by dragging their heels, the U.S. will step in to deal with the threat. Unfortunately, the eagerness to fight by U.S. interventionists, and the absence of tough diplomacy, has reinforced that belief and it needs to change. A good place to start would be to publish the military and financial contribution of each member of the 65 member coalition, which is currently classified. Next, the West should demand a Muslim face to the coalition by insisting that further Western participation must be contingent on far greater air and ground participation by regional states.
Steps Toward Islamic Reformation
Global Islamic reformation will be a challenge, but combating decades of violent jihadist groups would be a greater one. An effective way to demonstrate the urgency and commitment of global nations to see it accomplished would be a UN conference, hosted by China, India, Russia and the U.S., to address how to eliminate violent jihad. After extensive discussion, participating nations would surely acknowledge that reformation was necessary and that only Muslim nations could accomplish it.
The task would then pass to Muslim governments to engage Muslim officials, scholars and clerics across the globe to update the Quran and Hadiths to a 21st Century interpretation that would, optimally, declare violent jihad against the laws of the Prophet and not in service of Allah. Any Muslim cleric or individual who attempted to encourage support for earlier verbiage or interpretations would be deemed an enemy of Islam and subject to punishment. Muslim governments (in fact, all governments) would be the enforcing entities. Such a reformation would, hopefully, eliminate the ability of future jihadist leaders to recruit because they could no longer use violent or coercive Quranic versus to attract followers to their quest.
The lawn maintenance strategy of mounting a military campaign against one violent jihadist group after another is simply not affordable by the U.S. Although both the restructuring of the economies of Muslim nations and Islamic reformation would be major challenges, they would lead to a long term stable end state. Furthermore, given the increasing number and reach of violent jihadist movements, they are the only alternatives that can prevent a far more bloody and expensive global clash of religions and cultures.
- Steve Metcalf is a West Point graduate, a former infantry commander in combat and a lifelong student of foreign policy. He resides in Reno. His comprehensive PowerPoint is attached—highly recommend viewing it.
Here is the link to Steve’s PowerPoint: Restraint-NSF-Metcalf-PowerPoint